How to buy a navy for a billion pounds

There is a dhow in the harbour of Oman’s capital that, floating just off the corniche and opposite to the historic souk, serves as a marker for the maritime heritage the country has. It is also the kind of patrol vessel used by their armed forces right up till the mid-20th century.

A great deal has changed since the 1960s, however, and with it all has come the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) which shortly will complete a multi-year, $1.4 billion regeneration of its fleet as three new vessel classes are introduced.

The country is not alone in the GCC in upgrading its maritime forces, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in the midst of ship building/procurement programmes, but Oman is the first to essentially complete the work. This is of course not withstanding the RNO’s Khareef-2 light frigate plan, which will see a couple more hulls added in future.

Most recently we’ve seen the virtual completion of the Al Ofouq (or should that be Ufuq?) programme that will bring four 75m patrol vessels from Singapore’s ST Marine. Worth some $700m the deal will see the class replace the ageing Province-class patrol vessels.

Much needed for a country that has a 487,356km2 EEZ.

BAE Systems meanwhile inherited the $575m Khareef corvette contract from Vosper Thornycraft (VT) Shipbuilding during a company merger in 2008. The RNO has received these vessels in the past couple of years although it is thought financial penalties were accrued by BAE as a result of construction and delivery delays.

The Al Shamikh, Al Rahmani and Al Rasikh displace around 2,600t, are equipped with AAW and ASW systems and pretty much represent the most fighty vessels the RNO has at the moment. At 99m in length, they will be the largest warships in the RNO fleet and the first new class of corvettes to enter service since the Qahir class in 1996, built by VT Shipbuilding.

And in March 2014 shipbuilder Austal was awarded a $124.9 million contract two 72m High Speed Support Vessel’s (HSSV). The first in class, RNOV Al Mubshir, is expected to be delivered at some point this year. The second HSSV at an advanced stage of construction for its planned completion in mid-2016, according to Austal.

What’s it all in aid of one might ask? Well not-withstanding the diminishing threat of the kind of full-scale maritime piracy that once reached to the port cities of Muscat, Sohar and beyond, the RNO will now be better able to counter the immense smuggling trade around the Musandam Peninsula and improve its own maritime security capability.

That and proof that if you look hard enough, diversify your suppliers, negotiate well when needed, you can sometimes get a half decent naval procurement plan.

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