PARIS --- On the sidelines of the June 7-8 meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, the Belgian and Dutch defense ministers signed two MoUs ratifying their plan to jointly procure 16 warships.
Their national parliaments have already approved the project, and authorized the necessary funds, clearing the way for the ministerial ratification. Contract award is expected to follow soon, possible as soon as the end of the year.
The 16 warships consist of four frigates – two for each country – and 12 minehunters – six each – and are estimated to cost about 4 billion euros, which the two countries will share evenly.
The frigate program will be managed by the Netherlands, and the frigates built in Dutch shipyards, while Belgium will take the lead for the minehunters.
A spokeswoman for Belgian defense minister Steven Vandeput said candidates to build the minehunters had already been chosen and "the goal is to make a decision by the end of the year." The new minehunters should be delivered from 2023, the Belgian navy said.
Announcing approval of the frigate project by the Belgian cabinet on May 24, Vandeput said the commissioning of the first Belgian frigate is scheduled for 2027; it will be home-ported at Zeebrugge, and will be maintained at the Dutch naval base at Den Helder.
The Dutch Defense organization intends to request offers, without competition, from Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding and Thales Netherlands, according to a June 8 Dutch defense ministry statement. “Belgium will proceed to procure the minehunters in Europe,” the statement added, and the first Dutch frigates and minehunters are expected to enter service in 2025.
This cross-procurement arrangement is made easier by the fact that both navies operate the same M-frigates (two each) and the same minehunters (Tripartite class), and are now placed under a joint operational command based in the Netherlands.