Sons of Sa’ar? Israel’s Next Generation Frigates
November 10/16: Israeli navy officials are evaluating fixed-wing extremely short take-off and landing (ESTOL) UAV ideas to eventually deploy on their four new Saar 6 corvettes and existing SAAR 5 missile vessels. The ESTOL UAV will be based on propulsive lift technology that will enable it to take off from a very small platform on the navy ship. A decision will be made on the platform in 2017.
The 1,227t/ 1,350 ton Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class corvettes were built by Northrop Grumman in the 1990s for about $260 million each. It’s a decent performer in a number of roles, from air defense to anti-submarine work, to coastal patrol and special forces support. In 2006, the Israelis went looking for a next-generation vessel with better high-end capabilities. Six years later, Israel had nothing to show for its search. In the meantime, massive natural gas deposits have been discovered within Israel’s coastal waters, adding considerable urgency to their search.
The USA is Israel’s logical supplier, but given Israel’s size and cost requirements, the only American option was the Littoral Combat Ship. Israel pursued that option for several years, conducting studies and trying to get a better sense of feasibility and costs. Their approach would have been very different from the American Freedom Class LCS, removing the swappable “mission modules” and replacing them with a fixed and fully capable set of air defense, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons. In the end, however, the project was deemed to be unaffordable. Instead, Israel began negotiating with Germany, and reports now include discussions involving both South Korea, and a local shipyard.
Ship Systems: What is Israel Looking For?
The Strategic Situation
Israel’s discovery of massive offshore gas reserves in the Tamar and Leviathan fields has the potential to change Israel diplomatic weight, as well as its economy and energy status. Work is already underway in cooperation with Cyprus, and Greece has shifted from hostile to cooperative over the last decade, but Turkey is making hostile noises, and Syrian hostility is assured.
Potential irregular threats to Israeli drilling installations include UAVs, which have already overflown existing rigs on their way into Israeli airspace, or boat operations with divers or depth charges. Rig owners are working with the IDF to counter the irregular threat, via armed teams on each platform and radars networked to Israel’s coastal defenses. They may need to take further steps with RWS emplacements and missiles, given rules that require enemies to close within 1/2 mile before defenders can open fire.
The higher end is more problematic, and isn’t much discussed, but it exists. Hezbollah has already proven its ability to use long-range surface-launched naval missiles, and drilling platforms are ideal targets if they can be reached. Full state-level threats leave Israel open to the threat of supersonic Russian SS-N-26s in Syria’s possession, and add enemy submarines to this picture. Turkey’s purchase of 6 U214s, Iran’s Kilo Class boats, and a possible Egyptian purchase of 2 U209s fitted with modern systems, are changing the local balance. Turkish saber-rattling and Syrian hostility mean that enemy fighters must also be considered, and the rigs will be placed some distance from Israeli quick-reaction fighter launches.
It’s a complex, multi-dimensional problem, and the solution will have to be multi-layered. Defensive systems and sensors on board the rigs themselves, and naval flotillas of smaller ships that offer presence while providing point defense and surface attack punch, are already in place. Heron UAVs are already operating in maritime patrol mode, which offers Israel a persistent aerial surveillance option, but doesn’t help much with response capability at present. Israel could benefit greatly from maritime patrol aircraft with good on-station time, and offensive capabilities that allow them to intervene. Their aged Westwind 1124N Sea Scan business jets don’t fit that bill.
Meanwhile, their naval flotillas need a boost, and acknowledging higher-end threats becomes very consequential if it means that Israel needs high-end wide-area air defense and anti-submarine capabilities on station.
Whatever that solution may be, Israel’s experience with the LCS concept shows where their needs are leading them. From Israel’s point of view, the keys to their original interest in an LCS-I design were threefold.
Flexibility. The 1st key is an open architecture combat system. Israel produces a lot of its own electronics, and the ability to easily integrate their own products into current and future configurations was seen as a huge plus. Lockheed Martin’s VP of Israel Operations, Joshua Shani, meant it when he said that that “participation by the Israeli defense industry will be the cornerstone of [LCS-I’s] success.” The same will be true of any other ship type that Israel adopts.
Wider View. The 2nd key is better sensors. LCS-I negotiations focused on Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1F S-band radar, which also equips Norway’s Fridjhof Nansen Class AEGIS frigates. Discussions surrounding other ships have focused instead on IAI Elta’s locally-developed EL/M-2248 MF-STAR “Adir” S-band active array radar, which has been exported to India for use on their Kolkata Class destroyers, and is being installed as a Sa’ar 5 upgrade. AESA radars are much easier to resize for smaller ships, and IAI ELta’s designs scale all the way down to the EL/M-2258 ALPHA (Advanced Lightweight Phased Array) radar, which is being installed on Israel’s 500t class Sa’ar 4.5 Fast Attack Craft.
AN LCS-I would also have offered far superior underwater sensors. The ability to embark larger helicopters, including the MH-60 Seahawk family or similar naval helicopters, would dramatically boosting Israel’s anti-submarine capabilities. A modern bow sonar, which is present in other ship designs, would add a lot all by itself, especially if the ship’s combat system could integrate that data with towed and/or variable-depth sonars.
Weapon Improvements. The 3rd key involves a wider weapon fit, especially when it comes to air defense. Adopting the MK41 Vertical Launch System would give Israel inherent flexibility over time to integrate new missiles of all types, in order to handle Israel’s combat scenarios, and address changes in threats and operational requirements.
