Contacted by Naval News, a Naval Group spokes person explained that the 12 MCM vessels will be built by Naval Group and its subsidiary Kership dedicated to the construction of ships of this tonnage. The management and engineering teams will work an one integrated team and Naval Group will support Kership on the complex military aspects associated with the completion of these vessels (such as in the fields of signature reduction and resistance to shocks).
The contract will begin with an initial study phase, and the industrial scheme will be specified later. The construction of the first vessel, intended for the Belgian navy, will start (first steel cutting) in the first half of 2021 for delivery in 2024. The following vessels will be delivered between 2025 and 2030 alternating between the Dutch Navy and the Belgian Navy.
Naval News understands that both sites of Concarneau (Piriou) and Lanester (Naval Group) shipyards could take part in the production of the 12 vessels, while the fitting out of the military equipment could take place at the main Naval Group shipyard in Lorient, because of this yard’s exeperience in complex systems.
Compared to the artist impression that was previously released by Belgium Naval & Robotics (BNR), the updated design now features a new weapon and sensor systems configuration.
The ship, which will act as a mine counter measures (MCM) mother-ship, is now fitted with a BAE Systems Bofors 40Mk4 40mm main gun. This gun, which as already been select by the Brazilian Navy (launch customer), Swedish Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard respectively, is used as a general purpose system to combat both air and surface threats, but it can also be used against coastal ground targets. Its 3P ammo can be programmed for optimised effect against any target, including airburst patterns for new threats that were previously impossible to engage (namely, UAV threats).
Other weapon systems include two Sea DeFNder by Belgian company FN Herstal and four manned 12.7mm machine guns. The Sea DeFNder is a .50 caliber remote weapon station (RWS) already selected by the Belgian Navy on board its two Castor-class patrol boats (launch customer) and on loan with the United States Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) aboard a USV for testing, as Naval News recently reported.
Aboard the future Belgian MCM mother-ship, one Sea DeFNder will be fitted forward, on the port-side bridge wing (the walkway extending outward from both sides of the pilothouse) while the second RWS is found at the stern, starboard side, on a dedicated platform placed right below the helicopter deck and above the aft deck. According to FN Herstal, the Sea DeFNder provides optimized remote firing capability day and night while keeping the operator completely under protection.
Two of the four manned 12.7mm machine guns are located right in front of the bridge, on the port and starboard sides while the other two are fitted on the aft deck.
Two LRAD (long range acoustic devices) complete the weapon systems suite. There are located by the funnels, on each sides of the main structure of the vessel.
As far as sensors are concerned, the vessel is fitted with a wide array of communication/satellite antennas, a fire control system for the main gun and EO/IR (electro optic / infra red) sensors.
The images show that the “MCM mother-ship” can deploy two RHIB and two Inspector 125 unmanned surface vehicles (by ECA Group) via davits. A couple of arms can deploy from the bow to assist in the launch and recovery of these large USVs:
The Inspector 125 USV has a length of about 12 meters, a beam of about 4 meters and a full load weight of 18.1 tons. According to ECA Group, the Inspector 125 is designed to receive a wide range of payload with easy and quick reconfiguration capability. It can carry, deploy and recover the A18 mid-size AUV, the T18 LARS for seafloor survey or MCM detection operation or 2x SEASCAN + 6x K-STER C for MCM identification and neutralization operations. The Inspector 125 has an endurance of 40 hours, a maximum speed of 25 knots and an operational range of 12 nautical miles (from the mother-ship).
The USVs will not just be tasked with deploying other unmanned systems, they will be at the heart of the mine warfare “tool box” acting as the link between the mother-ship and the sub-systems in most cases:
1/ USV (Inspector 125)
– In service platform (based on V2 NG rescue boats of SNSM / French Sea Rescuers)
– Unsinkable hull (certified), waterjet or propellers (specific configuration for mine warfare)
– Deploys other drones
2/ Mine sweeping system
– Very good performances, evaluated by various as part of the European Defense Agency
– Intelligent control of the sweeping system by the USV, taking into account wind and steam factors
– In service with the Royal Australian Navy
3/ UAV (SAAB UMS Skeldar)
– In service
– Designed for EASA certification
– Will be tasked for floating (or non moored) sea mines detection
4/ MIDS (Seascan / K-STER C)
– Used for mine neutralization
– In service with several navies
– Maneuverable and precise thanks to its titable head
ROV Seascan: Used for underwater identification. 3 hours autonomy and high quality camera.
5/ M-AUV (A-18M)
– Currently evaluated by the French Navy
– Light, powerful and modular (batteries are easily replaced)
– Patented launch and recovery system
– Can be supplied with a synthetic aperture sonar
6/ Towed sonar (T-18M)
– Based on an in-service system
– Same logistics as A-18M
– Design for ease-of-use from a USV