New frigates in the Netherlands and Belgium are getting bigger

The design of the ASW frigates for Belgium and the Netherlands is being expanded to meet all requirements. This is stated by the Ministry of Defense in a report to the House of Representatives. As a result, the project is slightly delayed. The air defense and command frigates (LCFs) must also accept a new delay: all frigates will not have the new gun until 2029.

Above the concept from late 2019, below the concept chosen in 2020. The lower design is smaller, which includes less space for smaller unmanned vessels and less space on the barge. The bottom design turns out to be too small. (Images: DMO)

A year ago, the then state secretary Barbara Visser wrote in the ‘Deviance report regarding Defense project overview 2020’: “The M-frigate replacement project, for example, faces a challenge in the design and requirements program, in which, among other things, the ship’s functionality, weight and costs must be kept in balance.”

At the beginning of this year, Director of the Defense Materiel Organization (DMO) Vice Admiral Arie Jan de Waard told that there is a technical challenge. In short, the requirements do not fit into the existing design. Incidentally, that design was reduced from the ‘ideal’ version from late 2019 because it didn’t fit within the budget. Enlarging the ship, said De Waard, would be the solution, but this again has consequences for propulsion, because the ship must be able to reach the necessary speed. And there are costs involved, so that decision was not obvious.

In the past it was easier to enlarge a frigate and still meet speed requirements because frigates then had gas turbines. Gas turbines have much more power than diesel engines. That effect was not utilized to the maximum, so a larger ship did not immediately have major consequences for the propulsion. The ASW frigates are diesel-electric and that requires a lot more precision.

In any case, according to the Deviation Report that was sent to the House yesterday, it has now been decided to enlarge the design. The report states: “In addition, the letter D, the letter announcing an irrevocable decision, from the project M-frigates (ASWF) is expected to be sent at a different time than planned. The design must be adjusted based on the requirements package for a scalable and future-proof frigate The ship must be enlarged to meet the package of requirements. More time is needed together with the suppliers to perfect the design. As a result, the Ministry of Defense expects, among other things, a letter D to the House of Representatives in the period end of 2022 – early 2023. Efforts are being made to limit the consequences for the admission plan as much as possible. This will be included in the D letter.”

It is not yet known exactly how big the ship will be.

127/64 LW
Leonardo’s 127/64 LW aboard a German F125 frigate. This gun is the modern version of the current LCF’s 127 mm guns. (Image: Still video German Navy)

Cannons: last placed in 2029
While waiting for the unboxing movies of the first new cannon for the LCFs, the moment when the final cannon is placed has been pushed back. The frigates’ old Oto Breda 127 mm guns are being replaced. Sr.Ms. Evertsen is currently under the knife in Den Helder at the Directorate for Material Conservation (DMI). A new ammunition, booster and storage system will also be installed for the new cannon. It is a system distributed over three decks.

Defense about the work on board Evertsen: “Preparations for placement of the first cannon are in full swing. The steel structure of the old cannon has been removed and the ship has been made available for placement of the first (semi-)automatic ammunition lifting and storage system. In the coming period, the ship’s steel structure will be adapted so that the first ammunition system can be placed.”

The location of the new Leonardo 127/64 LW gun is therefore quite difficult. In order to avoid that the frigates are often undergoing maintenance at the same time in the coming years, because two ships are currently undergoing the maintenance program and the new APAR block 2 and missiles for two of the ships will be installed later, there are, among other things, decided to extend the “major maintenance periods” of the frigates so that they overlap as little as possible.

By reserving more time, the entire project takes longer. “This moves the completion of this project from the last ship to 2029,” reports the variance report. The old weapons are now about 50 years old. It is another setback regarding the renewal of the LCFs. It was earlier decided to equip two of the four frigates with the latest APAR and missiles.

Waiting for more news
After the deviation report, we now have to wait for the defense memorandum, which must be published before the summer. According to De Telegraaf, Defense could count on an additional 2.4 billion euros. It will then appear from the defense memorandum how these funds are used.

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