LCS-I’s high-end armament would have included torpedo tubes, mounts for Harpoon or Gabriel anti-ship missiles, and the contents of the ship’s 16 strike-length vertical launch cells. Those cells would offer Israel the flexibility to include anti-air missiles like the new Israeli Barak-8, the entire range of Raytheon’s Standard family air and missile defense interceptors, compatible anti-ship and precision strike missiles like Lockheed Martin’s LRASM, or even current anti-submarine missiles like VL-ASROC. Local options like IAI’s ANAM/ Gabriel 5 and IMI’s Delilah-SL will also be of interest to the Israelis.
In Israel’s case, a strike-length MK41 VLS system could take on strategic significance. Raytheon’s SM-3 (area defense), SM-2 Block IV, and SM-6 missiles (point defense) can be used to defend against ballistic missile attacks, if paired with a suitable radar. The AN/SPY-1F has never received the signal processor upgrades given to larger and more powerful SPY-1D radars for ballistic missile defense, nor has it ever been tested in that role. Alternatively, the ship could be networked with long-range ground radars like Israel’s “Green Pine.” In either scenario, the SM-3’s range and Israel’s tiny size would allow just 1 ship on station to cover most of Israel. A situation where 2 ships out of 4 are on station at any given time is very plausible, and could provide overlapping point defense ABM coverage. Either option would supplement Israel’s medium range Arrow and short range Patriot PAC-2 GEM systems on land. At present, this is an option rather than a focus, but even the potential for such a vital national mission is a first for the Israeli Navy.
Onboard vehicles add to an Israeli frigates’ punch in a different way. New ships will be expected to embark a flexible USV/UUV mix, with the ability to store and launch Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB), mine or sub-hunting hunting UUVs, or surface USVs. Israel’s leading-edge capabilities in USVs would make that capability an immediate and long-term force multiplier.
Israel’s core problem is that a high-end, full featured frigate is going to cost them $600+ million. They want the capabilities, but don’t have the money to buy 3-4 ships at that price. In response, they can choose to scale back their desires, or they can find some way to make a deal.
What Are You Shipping: Vessels & Systems
Current State: Israel’s Sa’ar 5 Corvettes
Some have called the 1,227 tonne Eilat Class a better base model for the USA to adopt, as it seeks an affordable Littoral Combat Ship or flotilla asset. The ships were built by Litton-Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation of Pascagoula, MS (now HII), based on Israeli designs. All 3 ships of class were launched from 1993 – 1994.
Air Defense. Sa’ar 5 corvettes have moderate anti-air capabilities, thanks to IAI Elta ELM-2218S and ELM-2221 GM STGR radars. Twin 32-cell launchers hold short-range Barak-1 surface-air missiles, and the ship has a Mk15 Phalanx 20mm CIWS gun for last-ditch defense. As of 2013, the ships are preparing to swap their Barak-1 systems for the larger Barak-8 missile, whose 70+ km reach will give the Israeli Navy its first area air defense capability.
ASW. Bow-mounted and towed sonars, plus 6x 324mm torpedo tubes for Mark 46 torpedoes, give these corvettes moderate anti-submarine capability. This was quite adequate until the early 2010s. As Turkey has become progressively more hostile, and unstable neighbors like Egypt buy modern submarines, there is some concern that the Eilat Class’ anti-submarine capabilities may not be enough.
Surface Warfare. Surface warfare is addressed well. Harpoon or Gabriel anti-ship missiles can be used against larger ships or land targets, while the Mk15 Phalanx 20mm gun and Typhoon remotely-operated 7.62-30mm gun/missile systems deal with guerrilla craft. The corvette is also capable of launching small special forces boats, or robotic USVs like RAFAEL’s Protector series.
A 76mm Oto Melara naval gun option could be installed in place of the Phalanx. It would offer slightly less air defense capability, in exchange for a longer reach and more punch against fast boats. That upgrade would be compatible with long-range Vulcano ammunition for naval fire support, but Israel has chosen the Phalanx for now.
The Eilat Class’ helicopter hangar can accommodate AS565 Dauphin/Panther, Kaman SH-2F or Sikorsky S-76N helicopters. Israel’s navy flies the AS565, but they haven’t armed them with substantial naval weapons.
Future Option: Lockheed Martin’s LCS-I
The Israelis have a long-standing relationship with Lockheed Martin, and a 2,500-3,000t LCS design with the USA’s swappable mission modules could significantly improve Israel’s ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare and mine neutralization missions.
Unfortunately, the pitifully weak armament of the USA’s LCS ships is inadequate for the Israelis, who need their ships to be able to engage other naval vessels, and to provide their own air defense. Worse, the American design lacks the flexibility to add meaningful weapons in future. As a result, the Israelis took a different approach, eliminating the ship’s swappable mission modules in favor of a much more heavily-armed vessel.
Initial studies were conducted in conjunction with Lockheed Martin, leading to an RFP and even an official $1.9 billion DSCA request for Lockheed Martin’s LCS-I design. That would have made Israel the first LCS export customer. Construction of the LCS-I ships would have occurred at Marinette Marine and Bollinger Shipyards in the United States and American construction allows Israel to buy the ships with American military aid dollars, rather than using its hard-currency budget. Gary Feldman, Lockheed’s business development director international LCS sales, said that detail design could have begun in 2009, with construction starting in 2010.
In the end, however, expected per-ship costs of $700 million or so led the Israelis to back away and look for another solution.
Future Option: HII’s Sa’ar 5B
Northrop Grumman has proposed an enlarged “Sa’ar 5B” corvette with more advanced systems, and Israel has made that task easier by developing their own advanced ship radars and improved missiles. Indeed, the Israelis are implementing a de facto Sa’ar 5B by upgrading existing Eilat Class ships with fixed-plate MF-STAR “Adir” AESA radars, new medium range Barak-8 missiles, and better anti-ship/ land strike missiles.
