THE HAGUE --- The Dutch Ministry of Defence will replace the current M-frigates. The main task of the yet to be built future frigates is to combat submarines from a distance. This will be done with a new torpedo, launched from the ship or by its NH90 on-board helicopter.
This is the gist of the letter about the future frigate’s investigation phase that the Lower House of Parliament received today from State Secretary of Defence Barbara Visser. The current four M-Frigates of the Belgian and Dutch Navies are at the end of their service life.
In addition to anti-submarine warfare, the new frigate must be able to protect itself and other nearby naval units. It must be deployable worldwide for maritime combat and security operations and assistance. This calls for defenses against threats from the air and from enemy ships.
For that, the frigate will receive ESSM Block 2 anti-aircraft missiles and the successor system to the Goalkeeper rapid-fire gun. These new weapon systems are complemented by remotely-operated heavy and light machine guns to protect against small surface threats. To combat larger surface targets, the Ministry of Defense will purchase the successor to the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
Defense against torpedoes
The main anti-submarine weapon system is the new torpedo purchased with the "Replacement Mk46 Lightweight Torpedo" project. For defense against enemy torpedoes, the frigates will be fitted with a system to deceive enemy torpedoes. Further into the future, a so-called “hard-kill” system, an anti-torpedo torpedo, is yet to be developed.
The frigate will be manned by crew of 110 sailors and ratings. It will be able to accommodate 40 extra people, and various spaces will be available for mission-specific personnel and their equipment.
Investigation phase completed
The investigation phase has now been completed, with a design that meets the requirements of Defense and NATO. The partners Belgium and the Netherlands went through the design process with shipbuilder Damen and Thales, which will supply the ship’s integrated radar and fire control system.
Carefully weighing requirements, budget and planning turned out to be a complex task, and took more time than expected. And that also included the preparation of the Combat Support Ship. The available design capacity had to be divided between both projects, and priority for Defense was the Combat Support Ship.
Smaller and cheaper
Defense also investigated whether an "off-the-shelf" design could provide a suitable and affordable alternative. However, this design did not meet the requirements of Defense and would save little time compared to a new design. Research did help to formulate the requirements critically, for example in terms of mission modularity. The latter means that the frigate must be able to perform various tasks.
However, not all of these tasks will be performed during one and the same mission. By assuming this, the ship turned out to be smaller and cheaper. However, the new frigate is still bigger than the current M-Frigate (5,500 tonnes compared to 3,300 tonnes).
It was previously reported that the first new frigate would be operational in about 2025. It is now clear that after the contract is concluded, a detailed design phase of approximately two years will be required before construction can start. This is longer than initially anticipated.
The expectation is therefore that the first ship will now be delivered in 2027. Operational effectiveness and safety will then be tested, so the Dutch Navy is expected to receive the first frigate in 2028 and the second a year later, in 2029. The Belgian frigates will be delivered no later than 2030.
The project is now entering the so-called procurement preparation phase. The result is expected at the end of 2021, when the contract is expected to be signed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The future Dutch-Belgian frigates will be larger, heavier and more heavily armed than today's M-frigates and will be pre-equipped to fire laser cannons, De Telegraaf reported June 24.
That is the trick with the new design, according to Vice Admiral Arie Jan de Waard, chief of the Dutch Defence Matériel Organisation (DMO): "The ship is scalable for the future and can therefore respond to innovations in the field of weapon systems."
The advantage of laser weapons, which can easily burn a hole in a ship's hull, is that they do not require bullets or missiles. However, sufficient electric energy must be available to provide the powerful pulses required for laser weapons, and that requires the ships to be equipped with diesel generators with high-capacity battery packs.
The ship will be fitted with a hangar for the NH90 Nato Frigate Helicopter, but will also have room to accommodate large, unmanned helicopters and their personnel. These large UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are not yet available, but the navy is getting ahead of them.
The new frigates are prepared for the arrival of laser cannons. "The technology is not yet mature enough, but development is progressing quickly," says De Waard.
De Waard says the two-year delay in the program was caused by insufficient funding. “In the previous cabinet period, there was no money to start this project. With the 1.5 billion that this cabinet added, we were able to get started, and in just years we were able to convert our wish list into a concrete design,” he told De Telegraaf.
The Ministry of Defence has now yet released the program’s cost, which is estimated at between 1 and 2.5 billion euros for two ships.
The House of Representatives will debate defense equipment on Thursday. It also will discuss the replacement of the Dutch Navy’s Walrus-class submarines, a project that is more expensive (about 3.5 billion euros) and more complex than the replacement of the M-frigates, De Telegraaf reported.)