Story by Nathan Gain with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
All those elements are developed in a letter on the investigation phase the Secretary of State Barbara Visser sent today to the Dutch House of Representatives.
« In addition to anti-submarine warfare, the new frigate must be able to protect itself and other units. It must be deployable worldwide for maritime combat and security or assistance operations »
« Carefully weighing requirements, budget and planning turned out to be complex and took more time than expected. And that included the preparation of the Combat Support Ship. The available design capacity had to be divided between both projects, for which the priority for Defense was the Combat Support Ship », the Dutch MoD added.
For the record, the contract for the construction of the Royal Netherlands Navy’s new Combat Support Ship, HNLMS Den Helder, was signed in February between local shipbuilder Damen and the Dutch Defense Materiel Organization (DMO).
The investigation phase has now been completed with a design that meets the requirements of both the Defense and NATO. The two partners, Belgium and the Netherlands, went through the design process with shipbuilder Damen and Thales. The latter is the supplier of the integrated radar and fire control system.
The two partners also looked if an “off the shelf” design could be a usable, affordable and quicker alternative. However, this design did not meet the requirements of Defense and would finally save little time. The research did help to formulate the requirements, for example in terms of mission modularity. The latter means that the frigate must be able to perform various tasks. However, not all of these tasks are performed during the same mission. By assuming this, the ship turned out to be smaller and cheaper. But the new frigate is still getting bigger than the current M-frigate (5,500 tons against 3,300 tons).
Slight delivery delay
It was previously reported that the 1st new frigate would be operational from about 2025. It is now clear that after the contract is concluded, a detailed design phase of approximately 2 years is required before construction can start. « This is longer than initially anticipated », comments de MoD. The expectation is therefore that the first ship will be delivered in 2027 for extensive sea trials. The Dutch Navy is expected to have its first frigate operational in 2028 and the second one a year later. The Belgian frigates will be delivered starting 2030.
About M-Frigate replacement
The Future Surface Combatant is a project of the Royal Netherlands Navy and Belgian Navy to replace the ageing Multipurpose- or M-frigates (Karel Doorman-class). The future frigates will be replacing HNLMS Van Amstel and HNLMS Van Speijk in the Dutch Navy and Leopold I and the Louise-Marie in the Belgian Navy.
The Dutch MoD started design studies for the M-frigates replacement in 2013. The new frigates are set to fulfill a general purpose role with ASW as its specialty. However, given the limited number of frigates in the Royal Netherlands Navy (six) and Belgian (two) fleets, the Future Surface Combatant are required to excel in all area (air defense, anti surface warfare…). While the Belgian Navy is in charge of the MCM replacement program for both navies, likewise the Dutch Navy is in charge of the M-Frigates replacement program for both the Netherlands and Belgium.
M-Frigate Replacement Specifications
- Displacement: Approx. 6.000 tonnes
- Length: 146 meters
- Speed: +30
- Complement: 120
The future frigate will receive RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) Block 2 anti-aircraft missiles and a successor of the Goalkeeper close-in weapon system. These new weapon systems are complemented by heavy-duty remotely operated machine guns (RWS) and light machine guns for use against small surface threats. To combat larger surface targets, the Dutch Ministry of Defense is purchasing a successor to the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
The main submarine weapon system is a new torpedo purchased through the “Replacement Mk46 Lightweight Torpedo” project. For defending against enemy torpedoes, the frigates will be fitted with a system capable of deceiving enemy torpedoes. In the future, a so-called hardkill system, an « anti-torpedo system », is yet to be developed. The frigate has room for a 110-strong crew, but 40 extra beds and various rooms are available for mission-specific personnel and their equipment.
AWWS by Thales
The future frigate will be fitted with the new Above Water Warfare System (AWWS) suite by Thales. will consist of a new generation of sensors, coupled with intelligent software that continuously calculates which actions are best suited to tackle each threat detected by radar and other sensors in the right manner. This maximizes the chance of survival, while the crew stays in control.
This system uses the latest sensor technology from Thales to detect and monitor all above-water threats, including the next-generation, fully digital dual-band X/S radar suite: an integral combination of Active Phased Array Radar (APAR) and Sea Master 400 radar technologies.