Northrop Grumman (now HII) has hinted that Sa’ar 5B ships could be built for less than $450 million, using American aid dollars, but Israel initially rejected that option as well. Discussions are rumored to have resumed, but nailing down a firm price will require money up front for extensive design studies. That left Israel looking beyond the USA for their base ship, even as the equipment they wanted in those ships remained fairly constant.
Future Option: Germany, Overall?
In February 2009, Israel switched its interest to ThyssenKrupp Marine Systsems’ MEKO family, which comes in sizes ranging from A100 corvettes to full-size A200 frigates. MEKOs are customized to their destination country, so a German K130 Braunschweig Class is very different than Malaysia’s Kedah Class, even though both begin with the A100 base. As part of that customization, the radar would have been IAI’s Elta’s EL/M-2248 MF-STAR, and many of the other technologies requested for the LCS-I would have applied as well.
Reports are split between a buy of 4 A100 base corvettes to put more ships on station, vs. a purchase of 2 high-end frigates that would be able to focus on advanced anti-submarine and wide-area anti-air warfare.
There was even some talk of making Israel the launch customer for the MEKO CSL, which would have given Israel some of the modularity found in the USA’s LCS class. The Meko CSL is only slightly smaller than the American LCS Freedom Class, at 108m/ 354 ft. long, with a beam of 21 meters and full-load displacement of 2,750 tonnes. Propulsion is by a combined diesel-and-gas (CODAG) water-jet system that cruises at 15 knots and reaches 40. Cruising speed range at would be about is 3,500 nautical miles, with 21 days endurance. The MEKO CSL variant adds improved stealth shapes and measures refined on Sweden’s Visby Class corvettes, and has several modular sections for faster swap-outs. An Israeli MEKO CSL would contain a lot of local content, including IAI Elta’s MF-STAR, the new Barak-8 medium range air defense missile, and Israeli electronic countermeasures systems, among others. The CSL also has a rear mission bay, and could serve as a hub for Israel’s advanced UAVs and robotic naval USV/UUVs.
German negotiations stalled after Germany agreed to provide subsidies for more Dolphin Class submarines, but not for frigates. 2013 Reports indicate that negotiations have resumed.
Asian Quality: The South Korean Option
South Korea (ROK) is a global leader in shipbuilding, and their successful naval shipbuilding programs include cruiser-size KDX-III AEGIS destroyers as well as smaller ships like their FFX and FFX II light frigates. The FFX Block II in particular appears to be an advanced small combatant that meets Israel’s size and capability requirements. The 2,500t+ ships will offer electrical power to spare, high-end long range radar capabilities, a 127mm/ 5″ gun with guided shell options and future long-range fire capabilities, a 16-cell vertical launch system, and the ability to embark full-size anti-submarine helicopters.
The South Koreans might be able to produce new frigates at the price and quality level Israel needs, and they’ve become significant buyers of Israeli defense technologies in recent years. Israel wants to keep that relationship going, but KAI’s recent loss of a $1 billion deal for new IAF jet trainers has put a dent in things. South Korea remains interested in other Israeli technologies, including its Iron Dome rocket defense system.
A deal that offset ROK defense purchases with Israeli buys of South Korean FFX Block II ships might make everyone happy, and get the Israeli political support required to move the project ahead. Negotiations are reportedly underway.
Final Option: Don’t Go Big – Go Home
Israel’s final option is less ambitious in terms of performance, but more ambitious industrially. It involves a deal with the privatized Israel Shipyards. In exchange for government investment to modernize and expand the shipyard, they would design and build an larger, improved version of existing corvettes. The Sa’ar 5.5 option would be designed to give Israel a locally-built offering that was both exportable and upgradeable, without requiring outside help or approval.
Recent MF-STAR/ Barak-8 upgrades are laying the groundwork for a tested option. The question is whether all of the money required for shipyard modernization, ship design, fabrication in a shipyard stretching its capabilities, and platform testing would make the final product as expensive as higher-end options, while offering comparatively less capability. That could also make the vessels unexportable on price grounds, creating a lose-lose-lose scenario.
Contracts & Key Events
2015 – 2016
November 10/16: Israeli navy officials are evaluating fixed-wing extremely short take-off and landing (ESTOL) UAV ideas to eventually deploy on their four new Saar 6 corvettes and existing SAAR 5 missile vessels. The ESTOL UAV will be based on propulsive lift technology that will enable it to take off from a very small platform on the navy ship. A decision will be made on the platform in 2017.
May 12/15: The Israeli Ministry of Defense announced Monday that it has signed a contract for four Sa’ar-class corvettes, manufactured by Germany’s TKMS. Discussions between the two countries over the supply of Littoral Combat Ships to protect Israel’s offshore gas reserves have been in the works since 2009, with the Germans agreeing to a discount in October last year, with the German government further subsidizing the deal, funding approximately a quarter of the contract’s value. The $480 million deal will see TKMS buying $181 million-worth of Israeli-manufactured equipment as offsets. Whilst the Israeli MoD did not announce the precise type of corvette the Israeli Navy will receive, it is likely to be the Blohm Voss-class 130 corvette, with modification to Israeli specifications.
Israel’s offshore strategic situation; Significant Sa’ar 5 improvements underway; Negotiations with Germany.
Oct 19/14: Germany. Ha’aretz reports that Germany has agreed to a discount, and seems set to secure the Israeli contract for its next-generation ships:
“A crisis between Israel and Germany over missile boats required to protect Israel’s offshore gas fields has ended after Berlin agreed to slash [EUR] 300 million (about $382 million) off the cost, officials on both sides said. They are expected to initial an agreement for the boats within weeks.”
