In the last 25 years, the Royal Danish Navy (RDN) has changed dramatically. At the beginning of the new millennium the RDN underwent a transformation from a large ‘small ship’ force to a modern blue-water navy with five high-end frigates / combat support ships. ESD had the opportunity to talk to Rear Admiral Torben Mikkelsen, Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Danish Navy.
The three IVER HUITFELD class frigates are the most powerful ships that the Danish Navy has ever had and provide the sea service with a global reach. The two ABSALON class units, designated as support vessels, are essentially flexible frigates, capable of performing a wide variety of tasks and missions. The four THETIS class patrol frigates, commissioned in 1991-1992, and three KNUD RASMUSSEN class, which joined the fleet between 2008 and 2016, were built principally for operations in the North Atlantic and around Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Other units in the RDN’s inventory include the six DIANA class patrol vessels, commissioned between 2007 and 2009, and designed to perform a broad range of constabulary and support tasks; some 36 coastal patrol craft, about 23 auxiliaries and one royal yacht – the HDMS DANNEBROG.
With the navy’s transition to many more international engagements, the Naval Home Guard has taken over some of the navy’s day-to-day maritime surveillance, rescue and environmental monitoring tasks in Danish home waters.
ESD: Admiral Mikkelsen, how would you describe the responsibilities of the Royal Danish Navy?
RADM Mikkelsen: Our overall mission is to protect Danish interests from the sea, enforcing control and support in Denmark’s territorial and EEZ waters, including Greenland and the Faroes, for example monitoring all maritime traffic in and out of the Baltic, carrying out fishery inspections and search and rescue (SAR), executing any missions required by our Government and, in addition to our NATO commitments, we regularly deploy assets in support of international UN- or NATO- led security or peacekeeping operations. The frigates and the combat support ships are focused on international missions and are heavily engaged in deployments with NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1), counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and in the removal of chemical agents from Syria, where we took a leading role.
To name but a few of our major deployments: HDMS IVER HUITFELDT participated in anti-piracy operations off Africa whilst in 2014 HDMS PETER WILLEMOES was part of the OPRECSYR tasked with disposing of Syrian chemical weapons. In 2017, the HDMS PETER WILLEMOES deployed with the USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH carrier strike group. In 2018, HDMS NIELS JUEL was the flagship of NATO’s SNMG1 for six months and earlier this year she deployed with the French carrier FS CHARLES DE GAULLE in Mission CLEMENCEAU. Our versatile ABSALON class units have undertaken several deployments as part of multinational missions, such as flagship to the CTF-150 in the Gulf and as flagship of NATO’s SNMG1. The lower-end patrol frigates/OPVs are focused on operations in the Arctic.
And on top of that comes the emerging geopolitical importance of the Arctic due to climate change.
ESD: Obviously the operational speed of the Royal Danish Navy has increased in recent years. Can you still meet all your national and international obligations? How do you optimise your available resources?
RADM Mikkelsen: In fact, our commitments have increased significantly. Due to our growing tasks and missions, with increasingly frequent long-term expedition missions, the protection of Danish and allied interests in the Baltic Sea and the changing security situation, we are reaching our limit.
Although we are still in a position to fulfil all the tasks set by the Danish Government, tough decisions and targeted prioritisation are the order of the day. I must be selective in drawing up the programmes for ships.
ESD: In recent years, security concerns on NATO’s northern flank have increased as a result of intensified Russian naval operations. Denmark cannot escape the importance of its geographical position in Europe as a “gatekeeper to the Baltic Sea”. How do you see the “threat” from Russia and what impact does this have on your navy?
RADM Mikkelsen: Given the resurgent Russian Navy’s activities and its intent for a permanent submarine presence, there is a renewed focus on the trans-Atlantic link and on anti-submarine warfare (ASW), while the Baltic is again a significant military hotspot. We all know about the importance of the trans-Atlantic link. It is imperative for Europe to ensure unimpeded use of these waters that are so crucial for alliance cohesion in the region. Ships transiting to and from the Baltic must pass through the Danish Great Belt or the Sound between Denmark and Sweden. Hence the importance of cooperation with our Baltic partners because they are heavily depending on the Baltic sea lines of communication (SLOCs). In response to the perceived Russian aggression our main concern focuses on potential threats to these SLOCs and to build up capabilities.
Therefore, it is imperative to have ships that are capable of assisting in monitoring and keeping these lines of communication open.
ESD: You said that the Arctic is becoming more and more important. Major changes are taking place and the consequences of climate change are already beginning to show. Should the Danish Navy increase its military presence in the Arctic?
RADM Mikkelsen: Denmark is centrally located in the Arctic and has a long Arctic tradition, particularly in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Joint Arctic Command is responsible for 40,000 square kilometres.
In fact, we are very concerned about climate change. The consequences of climate change are already emerging. In particular, the melting of ice and the receding ice caps are making it easier to access – using the surrounding seas as transport links – and to exploit natural resources. There is also an increase in military activity in the region. It is therefore important for Denmark to continue its presence.
The government is focusing on Arctic issues in order to ensure that this fragile environment is safeguarded and preserved. This will necessitate an increase in our operational efforts in the Arctic and strengthening of our surveillance and command, control and communication (C³) systems.
Our THETIS class units are used extensively in Joint Arctic Command’s area of responsibility and we regularly sent one of the frigates or logistic support ships during the Arctic Summer. HMDS Peter WILLEMOES and HDMS ABSALON deployed in the Summer of this year.
ESD: I suppose that the complex security context has an impact on your navy in general and your procurement needs in particular. Can you give us a rundown on the planned procurement and upgrade programmes?
