European Patrol Corvette: Portugal in permanent structured cooperation?

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The modernization of the Portuguese Navy (Marinha Portuguesa or Armada Portuguesa) stems from a politico-military process begun in 2005 but thwarted by the financial, economic and sovereign debt crises (2007 – 2009) while the surface fleet inexorably aged. There Permanent Structured Cooperation (CSP or Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in English) European Patrol Corvette appears to be one of the rare opportunities for Portugal to be able to launch a surface vessel program in order to accelerate its rise in power in anti-submarine warfare.

The Portuguese strategic rhythm is shared between the strategic documents, the last two of which were published a decade apart, and the military programming laws which cover a period of twelve years, themselves subdivided into quadrenniums which are the legislatures of the Assembly of the Republic (single (or unicameral) chamber of the Portuguese parliament).

Le Conceito de Defesa Stratégica 2003 defined Portugal's perception of the international context and its translation into priorities given to military strategy. What emerged was a particular attention given to the protection of exclusive economic zones, the sovereign prerogatives of Lisbon and the desire to maintain a navy capable of acting across the entire spectrum of operations. Plan which was followed by a vast modernization of the Portuguese navy announced in 2005 with a heavy objective: 80% of the buildings need to be replaced because, in the vast majority, they come from programs from the 1960s to 1990s.

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The priorities set out in 2003 were not disrupted by the Conceito de Defesa Stratégica 2013. These conclusions are translated into the Lei de Programação Militar (2019-2030). The next Portuguese strategic document should logically appear in 2023. The evolution of Portuguese strategic priorities will be observed in view of the way in which developments affecting the North Atlantic Ocean will be perceived (increased presence of the Chinese and Russian navies), the evolution of the Atlantic Alliance and Portuguese naval ambitions for the Gulf of Guinea and the Mediterranean Sea.

The combat ships of the Armada Portuguesa receive the prefix NRP for Navio da República Portuguesa. All buildings are concentrated in the Lisbon naval base. The Portuguese Navy's surface fleet is based on five frigates divided between classes Bartholomew Dias (2) et Vasco de Gamma (3) plus four offshore patrol vessels of the class Viana do Castelo (4 + 6). Only the five frigates have anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities which are limited for these last two missions to their self-defense. Offshore patrol boats replace corvettes but do not appear to be intended to accomplish war missions.

NRP Bartolomeu Dias 2010 Defense Analysis | Military Naval Construction | International technological cooperation Defense
The frigate Bartholomew Dias of the eponymous class during the Phoenix Express 2010 exercise conducted jointly with the US Navy.

The two frigates of the class Bartholomew Dias (bartholomew Days (2009) et Dom Francisco de Almeida (2009) of 3300 tonnes fully loaded are the old frigates Van Nes (1994) et Van Galen (1994) of the Karel Doorman class (or M-fregat). They were sold by the Netherlands to Portugal in 2006. These two buildings are still under age with 25 years and benefit from a mid-life renovation program worth 105 million euros, in order to enable both ships to participate in medium and high intensity NATO operations. THE bartholomew Days benefited from the first works in the Den Helder shipyard in April 2018 and will return to the ranks of the Portuguese fleet at the end of 2019. The Dom Francisco de Almeida will come out of the same site in 2022.

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Fregate Corte Real Defense Analyzes | Military Naval Construction | International technological cooperation Defense
The frigate Corte-Real in 2009.

The three multi-purpose frigates (Vasco de Gama (1991) Alvares Cabral (1991) et Corte-Real (1992) class Vasco de Gamma are of the MEKO 200 PN type of 3200 tonnes at full load. All three were built in Germany in two different shipyards, Blohm + Voss (1) and HDW (2). They remain underage with an average age of 27,6 years. But their replacement must be anticipated in order to be ideally accomplished around the year 2021, especially since certain capabilities, such as anti-aircraft warfare, are obsolete or in the process of being obsolete. These frigates will also benefit from a mid-life renovation (2023 – 2026) with the aim of keeping them in service until the mid-2030s for an amount of 124 million euros. Smaller in scale than the mid-life renovation of the other class of frigates, this modernization program aims to extend the lifespan of these buildings and reposition them for low and medium intensity operations.

The replacement of the frigates of the above-mentioned classes is postponed to the next Lei de Programação Militar (2030-2042) which will also aim to acquire new ocean and coastal patrol vessels.

NRP Viana do Castelo 1 Defense Analysis | Military Naval Construction | International technological cooperation Defense
Le premier Navios de Patrulha Oceanica of the Viana do Castelo class: the Viana do Castelo (2010)

The NPO-2000 program (Navios-Patrulha Oceânicos) was launched in 1998 with an initial target of twelve ocean patrol vessels. In 2005, it became the surface building program receiving priority for investments in order to allow the replacement of corvettes of the Joao Coutino class (6) and those of the Baptista de Andrade class (4) by 10 ocean patrol boats (1600 tonnes fully loaded) in two versions: the Navios de Patrulha Oceanica (8) Et les Combat Navios in Poluiçao (2). Four units are already in service (Viana do Castelo (2010) Figueirar da Foz (2013) Sines (2018) et Setúbal (2019). On June 22, 2018, the Prime Minister announced the future additional order for the last six units for 352 million euros according to the budget included in the military programming law, valuing each at a unit production cost of 58,7 million euros. The contract is still awaiting signature and the decommissioning would be staggered (2022 – 2029).

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Permanent structured cooperation European Patrol Corvette deserves to be presented to the government and to the Marinha Portuguesa because the evolution of the occupations of the submarine volume brings back threats to the submarine cables, and the activity of the submarine forces is more sustained in the years 2015-2020 than in the years 2000-2015 while, symmetrically, the format of the Portuguese submarine was reduced from 4 to 2 submarines.

The contract (352 million euros) for the construction of six Viana do Castelo class offshore patrol vessels (2022 – 2029) has not yet been signed and the modernization program for the Vasco de Gama class frigates (3) has not yet been signed. is not yet relevant (124 million euros). These budgets do not fully cover a corvette program but their respective schedules postpone their execution to the next two quadrenniums, when the mid-life renovation of the frigates of the class will be completed. Bartholomew Dias.

La European Patrol Corvette supported by France and Italy could be an opportunity for Portugal to continue the modernization of its navy begun in 2005. The institutional positioning of these future corvettes – limited warship or second-rate units – would complement the offshore patrol vessels of the class Viana do Castelo the final number of which will have to be decided, and would advantageously replace the frigates Vasco de Gama. Replace part of the patrol boats and these three frigates with European Patrol Corvette would avoid maintaining in service three frigates which will have 30 years of service from 2021 to 2022, while supporting an increase in power in terms of anti-submarine warfare.

The Portuguese naval industry would benefit from the provision of new load plans for the benefit of design offices, the last class of which studied was the NPO-2000 program (1997 – 2010). The machining and assembly activity would be supported by various state orders as part of a hypothetical order for corvettes, in order to prepare a future frigate program to be launched in the early 2020s. The offshore patrol boat program does not, in fact, cover all industrial needs.

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