Netherlands Ministry of Defence press release – Translation by Naval News
The Netherlands wants to maintain its high-demand submarine capability within NATO and the EU. Allies and partners can thus continue to count on the Netherlands in the decades ahead. Developments on the eastern flank of the NATO treaty area make it particularly clear how important it is that NATO partners continue to invest in their (niche) capabilities.
The Ministry of Defense is now taking steps to improve the submarine replacement project. This was announced today (01 April) by State Secretary Christophe van der Maat in a letter to the House of Representatives.
More information has been gathered during the last few months, indicating that the research is approaching a new phase. Van der Maat has already made three decisions for one of Defense’s most complicated procurement initiatives. The first step is to develop a quotation request right away. Furthermore, the present Walrus class will remain in service for a longer period of time, but with fewer boats. Project management will be improved as well.
There is a distinction drawn between the procurement of submarines and their maintenance. This is done based on the outcomes of the dialogue session. The remainder of the discussion phase is removed. Defense Ministry would want to send the request for a quotation to the yards before the end of the year. This makes it evident which of the three potential yards will manufacture the submarines more swiftly. Only then will agreements about maintenance during the service life be arranged. In this context, the Materiel Preservation Department (DMI) in Den Helder plays an important coordinating function.
The Netherlands wishes to include particular design requirements in the requirements package in order to maintain its differentiated capabilities within NATO. The new submarines, according to Van der Maat, must also be capable of launching long-range missiles. The Defense Memorandum includes plans for possible maritime clout reinforcement.
Sail longer with Walrus class
In order to maintain submarine service until the new boats are available, the present submarines will have to sail longer. The intent is to sail until the mid-2030s, but only if it can be done safely. Sailing through will require, among other things, a different maintenance approach. Therefore, DOD must decommission 1 of the 4 Walrus-class submarines in the short term, and a second later. Parts of these 2 oldest boats will then be used to maintain the other submarines.
The safety of submarine personnel will not be jeopardized by a prolonged voyage, Van der Maat emphasizes. The military seaworthiness authority keeps a watchful eye.
After investigations, it was determined that various improvements are needed in the management of the project. Therefore, measures are being taken to organize management differently and improve communication within the project. It is also important to strengthen the project team and professionalize planning and risk management.
In this phase, DOD moves to milestone planning, which is adjusted as each new milestone is reached. The first milestone currently being worked toward is the award model after the summer, which will be followed by the solicitation in late 2022. The first two new submarines can be expected to enter service in the 2034-2037 timeframe. This could be sooner than if the current process is maintained (2035-2038), but much later than the schedule envisioned last year (by the end of 2031 at the latest).
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Naval News comments:
The procurement of four new-generation submarines to replace the Royal Netherlands Navy’s four in-service Walrus-class submarines has been delayed because discussions with the three competing shipbuilders have yielded less information and less depth than the Dutch Defense Ministry had hoped. (The original bidders for the project were Navantia, Naval Group, Saab Kockums, and Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, but Navantia was ruled out with an announcement in December 2019.)
The first boat was expected from 2028 and at least two submarines were to be fully operational by the end of 2031 in order for the Royal Netherlands Navy to start phasing out the Walrus class.
Decommissioning two boats to keep the other two submarines operational seems a reasonable interim solution if there are obstacles to keeping all submarines operational. Decommissioned submarines will likely be used for spare parts to isolate and repair defects in active submarines in a timely manner.