Time will tell which boats Israel orders. If they still want 4 ships, a sum of just over $900 million with subsidies included could get them MEKO derivatives along the lines of Germany’s own 1,840t K130 Braunschweig Class corvettes, but with Israeli technology. If they’re only ordering 2 ships, possibilities expand to include base options like the 2,750t MEKO CSL, or a MEKO A200 derivative that compares to Turkey’s own 3,350t Barbaros Class. Sources: Ha’aretz, “Missile boat crisis ends as Germany gives Israel $382 million discount”.
Sept 28/14: RFP & timelines. State Comptroller Judge (ret.) Joseph Shapira published an audit report in March 2014 that said Israel’s gas facilities in the Mediterranean were only partially protected, but constituted a prime target for attacks by terrorist organizations. That has ratcheted urgency a bit higher, but Israel may have to wait for some time before its ships sail out:
“The Ministry has been preparing for a number of years an international tender for the procurement of ship to operate in Israel’s marine economic area, and has done in-depth staff work in the matter. The government decided to procure the ships only in November 2013, and provided a special budget for them. Procurement was suspended in order to provide enough time for negotiations for a deal with a foreign country. Last July, following the prolonging of these processes, the Defense Ministry decided to issue an international tender for procurement of the ships. The tender is currently taking place; the envelopes will be opened next December, and a preliminary answer will be given. The tender will be completed by the end of 2015.”
Add time for integration of Israeli components, construction, outfitting, testing, and training, and operational acceptance before 2018 would be quite a feat. Globes reports that the contract’s scope involves NIS 2 billion (about $550 million) for 4 ships. That won’t get them very much. Sources: Globes, “Israel Navy to wait years for gas rig defense ships”.
May 15/14: Germany. Ha’aretz reports that the proposed deal discussed in December 2013 (q.v. Dec 8/13) appears to have fallen through for now:
“The German government has decided not to give Israel a massive subsidy for the purchase of German missile boats, due to the breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, both Israeli and German officials said on Thursday.”
Sources: Ha’aretz, “Germany nixes gunboat subsidy to Israel, citing breakdown of peace talks”.
May 13/14: Sa’ar 5+. Israeli improvements to their existing ships are underway. This matters, because deploying the systems within the Israeli Navy makes Israel much more likely to demand them as part of any future frigate. Fielding a tested upgrade to the Eilat Class also provides added weight to options like the Sa’ar 5B or Sa’ar 5.5, by creating a proven starting point.
A “senior naval source” tells The Jerusalem Post that Israel is upgrading the anti-ship and strike missiles on board its ships, in order to give their Navy medium-range precision strike capability against land targets. They weren’t specific, but IAI has developed an “Advanced Naval Attack Missile” as a successor to existing naval Gabriel missiles. The other likely option is IMI’s “Delilah-SL”; it’s a ship-launched version of the Air Force’s go-to missile for strikes against targets that are heavily defended, or require a high level of human judgement via its “man in the loop” feature.
The article adds that a Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class corvette has already been outfitted with IAI Elta’s MF-STAR S-Band AESA radar and Barak-8 air defense missiles. Adding better strike weapons to that array changes effectively creates a proven “Sa’ar 5B/ 5.5” option. Sources: The Jerusalem Post, “The Israel Navy is quietly enhancing its capabilities for precision, long-range missiles”.
Jan 18/14: Israel Defence reports that Israel is scaling down its naval platform ambitions. They’re reportedly back to a platform around 1,300t, which is about the same size as their Sa’ar 5s, rather than a 2,000t+ platform. They’ll still insist on its ability to carry MF-STAR and the Barak-8, but success won’t entirely solve their problems:
“Originally, the IDF Navy should have initiated the procurement of the new missile frigates in the context of the previous multi-year plan, and funds had been allocated for this purpose as part of that plan, but owing to the cancellation of the LCS option, the process never materialized…. intention of the IDF is to finance the procurement of the new vessels by a dedicated budget allocated by the government outside the framework of the normal defense budget, in order to secure the offshore gas drilling rigs. The procurement plan notwithstanding, the total number of missile frigates in the IDF Navy is expected to decrease during the next five-year period, owing to the obsolescence of the present vessels, some of which are to be decommissioned.”
Sources: Israel Defence, “The Next Missile Frigate of the IDF Navy”.
Jan 8/14: Strategic. Paul Alster & David Andrew Weinberg discuss the difficulties Israel faces in defending its offshore gas resources, and take a critical look at the exploitable reserves and revenue projections. They say flatly that:
“IDF officials concede that they do not have the resources as of now to properly secure the infrastructure at sea.”
They list threats that include UAVs, which have already overflown existing rigs on their way into Israeli airspace; suicide operations with divers, boats or depth charges; and surface-to-surface missiles like the C-802s that have already been used by Hezbollah. Rig owners are working with the IDF to counter the irregular threat, via armed teams on each platform and radars networked to Israel’s coastal defenses. They may need to take further steps with RWS emplacements and missiles, given rules that require enemies to close within 1/2 mile before defenders can open fire. Higher end threats are even more problematic, and aren’t much discussed here, but they exist. It’s a complex, multi-dimensional problem, and the solution will have to be multi-layered.
