France wants (almost) the same ships for mine countermeasures as the Netherlands and Belgium

France, the Netherlands and Belgium signed a mine clearance cooperation agreement yesterday in Paris during the international naval exhibition Euronaval. France has hereby confirmed that the design of the French mine countermeasures vessels will be based on the Belgian-Dutch vessels currently being built in France under the flag of the French shipyard Naval Group.


Model of the first Dutch ship, the Vlissingen, currently under construction. (Photo: Defense)

The cooperation was confirmed during a meeting between the directors of the defense equipment organizations from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, General Engineer Gael Diaz de Tuesta, Lieutenant General Frederic Goetynck and Vice Admiral Arie Jan de Waard. The cooperation between the armed forces of the mentioned countries is aimed at increasing the “synergy” and “effectiveness” of my countermeasures. These systems in the three countries must also be more compatible, according to a French statement shared last night.

Complex rise
It comes as no great surprise that France now confirms that it intends to base its countermeasures vessels on the Naval Group design. Negotiations between France and Belgium and the Netherlands have been going on for some time. The Belgian and Dutch ships are built in France. The three countries have also previously cooperated on mine countermeasures vessels; the current minesweepers are after all the result of a collaboration between the three countries, even though it was a completely different program.

In addition to the desire to cooperate more in Europe, outsiders also claim that since Naval Group had given a significant discount, the French yard also needed more participants for cost reasons. The costs of the yard have increased in the meantime due to the war in Ukraine. Steel had been ordered in Ukraine for a number of ships, but it could not be delivered, and therefore a higher amount had to be bought elsewhere, MarineShips.nl learned earlier this year.

However, France could not simply join the Belgian-Dutch programme. Just because both countries have already incurred costs and they also want to settle them, this site understood from someone close to the project. Another complicating factor is that, since 2012, Paris has had a partnership with the British on future mines for countermeasures, called SLAM-F. This program is basically the same as the Belgian-Dutch project, but it runs much slower.

But France has made a decision. The new French ships will be ordered in 2023, according to the French Ministry of Defence. This is done through the SLAM-F program.

USV
Sketch of Belgian-Dutch ship. ECA’s USV returns to the ship and must sail in the ‘cradle’. (Image: ECA Group)

Naval solutions
Launch and Recovery System (LARS) by Chantiers de l’Atlantique during the presentation of the Sea Naval Solutions consortium in 2019. In addition to Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Thales and the Belgian shipyard EDR were also part of this consortium. This LARS has now been further developed. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/ MarineShips.nl)

Same ships, not the same systems
The French statement speaks of my countermeasures vessels that be based in Belgian and Dutch. To what extent France’s ships will differ from the other two countries is not known.

One possible deviation has to do with LARS, the system for launching and retrieving unmanned vessels. The French Navy would not be so charmed by the LARS of Naval Group for the Belgian-Dutch ships. According to the French publication Mer et Marine, this system would be perceived by the navy as too complex, risky and not flexible enough. The French Navy has therefore expressed interest in the LARS designed by Chantiers de l’Atlantique. This yard is no stranger to the Belgian-Dutch project; the yard also participated in the tender, but lost. Nevertheless, it continued with LARS, which now appears to be more robust and capable of operating in adverse weather.

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In addition, the Naval Group’s LARS was specifically designed for ECA’s unmanned vessels. But Thales is a major player in the Franco-British SLAM-F, and France has a Thales with L3Harris to design a USV (unmanned vehicle). This USV does not fit the Naval Group LARS.
Additionally, France may not be able to choose the same drones and mine hunting software as Belgium and the Netherlands.

France, like the Netherlands and Belgium, wants to order six ships.


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