Monday, June 13, 2011

Burkes For Saudi Arabia

I thought this was just a rumor, but maybe there is more to it?

Saudi Arabia, which has long considered the purchase of American littoral combat ships (LCS) with a lightweight Aegis combat system, is contemplating the acquisition of new DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers that could be fitted with ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability.

The U.S. Navy briefed Saudi officials in late May on the capabilities of the destroyers, which would be far more powerful than any ship currently in the kingdom's service.

The U.S. Navy would not confirm whether the brief included BMD options, but sources did not deny that it was part of the presentation.

Saudi Arabia has been looking at Aegis-equipped LCS designs from both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA since mid-2008. Those designs, which range in size from 3,000 to about 4,000 tons, would be equipped with SPY-1F lightweight Aegis radars similar to those fitted on Norwegian frigates. But the SPY-1F lacks the fidelity and software to perform the BMD mission, and the ships probably wouldn't have the electrical capacity to power a BMD radar.

The U.S. Navy's 9,100-ton DDG 51s are the heart of the fleet's BMD force. About 20 U.S. cruisers and destroyers have had their SPY-1D Aegis systems upgraded to perform the BMD mission, and more are being backfitted. Future DDG 51s will be built with the BMD capability.
Read the rest at Defense News.

Both versions of the Littoral Combat Ship version of the AEGIS surface combatant have been thoroughly criticized. I find that interesting, because I hear from both Austal and Lockheed Martin that the hull design for both variants of the AEGIS version is heavily modified, although no details are ever offered to explain exactly what about the hulls are heavily modified. The choice of DDG-51s instead of LCS would be a significant change, because it implies a much smaller purchase of naval vessels from the US than the 8-12 often cited for the AEGIS version of the LCS. The Defense News article mentions a potential mix that includes 2 DDG-51 Flight IIAs w/ BMD.

From an industrial perspective, this would allow the US Navy to build 2 destroyers per year - one at each yard over the next several years - as the Navy moves toward the DDG-51 Flight III, which is having other issues we'll discuss later.

The trade-offs here would apparently be quantity vs quality, as crew sizes and cost would ultimately run about the same. There will be other issues though, political concerns like selling top tier military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The sale would also ignore how survivability isn't so much a technical issue - rather a crewing issue in most cases - meaning the big Burkes are not likely to be more survivable with Saudi crews than the LCS AEGIS ships would be, not unless Saudi Navy crews have become a lot better in the last few years.

The Saudi Navy surface warship deal is reportedly worth between $20-$25 billion, depending upon your source. Keep in mind a lot of that money is for infrastructure. Also worth noting a high-low BMD mix that uses the new DDG-51 Flight IIAs and smaller AEGIS LCS 'shooters' fits a distributed CEC model for BMD often discussed for the way the Navy should do BMD in the future. Under that model, there are radars of various types, both on ships and on shore, for tracking/targeting data that gets fed forward in the network of smaller vessel "shooters" which in this scenario would be the little LCS AEGIS ships. While those smaller AEGIS LCS with the SPY-F radar could not independently track and kill ballistic missiles, leveraging the data from the network and with the AEGIS combat system, those ships act as forward missile launchers with VLS. A similar model was once promoted as a way to field a high end AMDR from a modern ship hull like DDG-1000, before it was decided a smaller AMDR would be fielded on every DDG-51 Flight III destroyer.

There is another possibility... some of the Flight I Burkes are in very poor condition, and it could be the US sells those to Saudi Arabia for much less and the money is used to repair/refit those ships. Most, if not all, of those older Flight I Burkes are BMD capable.

Interesting stuff, but the Saudi's do not appear to be in a hurry to buy their new warships, so it is unclear if any of this will ever happen.

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