The new Belgian and Dutch mine control vessels are being tendered at European level. For the first time in Dutch history, large naval ships are being put out to international tender, even as shipbuilding capacity to build them is available in their own country. The new ship class will consist of 12 ships, and management of the project is in Belgian hands.
Behind the scenes, the replacement of Dutch mine warfare capability project, which includes both the new vessels and related equipment, such as drones and remotely-operated vessels. As agreed, Belgium is in charge of this replacement program, while the Netherlands is in charge of the joint program to replace both navies’ M-frigates. Yesterday at the NIDV symposium in Ahoy, KTZ (TD) Paul Willemse presented plans for the replacement.
Until now, the Dutch navy was very closely involved in the design and construction of naval ships. The Defense Materiel Organization (DMO), and certainly its precursor Department of Materiel Royal Navy (DMKM), took a large part of the preparatory work, after which the design was completed together with the shipyard and the navy supervised the construction. The advantage of this is that there is a lot of knowledge about the design from the navy and also that the builder is familiar with the navy.
But the departments responsible for this have been decimated, while thanks to the three new construction projects, there is much more work to do. In addition, Belgium is in charge of the replacement.
Whereas in the past Dutch shipyards could count on orders from their own navies, this is completely different with the future construction of the mine-control vessels. Thanks to the international tender, every shipyard in the world can compete for the order of no fewer than 12 new ships. The technical specifications are jointly drawn up by the Belgian Directorate Material Resources (DG MR) and its Dutch counterpart, the DMO.
For the Netherlands, this way of working is new, Belgium has been working satisfactorily for years. The construction of two patrol vessels of the Castor class was also put out to tender in Europe. Dutch Damen also participated, but lost to a French shipyard. Belgium also has its own industry that can contribute to the construction of future mine-hunters, but the same rules apply to them as to other interested parties.
According to Willemse, there is now a lot of interest from abroad.
For the Netherlands, this means that the new six minehunters can deviate from the rest of the fleet, which is almost entirely built by Damen, both in terms of sensors, weapon systems and software. More concretely: the combat management system Guardion that was developed by the navy and can be found on almost all Dutch naval vessels, may not be found on the future mine control vessels. Instead, there will be commercial software from the manufacturer from country X on it.
According to Paul Willemse, that does not have to be a problem because a ship class of 12 is already a big family.
Willemse also wants to temper the expectations of adjusting a chosen design. The tender is just like all other tenders: Belgium and the Netherlands set the requirements and the builders make a proposal. If a design is chosen, it is not the intention that major changes are made to the design. Certainly, if the design is similar to a design by another builder, the project runs legal risks.
The European tender will really start in April 2018 with request for proposal. The first Belgian mine-warfare vessel must be delivered in 2023, while the first ship of this class flying a Dutch flag will follow in 2025.
Incidentally, for the replacement of the M-frigates, the Netherlands itself can determine how the tender will be arranged.