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The increasing worldwide crisis connected to sea sovereignty and resources exploitation have been pushing European countries to beef-up the backbone of their fleets with new frigate procurement programmes. This trend is supporting the national and transnational shipbuilding and naval industry both within Europe and worldwide, where customers want to develop their own naval and defence capabilities through local shipbuilding and industry involvement with partnerships, technology transfer and support solutions.

France

With the delivery of the last AQUITAINE class frigate in 2022, the French side of the joint Italian-French FREMM (Frégate européenne multi-mission-European multi-purpose frigate) programme is leaving space at Naval Group and French naval industry facilities to the new Fregate de Defense et d’Intervention (FDI) or BELH@RRA multirole intermediate-size frigate shipbuilding programme, while continuing to invest in enhancing the current classes of AQUITAINE and LA FAYETTE class platforms to satisfy the Defence Planning Law (Loi de Programmation Militaire) 2019-2025 requirements for a fleet of 15 first-rank frigates by 2030.

After the French DGA contract award in April 2017 to Naval Group (acting as prime contractor and combat system integrator) and Thales for the first-of-class ADMIRAL RONARC’H FDI, the shipbuilding programme saw an acceleration last April with a shipbuilding contract award for the second and third FDI to be delivered both in 2025. MBDA, which is responsible for the new generation missile firing system development and ASTER 30/EXOCET BLOCK 3/3c delivery, is part of the awarded contracts.

Although the first-of-class frigate delivery is postponed to 2024 due to the pandemic, the third frigate hand-over to the Marine Nationale is anticipated by one year to cope with service operational needs but also any request coming from the export market. No updated information on delivery schedule was released after the announcement on 28 September of the FDI selection by Greek Ministry of Defence and the beginning of the contract negotiations for three frigates, plus the option for a fourth.

With a 4,500 t displacement and a 125 crew core, the multi-purpose FDI is the first digital native platform and combat system equipped platform for the French Navy, featuring the Thales-provided four fixed faces (4 FF) fully-digital AESA Sea Fire multifunction radar and MBDA universal missile firing system able to accommodate the present and future surface-to-air and surface-to-surface weapon systems.

The new frigate also features a Thales ASW suite with hull-mounted and towed array sonars together with a flight deck and hangar for an NH90 helicopter and the future 700 kg vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned platform being developed by Airbus Helicopters, Naval Group and French industry. The first of five LA FAYETTE class frigates under modernisation by Naval Group returned to sea last March while the French industry is continuing to enhance the AQUITAINE class units introducing the two FREMM DA (Defense Aérienne) with expanded AAW capabilities. On parallel new technologies and systems are being tested and applied, like the Veille Coopérative Navale (VCN), the French real-time fusion and distribution suite for engagement of tracked aerial threats, already demonstrated on board AQUITAINE class frigate and other fleet platforms to be deployed by 2022.

Germany

Last June, the German Parliament budget committee approved the financing of 27 main defence procurement and upgrading programmes. In addition to new U212CD submarines in partnership with Norwegian MoD and Class 424 replenishment vessels, the committee also approved the mid-life upgrading for the F-123 frigates, which was contracted a month later and the long-range radar replacement for the F-124 platforms. The contract award for the latter programmes will be the latest milestones in the revamping of the German Navy’s frigate component, being empowered with the F-125 BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG class delivery and enter into service and the new F-126 class shipbuilding programme, waiting for the next phase with the F-127 class platforms. With the delivery of the fourth and final F-125 frigate later this year by the ARGE F125 consortium between thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (tkMS) and Fr. Lürssen shipyard, the troubled and pandemic-hit shipbuilding and delivery programme will come to an end. The F125s have been designed to conduct expeditionary and stabilisation missions, remaining deployed for up to two years in distant theatres of operations. With a 7,100 t displacement, the F-125 frigates feature:

  • a combat system based on Atlas Elektronik command management system (CMS)
  • the Hensoldt 4FF AESA multifunction radar
  • a Leonardo 127/64 mm LW gun to be equipped with VULCANO long-range guided ammunitions to support land operations
  • two RAM-System RAM inner-layer defence systems with Block 1/2 RAM missiles
  • four fast RHIBs for special forces
  • a flight deck with a hangar to accommodate two NH90 helicopters

With the contract awarded to Dutch Damen shipbuilding group as main contractor in cooperation with German Lürseen shipbuilder and Thales Deutschland (mission system responsible) in June 2020, the F-126 frigate design brings back to the German Navy a full fighting capability warship characterised by mission modularity to accomplish a wide range of missions (also in the polar regions), up-to-two year deployments with multi-crew concept and a robust combat system.

With a 10,000 t displacement, the F-126 will be able to accommodate a mission module in addition to two (plus one) boats and a flight detachment with two NH90 helicopters and one VTOL Skeldar V200 UAS. The combat system will include:

  • Thales TACTICOS Block 2 CMS managing a sensors suite
  • Hensoldt TRS-4D NR 4FF AESA radar
  • Thales APAR Block 2 radar
  • Gatekeeper distributed IRST
  • two MIRADOR Mk2 FCS
  • MSSR 2000I/LTR 400 IFF
  • Rohde & Schwarz KORA 40 RESM/CESM

The armament will include VLSs for ESSM Block 2 and GMLS RAM Block 2B, Kongsberg NSM Block 1 surface-to-surface missiles and a gun package including Leonardo 127/64 LW and 12,7 mm remote weapon systems (RCWS) alongside Rheinmetall LMG 27 mm RCWS.