One apparent error: the authors refer to “two state-of-the-art German-built MEKO class F221 frigates” as Israel’s choice. The F221 is FGS Hessen, a Sachsen Class advanced air warfare destroyer. First off, it isn’t part of the MEKO family, but a separate and more advanced class built in the context of trilateral cooperation between the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. They are top-end multi-role “frigates,” whose size and growth capacity for ballistic missile defense would make them destroyers if Europeans weren’t so averse to the term. It’s a very capable ship, but an unlikely choice. One ship of that class, with modifications, would eat most of Israel’s reported EUR 1 billion budget for 2. Sources: Forbes, “The Daunting Challenge Of Defending Israel’s Multi-Billion Dollar Gas Fields”.
2012 – 2013
Dec 16/13: Strategic. Information Dissemination runs an analysis of Israel’s apparent interest in 2 high-end ships, which is a departure from their traditional focus on larger numbers of smaller vessels. The best that can be said for Jacob Stoil’s analysis is that it’s incomplete. He’s correct to say that this is a departure, and that presence matters, but he never looks at the regional changes underway, and the strategic imperatives created by new enemy capabilities and new Israeli needs. Then there are quotes like this one, which assume premises that turn out not to be true:
“Israel clearly does not intend to use naval power to support land operations or develop independent strategic operations from the sea in a serious way. All of their naval procurement and training decisions over the last more than twenty years have made that impossible.”
Sources: Information Dissemination, “Of Destroyers and Doctrine: An Evaluation of Israel’s Decision to Invest in Larger Hulls”.
Dec 8/13: Germany. The newspaper Ha’aretz reports that Israel’s Defense Ministry is expected to ask the Finance Ministry for a ILS 3 billion budget increase (about $855 million/ EUR 624 million) to purchase 4 “missile boats” as a special buy outside the defense budget, for protection of Israel’s huge offshore natural gas fields. At the same time, the German Bild newspaper is reporting a different deal: 2 ships for EUR 1 billion. The Ha’aretz report does add that Israel continues to negotiate with American and South Korean suppliers, leaving the Navy’s plans characteristically unclear.
What is clear is that there’s a big difference between the implications in the Israeli and German reports. EUR 156 million per ship will struggle to buy a ship like the K130 corvette, a surface warfare patrol ship with limited anti-aircraft capabilities, and no anti-submarine capabilities. They could form interesting flotilla dyads with the proposed Multi-role Super-Dvora, but submarine threats are rising in the Mediterranean. At EUR 500 million per ship, on the other hand, Israel would be looking at high-end MEKO Class frigates will a full range of capabilities, which would become the most advanced ships in their navy. The price would be more limited coverage, with just half the number of ships bought for slightly more money. Sources: Die Presse, “Israel konnte deutsche Kriegsschiffe kaufen” | Ha’aretz, “Defense Ministry seeking $853m to buy German missile boats” | AFP, “”Bild”: Deutschland verkauft Israel zwei raketenbestuckte Zerstorer” | N24, “Israel will Raketenschiffe aus Deutschland” (repeats Ha’aretz figures).
Aug 10/12: South Korea. Israel Defense reports that South Korea is interested in Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, and is negotiating for possible offsetting deals involving frigates for Israel.
April 1/12: South Korea? Israel Defense reports that South Korea is offering to build new surface vessels for the Israeli Navy via Hyundai shipyards. South Korean representatives have reportedly visited Israel and met with the Ministry of Defense, and are said to be continuing discussions. The magazine reports that the offered ships had a displacement of just 1,300 tons, the same size as current Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class corvettes, and significantly smaller than South Korea’s new 2,300t FFX Incheon Class frigates. It didn’t say whether that displacement was measured at full load, after Israel radars, weapons, etc. had all been installed.
Israel hasn’t set aside a budget for such vessels in its current plans, but ongoing discoveries of huge offshore oil and gas are changing its assessment of its security needs.
Meanwhile, Israel Shipyards has reportedly proposed an alternative in which government re-investment would help them add hundreds of employees, invest in a new manufacturing layout, and build 2,100 ton “Saar 5.5” light frigates. They would then become an exporter, with the ability to field upgraded versions for Israel later on. The MoD has approached the Treasury about this plan, but it’s reportedly stuck, even as negotiations have stalled with the USA for a Freedom Class LCS derivative, and with Germany for a MEKO frigate derivative.
2009 – 2011
LCS too expensive; Talks center around German MEKO designs, incl. MEKO CSL; Israel may not have the budget to buy the ships it wants – but huge resource finds mean they may have to.
November 2010: Leviathan. Israel’s giant “Leviathan” offshore natural gas field is discovered. The gas field is located roughly 130 km/ 81 miles west of Haifa, in 1,500 m/ 4,900 ft. of water. Estimated reserves are a stunning 500+ billion cubic meters, or more than 18 trillion cubic feet.
Israel’s navy just became much more important.
Giant offshore gas find
July 25/10: MEKO. Hopes of German government subsidies to finance Israel’s MEKO buy appear to be fading, amidst the country’s tightening climate of austerity. From The Jerusalem Post:
“The [Israeli] Defense Ministry statement came amid reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had decided to turn down an Israeli request for financial assistance in purchasing the Dolphin-class submarine and new [MEKO frigates]. In another rare statement, the German government, which rarely talks about defense sales, also denied it was holding talks with Israel on subsidizing new naval vessels… Israel had hoped to receive additional subsidies for two Meko-class ships it was interested in purchasing.”
May 18/10: MEKO CSL? Aviation Week reports that Israel may become the launch customer for ThyssenKrupp’s new MEKO CSL. If true, the American Littoral Combat Ship’s price may end up spawning an international export competitor.
