Belgium Naval & Robotics has presented the industrial cooperation plan that the consortium wishes to implement as part of the Belgian-Dutch minehunter programme, on Dec. 13.
The plan, which was presented before Belgian industrial and research partners as well as several elected officials, includes 39 partnerships established with Belgian partners which will generate hundreds of jobs over the next 20 years.
Belgium Naval & Robotics is a consortium created by French defence majors – Naval Group and ECA Group – as part of the response to the Belgian-Dutch requirement. The proposal made by the consortium is based on Naval Group and ECA Robotics’ acknowledged industrial and operational expertise, both in the naval sector as in mine counter measures (MCM) activities.
Naval Group and ECA Group has been collaborating since the 1970s on naval mine clearing and on the minehunter programmes including the Belgian-Dutch-French Tripartite minehunter programme.
Belgium Naval & Robotics will set up an industrial centre of excellence in Belgium, positioned on activities with very high added value. The main objective of this centre will be to ensure Belgium’s autonomy and strategic excellence. The centre will also be able to accompany Belgium in the evolution of the systems in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) or acoustic discretion and cyber security and this for the duration of the programme and beyond. These structuring partnerships have already been signed in order to accomplish this project.
Belgium Naval & Robotics have already set up nearly forty Belgian partnerships around the key aspects of the programme and its future developments. The consortium now presents a plan to the Belgian authorities to create hundreds of jobs over 20 years. The activity will generate significant added value related to the number of jobs but also on a technological level and will be evenly distributed over the three regions: Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels.
Flanders Ship Repair, a major partner of the project, will ensure 100% of the maintenance on the twelve vessels in Zeebrugge. Belgium will thus have full autonomy to maintain and develop its vessels and the mine warfare system for the duration of the programme.
ECA Group’s newly created Belgian subsidiary, ECA Robotics Belgium said that its can can carry out the maintenance of the drones in Zeebrugge should the Belgian navy express this wish.
Belgian-Dutch Minehunter/Frigate Acquisition Programme
In June this year, 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 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 2023 while the RNLN is scheduled to receive its new MCM vessel no earlier than 2025.
For the frigates, the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) requested a bid from local shipyard Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding and Thales Netherlands. Regarding the MCM vessels, several European designs are competing including Saab MCMV 80, BMT Group Venari 85 and Sea Naval Solutions Deviceseas.
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 2024, while the first frigate for the Belgian Navy will be delivered in 2027.