Navy may downgrade procurement plans over budget constraints

Defense officials say navy mulling possibility of purchasing more Sa'ar 5-class missile ships instead of the new and advanced Littoral Combat Ship.

saar navy ship 298 88 (photo credit: IDF)
saar navy ship 298 88
(photo credit: IDF)
Due to budgetary constraints and rising prices, the Israeli Navy is considering downgrading its procurement plans and is now mulling the possibility of purchasing more Sa'ar 5-class missile ships instead of the new and advanced Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) currently under development in the United States, defense officials said Sunday. In February, the Israeli Navy - seeking to upgrade its sea-based capabilities - submitted a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the United States Navy for the LCS, under development by Lockheed Martin Corp and General Dynamics. Designed for speed, maneuverability and amphibious operations, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was built by Lockheed Martin according to US Naval specifications, as a "Brown Water" ship meant to operate in shallow waters along coasts and in depths where there are combined threats, from land and sea. But Israel has now decided to put those procurement plans on hold after rising costs in the production forced the US Navy to cancel a contract with both Lockheed Martin and GD after the price jumped from just over $220 million to $350 million. By August, the US Navy plans to issue a new tender to both companies for the development but is now operating under a congressional cost cap. Defense officials in Tel Aviv said that Israel was currently "watching and learning" from the mistakes being made in the development of the ships and did not plan to submit an official order until the cost of the ship was clarified. As part of its multi-year plan finalized last September, the IDF decided to purchase two new ships without stating from which company. "We are looking into different options," a defense official, involved in the procurement, said. "There are other possibilities such as more Sa'ar 5s, an upgraded Sa'ar 5 that would be called Sa'ar 5.5 or to wait for the LCS to be ready." Israel currently operates three Sa'ar 5 corvettes - Eilat, Hanit and Lahav - which were built by GD in the early 1990s per Israeli specifications. The ships are equipped with three missile systems - Barak, Harpoon and Gabriel. According to defense sources the LCS, if acquired by the Navy, would enhance Israel's long-arm capabilities and could be potentially used in a conflict with Iran. The ship, capable of carrying Special Forces and larger infantry units, can also carry midsize vehicles as well as two helicopters. The ship would also likely be installed with the Barak anti-missile defense system and would be able to intercept incoming missiles. The IDF Spokesperson's Office said in response to the report: "The Israeli Navy is in the midst of a process at the end of which it plans to procure new naval ships in accordance with the branch's multi-year plan. The process includes a review of the budgetary aspects as well as operational capabilities. At the end of the process, the Navy's plan will be presented to the IDF General Staff for approval."