Koninklijke Marine: developments in the preliminary project for the replacement of the Belgian-Dutch M-fregat

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Koninklijke Marine: developments in the preliminary project for the replacement of the Belgian-Dutch M-fregat

The Defensie Materieel Organisatie , or DMO or Directorate of Material Organization (Dutch Ministry of Defense) made a presentation to officers of the Dutch Royal Navy ( Koninklijke Marine ) this Wednesday, December 18. On this occasion, and according to the photograph published on the YoungbyCZSK account (Instagram), now withdrawn (Jaime Karremann, “ Nieuw beeld vervangers M-fregatten lekt uit ”, Marineschepen, December 18, 2019), the current preliminary draft ahead ensuring the succession of the Belgian-Dutch M-fregat The choices have been refined since the previous preliminary draft presented in fall 2018.

In continuation of the various naval cooperations implemented by Amsterdam and Brussels, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on November 30, 2016 with the ambition of joining their efforts in the replacement of their mine hunters (6 + 6) and their multi-mission frigates (2 + 2). Belgium is responsible for leading the ship replacement program for the tripartite minehunter program and the Netherlands is responsible for leading the new multi-mission frigate program. The cooperation framework is once again sanctioned by a memorandum of understanding signed on June 8, 2018.

The 2018 White Paper (Netherlands) gave the calendar of all Dutch arms programs in its appendix IV. The “ Replacement of multipurpose frigate ” aims to ensure, as its name indicates, the renewal of the multi-mission frigates of the Karel Doorman , whose main mission is anti-submarine warfare. The first studies carried out in the Netherlands to replace the Fregat-M began in 2013.

Karel Doorman or frigat-M class comprised eight frigates which entered service between 1991 and 1995. Under Dutch colours, only the frigates Van Speijk (1995 - ?) and Van Amstel (1993 - ?) are still in service. The Karel Doorman (1991 – 2006) and the Willem van der Zaan (1991 – 2007) were transferred to the Marine Component (Belgium) in 2007 and 2008, where they have since served respectively as Leopold I (2007 – ?) and Louise -Marie (2008 – ?). The remaining four vessels were handed over to the Chilean (2) and Portuguese (2) navies.

The Replacement of multipurpose frigate , with a financial envelope of 1000 to 2500 million euros, is administered by the Defense Material Organization . It aims for the entry into active service of the two new ships within the Koninklijke Marine in 2024 while the first Belgian frigate will be delivered to the Marine Component in 2027.

Replacement of multipurpose frigate program is carried out within the framework of the legal procedures governing Dutch public procurement of more than 25 million euros. A letter A , dealing with the “what” and “why” of the need, was sent in 2018 to the shipbuilding company Damen and Thales Netherlands, without them being put into competition, a notable difference compared to Walrus -class submarines .

M frigate replacement 2016
The DMO preliminary project unveiled in 2016 presented the architecture of a multi-mission frigate whose primary mission is the most classic anti-submarine warfare (hull and towed sonars). Only the long bay stood out.

The letter B , specifying all the expected military characteristics and asking “how” the need will be satisfied, should reach Damen in 2020. This schedule is, for the Netherlands, one year behind the schedule of the 2018 White Paper which planned to send this letter in 2019.

The letter C should follow, because this is a new need based on an entirely new platform, the legal procedure provides for specific monitoring of the project. The letter D, that is to say the formal signing of the contract, was expected for the year 2020, but compliance with the 2018 White Paper now seems compromised due to the aforementioned delay.

Responsibility for developing the preliminary draft lies with the DMO . At least three preliminary projects (2016 – 2019) revealing the evolution of the decisions were presented, presenting an increasingly refined silhouette of the frigate. The latest preliminary project unveiled on December 18 is called RMF-22D (rev 3) . The hull is 134 meters long with a main beam (largest width) of 17.1 meters, the draft being 7 meters. The expected full load displacement is 5475 tonnes and is expected to reach 5700 tonnes at end of life, according to projections.

