Solid start to Dutch-German frigate cooperation, the fleet also focuses on Scandinavia

The German-Dutch collaboration to jointly develop a new air defense frigate is not going so smoothly. This is evident from the words of Defense Minister Christophe van der Maat. Van der Maat said in the House of Representatives on Monday that he was not yet worried but that he was “alert”. According to VVD member of parliament Peter Valstar, Germany is emphatically looking at an American design. The Netherlands also wants to involve Scandinavian countries.

In the foreground is LCF Zr.Ms. Tromp, with a Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate on the left and a Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate on the right. The Dutch and Danish frigate sail with radars from Hengelo, the Norwegian frigate is built in Spain and has an American sensor package. Denmark also looked to American radars for new frigates, but would have rejected it. (Photo: Defense)

At the end of 2020, the Dutch and German defense ministers signed a cooperation agreement on, among other things, the replacement of the current air defense and command frigates (LCFs) and the German F124 frigates. Both ship classes were designed and built about twenty years ago in the Netherlands and Germany respectively, but the countries then worked together especially on the development of the APAR radar. In addition, largely the same weapon systems and radars from Thales Nederland are installed on the seven ships.

A new collaboration is obvious, but is much more difficult because the rules and requirements in the Netherlands and Germany are so different. As you know, the German requirements for the F126 frigates, which are now being built, resulted in gigantic ships of 10,500 tons. An important factor in this growth was the stairs, which according to German regulations had to be wide enough for stretchers to go up and down the stairs. The Netherlands then wanted to work together on new frigates, but broke them off.
After the consortium led by the Dutch shipyard Damen won the tender for the F126 frigates, it was decided in Germany to no longer offer frigates in Europe.

At the same time, it is no simpler in the area of ​​radar either. The German radar manufacturer Hensoldt competes with the Dutch division of Thales and Germany itself chose to develop a new BMD radar from Hensoldt in 2021, while Thales already had such a radar in production. As a result, the building of cooperation, especially in the field of radar, as with the LCF and F124, is not simply possible without losses within the national industry.

Both countries have not been idle since the cooperation agreement. has understood that a project organization has been set up to work on harmonizing rules and requirements, as well as design sessions have been held.

But to say that the joint Future Air Defender (FuAD) is within reach is going a bit far. The cooperation between the Netherlands and Germany seems, as understood, to be more difficult since the change of different people at the top in both the Netherlands and Germany.

The American Constellation class is currently under construction. (Image: Fincantieri)

In the legislative hearing on defense personnel and equipment that took place in the House of Representatives on Monday, VVD MP Peter Valstar asked the Secretary of State for an update on the frigate plans. Valstar referred to the frigate collaboration that broke down five years ago. “And already now we hear that the needs are starting to diverge,” says Valstar. “For example, the Germans are emphatically looking at an American frigate that was originally not even intended for air defense by naval associations, so it needs to be re-adapted.”

He did not say on Monday which frigate design Valstar meant exactly, but he later explained to the Constellation class. These ships are derived from the Franco-Italian FREMM frigate, but extensively modified for the US Navy. They are slightly larger than the current German and Dutch frigates. Van der Maat stuck to the plain: “You indicate that they are looking at America, yes there are a number of scenarios that they are peeling off.”

The answers to the questions from State Secretary Van der Maat. (On the left in the picture is Vice Admiral Arie Jan de Waard, Director DMO). For the first question and reference to the American design of the VVD MP Valstar, see here.

Van der Maat implicitly confirmed that the cooperation is not going well: “I will soon have another meeting with my colleague State Secretary Zimmer. It is precisely about this. It is not only about the replacement of the frigates, it is actually also about this. point. in the broadest sense. About how to look at maritime cooperation and what you can do about it. And it’s also true what you say that industrial interests play a role there.”

“The Netherlands is of course not the only country that has a strong parliament that stands up for its national industrial interests,” Van der Maat continued. “So the others must also be able to handle that. So this means that something of a cake must also arise at the moment when you together have advantages in order to move forward.”

Valstar was then curious whether the Secretary of State will take into account the termination of the cooperation agreement, because both countries want to involve their industry. “I will not break that agreement,” Van der Maat replied. “That’s why the talks we’re having. It’s very important for us to get it done. In fact, the talks with the Germans aren’t just about this, they’re about all kinds of other things. (…) Regarding the concern you express, I’m not there yet. Alert, but I’m not at the point where it’s not all coming off the ground, I’m going for the opposite. It won’t be up to us.”

Vice Admiral Tas yesterday morning during his keynote address in Delft. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/

Northern route
It is interesting that the Netherlands is also looking further than just a Dutch-German frigate cooperation. Van der Maat said that the Netherlands is primarily seeking, together with Germany, to achieve standardization and a common program. “My ambition actually goes further and see [of na] The Netherlands and Germany also want to participate in other countries, because we know that there are several countries – also in the Scandinavian countries – that have similar questions. That’s where I’m heading, but then we have to get on board with Germany first. And if, in the scenario you indicate, Germany would not be willing to do that and would make other plans, then we still have to do the replacement ourselves and then we will see how we do it. And we also have very good experience with that, with Dutch surface shipbuilding.”

The next morning, the ‘Northern Route’ was reiterated by Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Ren Tas in his opening speech International Naval Engineering Conference and Exhibition (INEC) and international symposium on ship control systems (iSCSS) being held at TU Delft this week. VADM Tas linked the recently signed letter of intent from Northern European countries with a naval industry to future air defense capabilities: “A good example of how we look at more European cooperation and integration is the Northern Naval Shipbuilding Cooperation. The Netherlands has signed a letter of intent with Denmark, Norway, Finland , Germany and Sweden to cooperate in naval shipbuilding to provide effective weapons systems. With these countries we will explore the possibilities of working together on the design of future capabilities such as the future air defense capability. This could be a complete capability, such as a frigate, but also a number of subsystems.”

Tas then provided the SMART-L radar and derivatives on board Dutch, German, Danish, British, French and Italian ships as example subsystems. But whether an original Dutch volume search radar will be used again on so many European ships is still the question.

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