The Meko CSL is only slightly smaller than the American LCS Freedom Class, at 108m/ 354 ft. long, with a beam of 21 meters and full-load displacement of 2,750 tonnes. Propulsion is by a combined diesel-and-gas (CODAG) water-jet system that cruises at 15 knots and reaches 40. Cruising speed range at would be about is 3,500 nautical miles, with 21 days endurance. The MEKO CSL variant adds improved stealth shapes and measures refined on Sweden’s Visby Class corvettes, and has several modular sections for faster swap-outs. An Israeli MEKO CSL would also contain a lot of local content, including IAI Elta’s MF-STAR active-array radar, the new Barak-8 medium range air defense missile, and Israeli electronic countermeasures systems, among others. The CSL does have a rear mission bay, and one of its roles would likely be as a hub for Israel’s advanced set of robotic UAVs and naval USV/UUVs.
Jan 18/10: MEKO. Defense News reports that Germany and Israel are in talks concerning a $1.45 billion naval deal that would add 1 Dolphin Class submarine, and 2 MEKO-derived frigates as the beginning of Israel’s next-generation frigate program. Current reports do not see a January 2010 agreement as likely, and Defense News claims that Israel is asking Germany to pay for 33% of the cost as a German industrial stimulus program, just as it did with Israel’s previous 2-sub order.
The MEKO ships would be Israel’s alternative to a very modified version of Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship design, which Israel rejected due to its expected $700+ million cost. Even so, American components in the total naval package could reach up to $200 million. This is important because Israel can use US military aid dollars to buy them, instead of hard currency.
Nov 25/09: German MEKOs? Reuters reports on negotiations between TKMS and Israel to buy up to 8 next-generation MEKO ships.
“Built at ThyssenKrupp’s (TKAG.DE) Blohm+Voss shipyards in Hamburg, the Meko costs around $300 million but Israel wants the German government to underwrite the sale. An official involved in the talks said Israel sought a discount of 20 to 30 percent. That would help the Meko outprice the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)… An Israeli official said despite the fact that U.S. defence grants would significantly defray the estimated $460 to $600 million cost of the LCS, the Meko topped the wish list. “We want to close a deal by the end of the year. Now it comes down to financing issues with the Germans,” he said.”
Previous reports placed the LCS-I cost closer to $650-700 million. As was the case with the LCS-I, Israel is looking to incorporate a range of Israeli technologies and weapons into the frigates.
Oct 15/09: TKMS + UAE. Blohm + Voss parent firm, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, sells an 80% share of all Blohm + Voss groups to the United Arab Emirates’ firm Abu Dhabi MAR, and makes future naval construction a 50/50 joint venture. It remains to be seen whether this will affect Israeli negotiations to use Blohm + Voss’ MEKO designs as the base for its future frigate.
June 29-July 6/09: USA Out. Multiple sources report that Israel is abandoning the LCS-I design, owing to its high costs. Israeli estimates reportedly put the price of an LCS-I at over $600 million, a reasonable figure given the $650-700 million cost of the first 2 American ships, and LCS-I’s extensive Israeli equipment upgrades. Arutz Sheva:
“As much as we sought commonality with the U.S. Navy, it became much, much more expensive than planned,” a naval source said. “At the end of the day, we had no choice but to face that fact that, for us, it was unaffordable.”
Surprisingly, Israel also turned down a 2,300 ton Sa’ar 5.5/5B option from original Eilat class builder Northrop Grumman, owing to expected costs of about $450 million. Instead, Israel is reportedly looking at expanding cooperation with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), whose HDW subsidiary builds Israel’s Dolphin subs. The idea is to build an advanced, stretched version of Blohm + Voss’ 2,200 ton MEKO A-100 corvette. The ship would add Mk 41 VLS cells, IAI’s Elta’s EL/M-2248 MF-STAR “Adir” active array radar, and other Israeli equipment. The Israelis reportedly believe they would be able to field such a capable ship for around $300 million, and that they can build it locally as a joint military/economic stimulus project. One source told Arutz Sheva (INN) that “We believe a strong case can be made for making this into a national project that fosters self sufficiency and provides all the economic benefits that come with creating a military shipbuilding industry.”
TKMS would be the main design partner, IAI looks set to step into the role of overall systems integrator, and the likely shipbuilder would be Israel Shipyards in Haifa. Israel Shipyards have mostly focused on much smaller fast attack boats, but were also responsible for local integration of the Sa’ar 5 corvettes.
This version of Israel’s next-generation ship project will face 2 main challenges. One is a technical/ engineering challenge. The other is financial.
As one source told the Jerusalem Post: “The challenge will be to make a relatively small ship large enough to carry everything we need, including the radar system.” Given that the systems Israel wants usually equip 4,000+ ton ships, that challenge should not be minimized. TKMS’ Meko 200, in service with the Turkish and South African navies, does offer a 3,850 ton option, and the Israeli Navy is reportedly preparing to issue a design contract to IAI and TKMS subsidiary Blohm+Voss, in order to sort out their technical options.
The financial challenge will be equally formidable. Both LCS-I and a Sa’ar 5.5 design could be purchased with American military aid dollars, which must be spent in America. Those agreements have provisions that allow up to 26% of that aid to be spent in Israel, but those funds are already committed to projects like an extended-range Barak anti-aircraft missile, IAI Elta’s MF-STAR active array radar, and other priority projects. There are 2 possible workarounds for this, and they are not mutually exclusive. One involves financing from other ministries beyond defense, as an industrial project that would provide employment, expand Israeli shipbuilding capabilities, and might even create an exportable platform if the right agreement is struck with TKMS. The second workaround involves using American aid dollars to cover some elements, like steel, American production of the Meko’s MTU1168 diesel engine by General Dynamics, etc., in order to reduce the hard currency price. That would help the project get approved, but it comes with a cost of its own – it would force the Israelis to labor under America’s cumbersome ITAR export approval laws whenever they or TKMS wished to sell the design abroad.