The general silhouette of the frigate changes relatively little from one preliminary project to another between 2016 and 2019. The architecture is classic for this type of ship, with armament mainly concentrated on the front, a “citadel” occupying almost two-thirds of the length of the hull and a helicopter platform finishing the latter. The superstructures consist of a mast carrying the essentials and the main aerial sensors while others are offset on the chimney, placed at the rear. The citadel is pierced on both edges, between the two superstructures, by two large bays, each probably having davits.

The most significant developments since 2016 affect the superstructures and especially the masts. The general lines have been refined and are apparently better worked. The two previous preliminary projects offered, as such, an almost caricatured vision of a single mast carrying radars with flat faces.

The side bays of the first preliminary project, which appear quite long, are also divided from the second preliminary project between a long rectangular opening hidden by a tarpaulin and a second one of smaller size and square shape. Those with a square shape are now placed in second position in 2019 and no longer first as in 2016.

M frigate replacement 2018
The DMO's preliminary project presented in 2018 does not disrupt the architectural solutions which remain very classic but differed from the choices of 2016 by a significant strengthening of air defense capabilities, particularly in the rear sector.

Like the Type 31 , these large apparent dimensions of the bays seem intended to operate large semi-rigid boats (8, 11 meters?) as well as drones (USV, UUV/AUV). The carriage of containers, and therefore of mission modules enabling the implementation, for example, of a mine warfare system, does not seem to have been integrated. Another evolution of the silhouette: it seems certain since the second preliminary project that the hull sonar will be integrated into the bow and no longer a hull sonar placed in a dome.

The operational choices, moreover the most interesting, concern naval artillery. In 2016, a piece of naval artillery placed on the beach, obviously a 76mm Super Rapid from OTO-Melara , was dominated by a smaller caliber tele-operated piece, probably 20 or 30 mm. The assembly made it possible to cover the front sector along an arc of more than 180°, the largest caliber ensuring anti-surface warfare and the two pieces providing short and very short range anti-aircraft defense. In 2018, this artillery arrangement was greatly expanded since a third piece of naval artillery was placed above the aircraft hangar, at the foot of the chimney. In addition, two 76mm Sovraponte (non-penetrating turret with two magazines of 38 shells each) from OTO-Melara were respectively on the foredeck and above the hangar.

In 2019 this arrangement of the artillery is retained but the choice of pieces has evolved. The foredeck still accommodates a 76mm Sovraponte from OTO-Melara but the roof which dominates it now supports a Millennium 35mm from Oerlikon . And the aircraft hangar is topped with a second Millennium 35mm . It dominates a C-RAM or RAM Mk 31 Guided Missile Weapon System (GMWS), a close anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system composed of a launcher – the Mk-144 Guided Missile Launcher (GML) – and of 21 RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). These missiles have an extension of approximately 9 km for a speed greater than Mach 2. The short and very short range anti-aircraft defense in three years now relies on three artillery pieces and a C-RAM making it possible not only to cover the front and rear sectors, but also to cross fire on the port and starboard sectors. The reinforcement of the rear arch perhaps reflects the ability of certain anti-ship missiles to prefer certain sectors of the ship to others.

Fregat M replacement before project RMF 22D 1
The DMO preliminary project presented on December 18, 2019 was distinguished by a further strengthening of short-range anti-aircraft defense but also by more elaborate superstructures and a reserve of space for the vertical launch system.

The vertical launch system does not present, at first glance, any notable evolution in terms of the architecture of the preliminary projects. On the other hand, if it is still a question of integrating two octuple launchers (16 silos), probably Mk 41s , it is appreciable that the 2019 preliminary project, unlike the two previous ones, ostensibly clears space between the roof and these two launchers. Invitation to think that there would now be a planned reserve allowing the installation of two additional launchers, bringing the whole to four, or 32 silos.

The anti-aircraft missile that will equip these frigates has already been selected. This will be the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile ( ESSM ) Block 2 , the advantage of which is that they can be stacked in fours (" quad-pack ") and therefore allow an allocation of 64 missiles for only 16 silos .

The anti-surface fight does not deviate from European habits, with eight anti-ship missiles in two quadruple launchers at the rear of the main mast. The choice of ammunition has not yet been decided.

Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolfhttps://meta-defense.fr/fabrice-wolf/
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the Meta-defense.fr site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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