2 of the 4 air defense and command frigates (LC frigates) will be equipped with new air defense missiles and technology from 2028. These are so- called Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Block 2 missiles. In 2018, the plan was to equip all 4 frigates of the navy with this. That has been revised for several reasons. State Secretary Christophe van der Maat wrote this to the House of Representatives today.
The main task of the LC frigates is the defense of a complete fleet against an air threat. That threat is increasing, especially from modern anti-ship missiles. These are advanced weapons with a speed of several times the sound, which are also very maneuverable. Today’s naval surface-to-air missiles are increasingly unable to deal with this modern threat.
The ESSM Block 2 is more resistant to this. This is a modern surface-to-air missile for medium-range (several kilometers) naval vessels. The missiles work together with the so-called Active Phased Array Radar (APAR). This radar does not rotate, but continuously monitors the airspace via 4 planes. The APAR has a range of 150 kilometers and can simultaneously search, track and report multiple targets to fire control where they are. The radar guides the launched missile to the target. The LC frigates are therefore more future-proof.
The new version of the APAR is currently under development and is not expected until 2027. This will initially be developed for the new ASW frigates for anti-submarine warfare. The ASW frigates will replace the M frigates at the end of this decade.
The radar would initially come in all 4 LC frigates, but that only happens with 2 ships. The reasons are that the installation of the new APAR radar turns out to be considerably more expensive than was thought at the time.
In addition, the APAR is only available when 2 of the 4 frigates have already completed major maintenance. That happens a year before the radar is there. It is not efficient to provide these 2 LC frigates with the new technology afterwards. In that case, these ships will not be available twice within a few years for a longer period. Moreover, both frigates will be replaced in subsequent years. The 2 frigates that will receive the new technology will be replaced from 2034.
It is also expected that in 2028 the spare parts for the current equipment to fire missiles will run out. This includes the old APAR. It will remain in use for longer because in 2019 it was decided to keep the LC frigates in service for 5 years longer. This decision was taken because the Ministry of Defense had to release money for real estate projects. The stock of spare parts did not count on this. Those parts now come from the ships that will get an upgrade later .
Although the costs are higher than expected, this does not affect the amounts estimated in 2018. Instead of 4, the Ministry of Defense will only purchase 2 radars and therefore also need fewer ESSM Block 2 missiles in total. The total costs will be between €250 million and €1 billion. The Dutch company Thales is developing the technology.