RADM Mikkelsen: Under the 2018-2023 Defence Agreement Plan we are set to receive funding for improvements in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and the establishment of a frigate-based area air defence and ballistic missile defence (BMD). This Defence Agreement is aimed at further developing our ability and capacity to conduct international operations and is also in accordance with NATO’s policy.
Our IVER HUITFELDT frigates will receive the Raytheon SM-2 missiles together with the associated RIM-066M-03BK IIIA vertical launching system featuring the Mk13 Mod.0 canisters; upgrades to their Terma C-FLEX combat management system; the installation of a Thales Continuous Wave Illuminator (CWI) for the Evolved SEA SPARROW Missiles (ESSM) and a towed array sonar suite.
At a later stage the frigates are to be fitted with a strike capacity – the longer-range Raytheon SM-6 surface-to-air missile. This subsequent acquisition may occur in the 2023-2026 timeframe.
The Government re-confirmed its contribution to NATO’s defence against ballistic missiles.
An Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) study for the integration of a BMD capability with radar and sensor options for a potential BMD upgrade on board at least one of the IVER HUITFELDT class frigates, is underway. However, it is not decided yet what it is going to be, either a maritime platform, or a land-based contribution, or a combination of both.
Our nine Sikorsky MH-60R SEAHAWK helicopters are to be fitted with the AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Dipping Sonar and Mk54 lightweight torpedo for ASW operations.
The two ABSALON class units also received a the SitaWare C2 software suite and a Rheinmetall Oerlikon MILLENNIUM gun, and will be fitted with a Thales Continuous Wave Illumination transmitter. The CWI sets are to be delivered between 2019-2021, while the SM-2 missiles and associated equipment is expected in the 2022-2023 timeframe.
And the first two units of the KNUD RASMUSSEN class – [HDMS KNUD RASMUSSEN and HDMS EJNAR MIKKELSEN] – are being upgraded with a multi beam sonar, a SAAB CEROS 200 fire control radar and the SitaWare C2 software suite. These are very capable platforms, designed for constabulary operations in the North Atlantic and around Greenland.
ESD: Are you looking into the replacements for the THETIS class units?
RADM Mikkelsen: Our four THETIS class patrol frigates are in their final third of their in-service life expectancy. In 2017, they completed the Mid-Life Update (MLU) that included upgrades to the Terma C-FLEX combat management system (CMS); replacement of the Plessy AWS 6 with the Terma SCANTER 4103 air/surface search radar and the Celsius Tech 9LV Mk 3 by the Saab CEROS 200 fire control radar and electro-optical director; updates to communication systems, including the SitaWare C2 software suite and the installation of new hangar facilities for one Sikorsky MH-60R helicopter. This MLU allows us to keep these units in service for another 10 to 15 years. The procurement process to replace our THETIS class is underway, with a construction contract anticipated for 2024 and the new units scheduled to join the fleet from 2027 onwards.
ESD: With the decommissioning of the FLYVEFISKEN class units, the Royal Danish Navy lost its dedicated mine countermeasures (MCM) platforms and prompted the introduction of a new concept – the MCM DENMARK (MCM DNK).
RADM Mikkelsen: We are one of the first navies to end the use of dedicated minecountermeasure vessels (MCMVs) in favour of a modular-based minecountermeasure concept – the MCM DNK, introduced in 2010.
Thanks to its modularity, MCM DKN has proven to be a very flexible and reliable system. Although the drones, sonars and mine disposal system (the DAMDIC) have been some 20 years in service, they still are well suited for our tasks. The MCM command, control and communications (C³) module has been updated and we procured new side scan sonars for the SAAB SEAEYE DOUBLE EAGLE Mk2 S ROVs. But now we are starting to look into the replacement of the drones, the two HOLM class multi-role craft (MSD) and the four Minor Standard Vessels (MSF).
ESD: Another new challenge is cyber vulnerability. What are the main cyber threats to the Danish Navy?
RADM Mikkelsen: The Government takes the cyber threat very seriously and launched a comprehensive effort to strengthen Denmark’s cyber defence with the creation of a national Cyber Situation Centre and to expand the capabilities of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service.
ESD: Today Maritime Situational Awareness (MSA) and Maritime Security (MS) are the higher priority. What do you think is needed for an effective approach?
Do you see prospects for wider co-operation?
RADM Mikkelsen: With the maritime challenges being more diverse, complex and unpredictable, maritime security is paramount and has become one of the navies’ core tasks. But these security challenges cannot not be mastered by any navy alone. Cooperation is imperative. We are involved in the development of international cross-sectoral networks for information exchange and are enhancing the collaboration with our international partners in order to bundle our competences in the different warfare areas. With the Scandinavian and Nordic countries continuing to play important roles, particularly with regard to the High North, we are deepening our defence ties.
ESD: Many navies in the world are facing personnel retention problems. What challenges does your navy face in recruiting the right people?
RADM Mikkelsen: It’s a challenging recruiting environment. As people in the civilian world find better paid jobs, we try to convince them that the Navy is fascinating and offers attractive career opportunities. And since young people today are more likely to consider job hopping, we want to make it easier to switch between naval and civilian professions and vice versa. But obviously this requires a rethink.
ESD: What is the way ahead for the Danish Navy?
RADM Mikkelsen: In view of the forthcoming comprehensive modernisation programmes, I am quite optimistic about the future.
My main concern, however, is to further increase the Navy’s flexibility and fighting power to better respond to emerging security situations and to maintain our responsibility as a NATO member. We must remain ready to share responsibility with our allies.
This interview was conducted by Guy Toremans.