In the shadow of the more high-profile projects such as the Pohjanmaa-class corvettes (Squadron 2020) and the mid-life update of the Hamina-class FAC, the Finnish Navy is moving forward with a long-overdue replacement of retired auxiliaries. With the Finnish coastline being characterized by a cluttered archipelago, the capability to quickly move personnel and equipment is crucial both for the Navy with its dispersed basing concept, as well as for the marines and coastal troops that operate there. Earlier this has been handled by the Kala- and Kampela-classes, almost all of which are now retired. In their place, the Finnish Navy this week accepted the first of what will eventually be a total of nine vessels in the Utö-class.
The Utö-class is built locally by Finnish aluminium boatyard Kewatec AluBoat, which has a solid market share in the Nordic countries when it comes to civilian vessels such as workboats, pilot vessels, and fireboats. This marks one of their first orders from the military, though the concept of the class borrows heavily from their earlier civilian workboat designs.
The Utö-class is 19.2 meters long and able to do 25 knots thanks to their twin Scania DI13 diesels (2x 750 hp) and Kongsberg waterjets. Able to carry 15,000 kg of cargo, it fills the gap between the lighter landing craft which are tailored towards carrying personnel and the larger Pansio-class mineferries with ro-ro decks. The vessels are equipped with a light-duty Fassi F120-crane rated at 11.1 ton-metric to allow for handling heavier cargo, as well as with a bow-ramp allowing e.g. ATVs and their trailers to be driven aboard. Together with the premium placed on maneuverability and shallow draught (0.8 m), these features all make the vessels well-suited to the task of moving larger loads to and from unprepared beaches and cliffs in the confined and shallow waters of the archipelago.
The Finnish Navy allows conscript crews to operate the vessels independently. In these cases the crew consists of two conscript NCOs who serve 347 days, of which the first six weeks are basic training which is common for all conscripts and include skills such as rifle handling and shooting as well as learning set commands. Following this, the next 18 weeks include the NCO- and skipper courses, following which the conscripts are granted the title of Veneenkuljettaja-aliupseeri (or Båtförarunderofficer in the case of the Swedish-language Nyland Brigade) and the rank of Corporal. They are then qualified to serve as skippers or chief engineers on landing craft and small vessels, as well as to perform basic maintenance of the vessel and their engines. The new vessels will not receive individual names, but will be numbered starting with U501 to U509. Deliveries of all nine vessels, which include an option exercised by the Navy, will be finalized in 2024. The total contract value is 12.8 million Euro.