By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has asked the United States for prices for surface warships with integrated air and missile defenses, helicopters, patrol craft and shore infrastructure, the U.S. Navy said on Friday.
The Navy is preparing a rough cost estimate that would be delivered possibly as soon as May, Navy spokeswoman Captain Cate Mueller told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest U.S. arms buyer and is expected to remain so despite political upheaval in the Middle East.
The request for medium surface combat ships and the rest of the hardware was received by the Navy in July through the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation, Mueller said.
Earlier on Friday, Lockheed Martin Corp executives said the first phase of the so-called Saudi Naval Expansion Program-II could be worth $20 billion, attributing the estimate to U.S. Navy officials. The company would likely vie for any such orders.
Other likely competitors would be Australia's Austal Ltd and General Dynamics Corp, which teamed up to build a Littoral Combat Ship for the U.S. Navy, as is Lockheed.
Paul Lemmo, a Lockheed vice president for business development, said the company would pitch a multimission version of its fast new coastal combat ship, perhaps fitted with Lockheed's Aegis weapon system.
In October, the Obama administration notified Congress of a proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia potentially worth as much as $60 billion over 15 to 20 years. It would be the largest arms deal on record if all purchases are made, including 84 Boeing F-15 fighter jets and upgrades to 70 more F-15s that the Saudis already have.
Also included would be three types of helicopters plus 150 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles built by Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.