Advanced negotiations are under way between Israel and Germany regarding the procurement of 2-4 new missile frigates that would be assigned to defend, among other things, the offshore gas drilling rigs in the Mediterranean.
Israeli defense industry officials are demanding that Germany be required to make offset purchases in Israel if the new missile frigate deal is approved.
The German deal appears to be materializing after the IDF Navy had examined several vessel types around the world in an effort to select its next missile frigate. One of the options examined was a vessel made by the Hyundai shipyards in South Korea. The new vessel will have a displacement of about 1,300 tons, like the largest vessels currently in service in the IDF Navy – the Sa'ar-5 missiles frigates, manufactured by Ingalls Shipbuilding in the USA.
With the beginning of the quest for a vessel of this size, the IDF Navy had abandoned its previous plans of acquiring vessels with a displacement of 2,000 tons minimum. The IDF Navy had originally intended to acquire vessels manufactured by Lockheed-Martin in the context of Project LCS (Littoral Combat Ship), but negotiations were discontinued owing to the reduction in the scope of the US project, which led to a substantial increase in the cost of each vessel.
Subsequently, the IDF Navy examined the possibility of having a vessel of a similar size built by Israel Shipyards, based on the blueprints of the German Meko-100 vessel design, but this option was rejected, too. Nevertheless, the IDF Navy will require a vessel with a displacement of 1,300 tons and special characteristics that would enable it to carry the latest weapon systems used by the Navy: the Barak-8 surface-to-surface missile system and a new anti-aircraft system.
The procurement of the new missile frigates is a part of a renewal process the IDF Navy is undergoing after its latest surface vessels, the Sa'ar-5 frigates, have reached their mid-life point – they are almost 20 years old, on average.
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.
Now the 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.
If the new vessels are purchased from Germany, some parts of the work may be performed at Israel Shipyards. The electronic warfare systems and weapon systems fitted to the new vessels will be mostly Israeli-made systems.