The investigation phase of the Dutch-Belgian M-frigate replacement program has been completed, the Dutch Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
The current four M (Multipurpose)/Karel Doorman-class frigates of the Belgian Navy (Marinecomponent) – Leopold I (F930) and Louise-Marie (F931) – and the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) (Koninklijke Marine) – HNLMS Van Amstel (F831) and HNLMS Van Speijk (F828) – are at the end of their lifespan.
The partners Belgium and the Netherlands went through the design process of the new replacement frigates with shipbuilder Damen and Thales which supplies the integrated radar and fire control system. According to the MoD statement, the design of the new frigate meets the requirements of RNLN and NATO.
The main task of the new frigates is to conduct long-range anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions. This is done with a new torpedo, deployable from the ship or by the embarked NH90 helicopter. This is stated in the letter about the investigation phase that the House of Representatives received on June 24 from State Secretary Barbara Visser.
In addition to anti-submarine warfare, the new frigate must be able to protect itself and other units. It must be deployable worldwide for maritime combat and security operations and assistance. This calls for defenses against threats from the air and from enemy ships.
For that, the frigate will receive RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) Block 2 anti-aircraft missiles and the replacement of the Goalkeeper rapid-fire gun. These new weapon systems are complemented by heavy-duty remote machine guns and light machine guns against small surface threats. To combat larger surface targets, the Ministry of Defense is purchasing the successor to the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
The main anti-submarine weapon system is the new torpedo purchased with the Mk46 Lightweight torpedo replacement project. For the defense against enemy torpedoes, the frigates are given a system to deceive enemy torpedoes. In the future, a so-called hard-kill system, an anti-torpedo torpedo, will be developed.
The new frigates are bigger than the current M-frigate (5500 tons against 3300 tons). The frigates will each have a 110-strong crew. Each will also be able to embark 40 mission-specific personnel with their equipment.
With the completion of the investigation phase, the M-frigate replacement project is now entering the so-called procurement preparation phase with the result expected at the end of 2021.
The first ship is now expected to be completed in 2027. It was previously reported that the first new frigate would be operational by around 2025. It is now clear that after the contract is concluded, a detailed design phase of approximately 2 years is required before the construction can start.
The Dutch Navy is expected to receive the first frigate in 2028 after the testing of operational effectiveness and safety with the second frigate delivered a year later. The Belgian frigates will be delivered no later than 2030.