June 24, 2020 (Google Translation) – Defense will replace the current M-frigates. The main task of the yet to be built frigates is to combat submarines from a distance. This is done with a new torpedo, deployable from the ship or by the NH90 on-board helicopter. This is stated in the letter about the investigation phase that the House of Representatives received today from State Secretary Barbara Visser. The current 4 M frigates of the Belgian and Dutch Navy are at the end of their lifespan.
In addition to anti-submarine warfare, the new frigate must be able to protect itself and other 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 this purpose, the frigate will receive ESSM Block 2 anti-aircraft missiles and the replacement of the Goalkeeper rapid-fire gun. These new weapon systems are complemented by heavy-duty remote machine guns and light machine guns against small surface threats. To combat larger surface targets, the Ministry of Defense is purchasing the successor to the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
Defense against torpedoes
The main submarine weapon system is the new torpedo purchased with the ‘Replacement Mk46 Lightweight torpedo’ project. For the defense against enemy torpedoes, the frigates are given a system to deceive enemy torpedoes. In the future, a so-called hardkill system, an anti-torpedo torpedo, is yet to be developed.
The frigate has room for a 110-strong crew. 40 extra beds and various rooms are 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. The latter is the supplier of the integrated radar and fire control system.
Carefully weighing requirements, budget and planning turned out to be complex and took more time than expected. And that included the preparation of the Combat Support Ship. The available design capacity had to be divided between both projects, for which the priority for Defense was the Combat Support Ship.
Smaller and cheaper
It was also investigated whether a ‘off the shelf’ design would yield a usable and affordable alternative more quickly. However, this design did not meet the requirements of Defense and would save little time. The 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 are performed during one and the same mission. By assuming this, the ship turned out to be smaller and cheaper. But the new frigate is still getting bigger than the current M-frigate (5500 tons against 3300 tons).
It was previously reported that the 1st new frigate would be operational from about 2025. It is now clear that after the contract is concluded, a detailed design phase of approximately 2 years is required before construction can start. This is longer than initially anticipated. The expectation is therefore that the 1st ship will be delivered in 2027. Operational effectiveness and safety are then tested. The Navy is expected to receive the 1st frigate in 2028 and the 2nd a year later. 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.