Saturday, February 24, 2024

The renewal of the mine warfare group absent from the modernization plan of the Romanian Naval Forces (2017 – 2026)

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The Romanian Naval Forces (FNR or Forțele Navale Române (FNR) benefit from a modernization plan (2017 – 2026) composed of three main acts which are the acquisition of corvettes, submarines and the modernization of two frigates. Even if this is not made explicit in the Romanian naval program, Bucharest could move forward quickly on the issue of renewing its mine warfare due to the advanced age of the buildings and the obsolete nature of the equipment used.

The theater of the Romanian Naval Forces, the Black Sea , is largely disrupted: the annexation of Crimea (2014) by Russia , whose Black Sea Fleet is being renewed, strengthens Moscow's footprint. The Turkish navy is also modernizing its submarines in service and building a new generation of submarines while Turkey's place within the Atlantic Alliance is being called into question. NATO 's naval presence followed the establishment of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (2009) which redeployed the American anti-ballistic missile posture in Europe: almost continuous presence of one of the four Arleigh Burke-type destroyers based in Rota (Spain) and installation of two AEGIS Ashore (one AN/SPY-1D radar plus 24 RIM-161 Standard Missile3 (SM-3) in Deveselu in Romania and Poland (2018). The civil war in Ukraine justified an increase in the posture of NATO navies as a whole.

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It was in 1998 that the last time a warship was launched in Romania. After these “naval vacations” without any laying down over the next twenty years, the modernization plan (2017 – 2026) of the FNR promises a radical transformation of Romanian naval capabilities. Romania assumes a military effort amounting to 1.81% of its GDP in 2017 – compared to 1.5% for France. Today, the vast majority of them are based on buildings acquired from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or built under license in Romanian shipyards based on Soviet project plans.

The Romanian naval plan (2017 – 2026) is broken down into three main acts which are the acquisition of corvettes, the modernization of two frigates and the assembly in Romania of submarines:

The acquisition of new corvettes aims to provide for the replacement of the buildings of the 50th corvette squadron (Mangalia naval base) of project 1048 or Tetal-I in NATO code ( Admiral Petre Bărbuneanu (1983), Vice-Admiral Eugeniu Roșca (1987) , two other units disarmed) and project 1048M or Tetral-II in NATO code ( Contraamiral Eustațiu Sebastian (1989), Contraamiral Horia Macellariu (1989), construction of two other units abandoned).

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Corveta Horia Macelariu 265 Defense Analyzes | Military Naval Construction | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The corvette Contraamiral Horia Macellariu of the Romanian Navy

The buildings of project 1241 or Tarantul in NATO code ( Zborul (1990), Pescărușul (1991) and Lăstunul (1991) are also classified as corvettes in the typology of the Romanian fleet. These corvettes will benefit from modernization within the framework of the naval plan rather than being explicitly targeted by the acquisition of the four corvettes. This is perhaps a way of keeping them in service until the Romanian navy requests the order of additional corvettes in order to to be able to replace them and maintain a similar format in this area.

At the end of the procedure launched in 2016 by Bucharest, Naval group was declared the winner of the call for tenders on July 3, 2019 for the supply of four Gowind 2500 corvettes for 1,200 million euros. The first unit should be manufactured in Lorient in less than three years and the next three assembled in Romania by Constanța Shipyard and delivered before 2026.

Gowind2500 romania Defense Analysis | Military Naval Construction | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The 4 Gowind 2500s ordered by Bucharest from Naval Group will considerably increase the anti-submarine and anti-ship performances of the Romanian Navy

The 56th frigate flotilla (Constanța naval base) will benefit from the modernization of the two Type 22 Regele Ferdinand (2004) and Regina Maria (2005) acquired on January 14, 2003 from the United Kingdom (commissioned, respectively, in 1988 and 1987). This operation was attached to the program for the acquisition of new corvettes (4 + 2) and will therefore be executed during the same period.