If those conundrums cannot be resolved at an acceptable cost, a 3rd option may exist. Defense News adds that Israel might have driven down the Sa’ar 5.5’s price by $100 million if it had paid for a contract design/detail design process, and that option may return depending on how efforts with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems progress:
“When Northrop Grumman makes a fixed-price offer, it’s the result of an organized and serious process that allows the company to honor all of its commitments,” a company representative said. “Without conducting a contract design – which eliminates most of the uncertainties that drive up price – NG couldn’t offer the unit costs we all believed we could have delivered to the Israel Navy.”
LCS-I out; No NGC Sa’ar 5B either
Feb 12/09: Industrial. The director of naval procurement at the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s purchasing mission in New York informs U.S. parties that a change in plans toward a different class of locally-built ships may be in the cards:
“In the event this option turns out to be more suitable both in terms of our operational and budgetary requirements, the [multimission ships] will be built in Israel.”
Source: Defense News June 2009 report.
Feb 1/09: LCS-I. The Jerusalem Post reports that OC Navy Adm. Elazar Marom has dispatched a number of officers to the United States to sail on Lockheed Martin’s Freedom [LCS 1] and test its capabilities. The report adds:
“In addition to reviewing the LCS – whose price has soared over the past year and now reportedly reaches $500 million – the navy is also considering downgrading its procurement plans and purchasing more Sa’ar 5-class missile ships… “There are a number of possibilities and they are under review,” one source 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’s price to go down.”
January 2009: Tamar. Noble Energy announces that exploratory drilling has found an offshore gas field about 80 km west of Haifa, in 1,700m / 5,600 ft. of water. The field is called Tamar.
Eventual estimates for the area are a bit of a shock to the traditionally resource-poor Israelis: 200 billion cubic meters / 7.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Giant offshore gas find
2006 – 2008
From studies to a formal LCS-I request.
July 15/08: LCS-I. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Israel’s official request for up to 4 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS-I variant), including the hull, and all mechanical and electrical functions. The ships will also include design and integration services, hardware and software, spare and repair parts, test and tool sets, personnel training and equipment, publications, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $1.9 billion.
Each ship will be equipped with:
- 2 MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems, with 8 launch cells for each system. This would allow the ship to hold and fire up to 16 SM-2/3 air defense missiles, or up to 64 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles.
- 1 Enhanced Harpoon Launching System with missile launchers. Harpoon is an anti-ship missile, but the latest versions can also be used to hit land targets.
- 1 Phalanx Close-In-Weapon System, Block 1A. This is surprising, as Block 1B adds important capabilities against the small boats that remain a concern for Israel. Israel is likely to bolt on other gun systems like RAFAEL’s Typhoon in order to cover that threat, but Israeli systems do not need to be specified in the DSCA announcement.
- 2 MK-32 triple-launcher Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes, which handle lightweight torpedoes and launch them from on deck using pressurized air.
- Communications and Sensors, including Link 16.
- The same COMBATSS-21 Combat system used in American LCS designs.
- The smaller AN/SPY-1F (V) AEGIS radar, which is also used on Norway’s Nansen Class frigates. SPY-1F radars lack ballistic missile defense capabilities, but could be networked with other radars like Israel’s “Green Pine.”
- A MK-99 Fire Control System; or the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) now being installed on American Carriers, LHA/LHD ships, San Antonio Class LPDs, etc.
The principal contractors will be:
- Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors in Moorestown, NJ and Eagan, MN (LCS-I, SPY-1F radar, COMBATSS-21, Mk-41)
- General Dynamics Armament Systems in Burlington, VT (AEGIS illuminator, 20mm gun for Phalanx)
- Raytheon Company, Equipment Division in Andover, MA and Integrated Defense Systems in Waltham, MA (Phalanx, SSDS)
The DSCA announcement says that the Israeli Navy will have no difficulty integrating these ships into its Naval forces, adding that this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the Israel.
LCS-I DSCA request
Feb 6/08: LCS-I. The Jerusalem Post:
“Looking to upgrade its sea-based capabilities, the Israel Navy has submitted a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the United States Navy for a new missile ship currently under development by Lockheed Martin Corp. The Defense Ministry said that the navy expects to receive a reply by April.”
The report added a final caveat, but it doesn’t mean as much as it seems when set against a detailed ship design study, and accompanying industrial arrangements for an extensive array of Israeli equipment on board. That prior work and set of partnerships creates a strong pull toward the Team Lockheed design – one that will not be lightly broken:
“While the navy has filed the RFP, defense officials said it was still not certain whether Israel would purchase the LCS from Lockheed Martin. As part of its multi-year plan finalized in September, the IDF decided to purchase two new ships, but did not state from which company.”
September 2007: LCS-I. NAVSEA asks Lockheed Martin to conduct a 9-month, $2.5 million study of combat system integration for an Israeli LCS-I configuration.
Systems that must be compatible with the combat system reportedly include Lockheed’s AEGIS SPY-1F radar and the Israeli Elta EL/M-2248 Adir radar, RAFAEL’s Typhoon remotely-operated gun/missile systems, Raytheon’s Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missile, and Israel Aerospace Industries’ Barak 1 and 8 anti-air missile systems. A Nov 12/07 Lockheed Martin release adds that:
“During the nine-month combat system configuration phase, Lockheed Martin will examine the combat system performance of LCS-I using two different radar options: the advanced radar under development by Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1F radar. The team will examine the performance of these two radar options using the COMBATSS-21 combat management system integrated with the Israeli Navy Command and Control (IC2) system and develop the technical architecture, high level specifications and estimated costs to integrate COMBATSS-21 with IC2 and multiple Israeli and U.S. sensor and weapon systems including the MK 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS)… Lockheed Martin is currently partnered with Rafael Armament Systems, Elbit Systems and Ness on LCS-I.”
