The Belgian-Dutch minehunter procurement program has achieved the System Functional Review (SFR) milestone on May 23, the Belgian Ministry of Defence announced.
The minehunter program provides for the supply of 12 minehunting vessels equipped with unmanned systems, called Toolbox, to the Belgian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN). The SFR milestone took place exactly one year after the notification of the contract in 2019.
The milestone was reached by the teams of the prime contractor Belgium Naval & Robotics consortium, formed by Naval Group and ECA Robotics, together with the Belgian-Dutch bi-national project team amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The successful conclusion of this evaluation makes it possible to validate the functional and architectural studies of all minehunting craft systems developed by the Naval Group. This concerns computer networks, electrical installations, propulsion systems and combat systems, as well as unmanned vessels developed by the ECA Group.
This evaluation also covered the system of systems that manage missions, communications and cybersecurity, and the integration of the unmanned vehicles (UxVs) on the mother ship.
“This milestone is an important step, as it demonstrates that the armed ship’s system architecture meets the functional requirements of our Belgian and Dutch customers,” said Eric Perrot, Naval Group Program Director.
“Customer requirements and strictness in passing these milestones are essential to address the next phases of the program in good conditions,” confirms Jean-Louis Sambarino, Program Director of the ECA Group. “The challenge of COVID-19 has been resolutely taken up and mastered by Belgium Naval & Robotics and our bi-national project team,” said commander Claude Bultot, program director of the Belgian and Dutch navy. “The flexibility, care and professionalism of both parties were the necessary ingredients for the success of this important milestone within the contractual timeframe. The constructive atmosphere and expertise of Belgium Naval & Robotics inspires confidence in the prospect of the next milestone this fall.”
The next step of the Belgian-Dutch minehunter program is the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). Naval Group is in charge of the preliminary design of the ships and works closely with Kership, which will carry out the detailed design of the ships and their construction. Kership’s activities will kick off after the milestone of the Preliminary Design Review, scheduled for December 2020.
The contract for twelve minehunters has a duration of more than ten years. After a design period of three years, Belgium Naval & Robotics will proceed to the production phase of these ships and unmanned systems, with the first delivery scheduled for 2024.
Six ships will be delivered to the Belgian Navy and six to the Dutch Navy and they will be equipped with complete Toolbox systems with a total of more than 100 unmanned underwater (UUV), surface (USV) and airborne (UAV) platforms that are fully dedicated to mine action.
Belgian-Dutch Minehunter/Frigate Acquisition Program
In June 2018, Belgium and the Netherlands have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the purchase of new frigates and mine countermeasures (MCM) vessels for the navies of two countries.
Belgium is taking the lead regarding the purchase of 12 mine countermeasures vessels, six of which will be for the Netherlands, and the accompanying unmanned systems. The Netherlands is taking the lead with respect to the purchase of the multipurpose frigates. As the leading party, it will enter into a contract for four frigates, two of which will be for Belgium. This was agreed as per an MoU for the Common Procurement of Vessels, signed between Defence Ministers from Belgium & the Netherlands, on Dec. 2016.
The new MCM vessels will replace RNLN’s six Tripartite-class mine warfare vessels known in its service as Alkmaar-class minehunters. In the case of the Belgian Navy, the newly acquired vessels will not only replace the six Tripartite-class minehunters but also the command and logistical support ship, Godetia (A960).
The New MCM ships will include a range of unmanned systems including unmanned surface (USV), aerial (UAV) and underwater vehicles (UUV) alongside towed sonars and remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) for faster and safer mine identification and neutralization. The vessels will have to protect the shipping lanes and are deployed within the framework of NATO.
The Belgian Navy expects delivery of its first vessel in 2024 while the RNLN is scheduled to receive its new MCM vessel no earlier than 2025.
The new frigates will replace the Karel Doorman-class (M-class) multi-purpose frigates in service with the RNLN and the Belgian Navy. The new frigates are planned to fulfill a general-purpose role with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) as its specialty.
The first frigate will be delivered to the Royal Netherlands Navy in 2028, while the first frigate for the Belgian Navy will be delivered in 2030.