France’s Naval Group announced their selection of ABC and FN Herstal for inclusion in Holland & Belgium’s search for a new mine countermeasures vessel. The role of FN Herstal and ABC will be to provide anti-personnel fire power and medium speed diesel generators. ABC will provide three as yet unspecified generators per vessel. FN Herstal will provide its FN M2HB-QCB 12.7 x 99mm calibre heavy machine gun for excellent anti-asymmetric threat treatment, dealing with RIB based infiltration, Frogman sabotage attempts and vessel-to-vessel boarding with ease. The weapon comes with a quick change barrel allowing for reduced overheating granting greater reliability, increasing further when combined with the weapon’s equally reliable short recoil operation. The weapon is fed using a M2/M9 belt maintaining an RPM of 485 – 635. FN Herstal will provide the weapon encased in the 300 round holding Sea DeFNder remote weapons system complete with day/night vision with 360 coverage. The Sea DeFNder is also capable of executing fire between 40 degrees downwards to 70 degrees upwards.
The current construction and design team for the mine countermeasures vessel project currently includes Kership, a joint-venture between Naval Group and Piriou and Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium formed of Naval Group and the ECA Group. The Kership joint-venture, formed in 2013, currently produces a range of small vessels up to 95m in length. The Belgium Naval & Robotics consortium has been formed especially for the persecution of the mine countermeasures vessel project. The two main actors in this project, Kership and Belgium Naval & Robotics are joined by subcontracting companies of which FN Herstal and ABC are just the latest addition. The other participants are Swedish firm UMS Skeldar, a joint-venture between SAAB and UMS Aero Group and French firm iXblue. The UMS Skeldar joint-venture is based in Switzerland manned by a Franco-Swedish team producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) The UAV chosen by the project through contracting with UMS Skeldar, is the Skeldar V-200. The V-200, purchased this summer for will grant the in-development vessel a drone capability fitted with EO/IR high resolution sensors, Synthetic Aperture Radar and Electronic Warfare sensors capable of 5 hour long operations without rest. Ixblue has been invited to the project to provide navigation and underwater position systems, key for the actioning of mine countermeasures operations.
The collaboration between the companies seeks to deliver twelve new mine countermeasures class vessels by 2024. The twelve new vessels will be divided between the Dutch and Belgian navies. The Dutch navy is to receive six vessels and the Belgian navy, the other six. The project is estimated to last a total of ten years from its inception in 2019 to 2029. The project is to last five years more than the vessel delivery date likely to account for the provision of after-market products and services. Maritime after-market services typically cover training, repair, the delivery of spare parts and other such auxiliary requirements. The project has as of yet kept the base of the vessel under wraps. The development of the onboard integrated systems and fitted weapons are the only known for certain elements. The objective of the new vessel is to replace the 30 year old Tripartite Mine Hunter class vessels owned by both the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Tripartite class vessels were developed by agreement between Belgium, France and the Netherlands between 1980 and 1990. The Dutch navy’s versions are modified to be smaller than the Belgian or French edition and is instead termed the Alkmaar class. Belgian vessels underwent an extensive anti-mine warfare equipment overhaul between 2004 – 2008 to extend their lifespan. The Dutch navy applied a similar upgrade programme in 2003. The Dutch navy’s scale down of their anti-mine warfare commitment led to a reduction in anti-mine warfare vessels from 2000 – 2011, the Belgian navy followed suit from 1993 – 2004. The economic drivers behind the reduction are still real, the navies are likely thinking of acquiring fewer vessels but making up the lower numbers with the vessel’s advanced state of the art capabilities.