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The modernization of Mărășești (1992) is, surprisingly, not included in the lot. The frigate is considered obsolete. It would have been considered preferable to remove it from service rather than launching a modernization program probably considered too costly because it had to be applied to a single building.

The third major act is the renewal of the submarine component Delfinul submarine (1985). The Romanian government accepted the Soviet offer for a Project 877 submarine (Kilo in NATO rating). Two additional units had been considered but could not be ordered. Considered unfit for service in 1995, the Delfinul was declared operational again in 2018. The naval plan (2017 – 2026) aims to replace it with three new submarines, as in Poland which also has a Project 877 submarine. .

DelfinulSubmarine Defense Analyzes | Military Naval Construction | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The Delfinul, Kilo class submarine project 877, is the only submarine of the Romanian Navy.

These three major acts of the naval plan (2017 – 2026) revolve around a dominant key: anti-submarine warfare . Since the axis of reconstruction of the surface and submarine fleets could not be more explicit, it is surprising to find no program for renewing the mine warfare component. The project existed before the financial, economic and sovereign debt crisis (2007 – 2009).

The capabilities are currently based on the buildings of the 146th Mine Warfare (Constanța Naval Base), i.e. four minesweepers ( Locotenent Remus Lepri (1986), Locotenent Lupu Dinescu (1989), Locotenent Dimitrie Nicolescu (1989) and 2Lt. Alexandru Axente (1989) of the Musca class and a minelayer , Vice-Admiral Constantin Bălescu (1981) of the Cosar class (the second unit was dismantled). These ships have limited combat capabilities anti-submarine systems which could have been used.

D.Nicolescu drageuru de mine romania Analyzes Defense | Military Naval Construction | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
Minesweeper D. Nicolescu of the Romanian Navy

In practice, the four minesweepers are not mine “hunters” and are even completely obsolete. They are built around a steel hull , which necessarily makes them vulnerable to magnetic influence mines, even by demagnetizing the hull. Furthermore, and this is the most damaging, they are not equipped with high-resolution sonar or remotely controlled underwater vehicles. The buildings have not benefited from any major modernization program since their admission to active service. The work carried out in 2015 only served to address certain obsolescences.

Historically, it is remarkable that the Black Sea was the scene of numerous mining and counter-mining campaigns during the Crimean (1853 – 1856), Russo-Turkish (1877 – 1878) and two world wars. (1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945). The maintenance, modernization or even extension of mine and submarine warfare capabilities by the Russian and Turkish fleets are not likely to eliminate the use of naval mines in the 21st century, quite the contrary.

frances naval group clinches belgian dutch minehunter replacement contract Defense analyzes | Military Naval Construction | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
Naval Group and the Belgian ECA-Robotics offer the mine warfare solution acquired by Belgium and the Netherlands

Minesweepers are, however, very active and regularly participate in exercises carried out, notably by the Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group Two (SNMCMG2) with the other NATO navies integrated into it. Romanian ships are even seen occasionally crossing the Bosphorus straits to exercise in the Mediterranean Sea.

Given the age of the Musca class buildings (38.25 years on average) and their obsolete nature, the fact that no replacement plan has been publicly presented appears to be a major inconsistency with regard to of the naval plan (2017 – 2027) which aims, however, to renew operational capabilities for combat under the sea.

Bucharest, aware of the stakes, despite its silence on the matter, would be ready to move forward quickly on the renewal of the buildings of the 146th mine warfare squadron before committing to a new major program: the acquisition of three sub- sailors . And Naval group is logically both well placed and interested, given its success recorded with the Belgian and Dutch navies. A full replacement for many of the Romanian buildings, taking into account the offer from Naval Group and ECA-Robotics in Belgium, would require 627 million euros. Romania thought it would have to spend 1,600 million euros for the acquisition of four corvettes: Naval group's offer cost "only" 1,200 million euros: the budget for four minehunters... Hence perhaps a certain optimism for Naval group.

Nothing has yet been said about the need to renew an offensive minelaying capacity. The introduction of the first mine warfare capability based on the employment of surface and underwater drones could force other protagonists in the Black Sea to upgrade.

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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