Combat system study
April 10/06: LCS-I. Lockheed Martin announces a $5.2 million NAVSEA study studied Team Lockheed’s LCS hull, mechanical, and engineering systems’ ability to accommodate the systems and weapons the Israelis want, while avoiding the need for major redesign of the USA’s basic configuration.
The final answer was that it could, with some obvious modifications to accommodate better radars and vertical launch systems for missiles.
Freedom Class LCS study
Additional Readings & Sources
Background: Israeli Sa’ar Vessels
- Israeli Weapons – Eilat Class Saar 5 multi-mission corvettes. Built by what is now Huntington Ingalls in the USA. Currently being refitted with the MF-STAR AESA radar, Barak-8 medium-range air defense missiles, and improved anti-ship/ land strike missiles.
- Naval Technology – Eilat Class Sa’ar 5 Multi-Mission Corvettes, Israel.
- Israeli Shipyards – SAAR Class Fast-Attack Vessel. The Sa’ar 4 and 4.5, which max. out at 500t, plus an abbreviated description of the the 800t SAAR S-72. They didn’t build the Sa’ar 5s, but are an option to build a “Sa’ar 5.5” design if Israel goes that route.
- Defense Update – Israel Shipyards Introduces the SAAR 72 Mini-Corvette Design. The 800t design sits somewhere between the existing Sa’ar 4.5 and Sa’ar 5 corvettes. From May 16/13.
- Israeli Weapons – Sa’ar 4.5. Currently being refitted with improved IAI ELM-2258 APLHA radars.
Background: Other Ships
- DID – The USA’s New Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).
- ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems – Blohm+Voss Class 130 Corvette. Based on the MEKO 100, displacement 1,840t. Mostly surface warfare & point air defense. They carry 2 small heli-UAVs in a small hangar on board, and can accommodate medium helicopters on the deck.
- Naval Technology – K130 Braunschweig Class Corvette, Germany. Germany’s 5th and final ship entered service in March 2013.
- ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems – Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate.
- Naval Technology – MEKO A Class Combat Ship Family, Germany.
- ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems – Blohm+Voss Class MEKO® CSL Light Frigate. Modular design with a payload bay.
- DID – Korea’s New Coastal Frigates: the FFX Incheon Class. About 2,300t full displacement. Hyundai and Daewoo can go much bigger, of course, all the way up to their 4,800t KDX-II and 10,000+ tonne KDX-III destroyers that serve with the ROKN. They’ll also be working on an FFX Batch II class that’s expected to be larger, with an upgraded radar and Mk.41 VLS cells.
Background: Ship Systems
- IAI Elta – ELM-2248 MF-STAR : MULTI-FUNCTION Surveillance and Threat Alert Radar. Has up to 4 fixed active array S-band tiles, with multiple digital beamforming capability. Each tile containing 16 Gallium Arsenide transmit/receive modules. A typical 3×3 m array weighs approximately 1,500 kg, and total weight below decks is about 900 kg for onboard equipment in 2 processing and 4 power supply cabinets. Liquid cooling is used.
- Defense Update – EL/M-2248 MF-STAR Naval Multi-Mission Radar. also known as “Adir,” and being fitted to Sa’ar 5 corvettes as part of a current upgrade.
- IAI – ELM-2258 ALPHA: Advanced Lightweight Phased Array Naval Radar. Significantly smaller than MF-STAR, uses a single rotating face. An upgrade for Sa’ar 4.5 FACs.
- Wikipedia – Gabriel (missile). Israel currently fields the Mk.IV (200 km range), and they’ve exported successive versions around the world.
- IAI – Advanced Naval Attack Missile. Effectively, the Gabriel Mk.V, but different enough to merit its own designation.
- IMI – Delilah-SL. The EO-guided Delilah is the IAF’s go-to missile for attacks against heavily defended targets, or targets that demand a high level of human judgement via a “man in the loop” feature. This ship-launched variant offers a 250 km range.
- IAI – Barak-1 Ship Point Defense System.
- DID – India & Israel’s Barak-8 SAM Development Project(s). Barak-8 is already being retrofitted to the Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class, along with an MF-STAR radar.
News and Views
- Forbes (Jan 8/14) – The Daunting Challenge Of Defending Israel’s Multi-Billion Dollar Gas Fields.
- Information Dissemination (Dec 16/13) – Of Destroyers and Doctrine: An Evaluation of Israel’s Decision to Invest in Larger Hulls.
- Defense Update (Oct 14/12) – Israel Navy to Modernize Hetz Class Missile Boats with a New Radar. The Sa’ar 4.5 will get the EL/M-2258 ALPHA S-Band, electronically-steered, software-defined radar. It uses a number of MF-STAR technologies, but is adapted for small ships.
- Ha’aretz (July 9/12) – Israel Navy demands NIS 3 billion for protection of gas rigs.
- Defense Update (January 2010) – Israel Turns to Germany for Naval Stealth Ships. Israel switches gears. Report is focused on the MEKO, incl. the MEKO CSL.
- Defense News (Oct 22/07) – Lockheed Moves Forward With USN’s LCS.
- Jane’s Defence Weekly (Oct 11/07) – Reports that “[The Lockheed Martin LCS-I] design appears to be the most suitable for our needs,” a senior IN source told Jane’s…”