First ship keel laying is planned for early 2024 with deliveries set for 2028, 2030, 2031 (two ships) and options for two additional ships in the 2032-2033 period. Last July, Saab announced it had signed a contract with German MoD for the modernisation of the BRANDENBURG class (F-123) frigate. The contract includes delivery and integration of Saab’s 9LV CMS, SEA GIRAFFE 4A and SEA GIRAFFE 1X radars, CEROS 200 FCS and third party systems, including IFF capability, alongside a comprehensive, performance-based logistics package. Deliveries and other services will take place between 2021 and 2030.

Greece 

The Greek Ministry of Defence procurement programme for four new frigates was centered on their local shipbuilding to re-capitalise Greek shipyards and national defence industry involvement, in addition to a ‘stop-gap’ solution with two second-hand (or new platforms as proposed by some contenders), and the mid-life update of four in-service HYDRA-class MEKO 200HN frigates.

Proposals either being considered or submitted for procurement included Babcock International, Damen, Fincantieri, Lockheed Martin, Naval Group, Navantia and tkMS with, respectively, the ARROWHEAD/Type 31, SIGMA 11515, FREMM ASW, Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC)-based HF2, FDI/BELHARRA, F-110 and MEKO A200 NG (or MEKO A300) platform designs.

As anticipated, with respective Government support, the same contenders offered a ‘stop gap’ solution based on second-hand or newly built platforms. On 28 September, within the context of the Strategic Partnership Agreement for Cooperation in Defence and Security signed on the same day between the Greek Prime Minister and French President, a memorandum of understanding was also signed by the Greek Minister of Defence and the CEOs of Naval Group and MBDA at the presence of French Minister of Defence, to open negotiations to provide the Hellenic Navy with three FDI HN frigates and their equipment as well as an optional additional frigate. The parties are working with the aim to sign a contract within 2021, according to French industrial representatives. The FDI HN platforms will be built at Naval Group shipyard in Lorient, and according to the Greek Minister of Defence, the first two frigates will be delivered within 2025 while the third will follow in the beginning of 2026. No further details were released about the naval platform and equipment, except that the FDI HN will be equipped with MBDA Aster 30 Block 1 air and ballistic defence and Exocet MM40 Block 3c anti-ship missiles. According to the Greek Minister of Defence, the national defence industry may contribute to this important programme.

International

The joint Netherlands/Belgium M-frigate replacement (Vervanging M-fregatten – vMFF) programme to procure four new frigates to substitute the two navies’ in service M-frigates has entered the procurement preparation phase with the aim to sign a contract by 2021-end. This will be followed by a detailed design phase, which will require approximately two years, more than initially planned. As a result, the delivery of the first-of-class ship was postponed from 2025 to 2027. The MoD-led integration and test activities will lead to the ship handover to the Royal Netherlands Navy in 2028 followed by the second in 2029. The two Belgian Navy frigates are to be delivered by 2030. The previous programme phases weighing requirements, budget and planning, has so far led to a platform design with 133 meters length and circa 5,500 tonnes displacement, characterised by a 110 core crew and additional accommodations for 40 mission-specific personnel.

The ship will be equipped with a full ASW suite including hull-mounted and towed sonars, Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes, and an NH90 helicopter. The new frigate will also have a robust surface warfare capability centred on new Above Water Warfare System (AWWS) under development by Thales Netherlands together with EW and panoramic electro-optical suites. The AWWS combines a dual-band (X/S-band) radar suite with an integrated fire-control suite capable to manage the Raytheon ESSM Block 2B local area missile system, to be launched by a 16-cell VLS for a total of 64 effectors.

The ship will be armed with a Leonardo 76/62 medium-calibre gun (images show the ‘Single Deck’ version) selected for its provision of DART guided ammunitions with Thales Nederland PHAROS FCS, in addition to larger and smaller calibre RCWS, with images showing the Leonardo OTO Marlin 40 mm mount and Thales Nederland MIRADOR Mk2. Other equipment include a new maritime surface-to-surface missile to replace the current Harpoon under separate procurement project. Growth potential includes Direct Energy Weapons (DEWs) and provision for unmanned system operations and support.

Italy

Last late February, Fincantieri shipbuilding group celebrated the first steel cut for the first of two new FREMM frigates destined to the Italian Navy. These new BERGAMINI class platforms in the General Purpose (GP) configuration will replace the two same variant FREMMs, previously ordered and built for Italian Navy but later sold to Egypt to enter into service with the Navy of the Southern Mediterranean country respectively in December 2020 and April 2021. Fincantieri will also provide the Italian Navy with a support package to extend the service life of the remaining MAESTRALE class frigates until the two new platforms are delivered respectively in February and August 2025. With Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (OSN) as the Italian industrial prime contractor, the two additional ships procurement programme comes under the OCCAR agency as part of the joint French/Italian FREMM programme, increasing the overall number of platforms to 22, including the foreign customers. The new FREMMs will feature limited configuration modifications and enhancements, leveraging on the developments and technologies introduced with Italian Navy’s new generation platforms, to cope with obsolescence and a minimum 25 years operational lifespan. In addition to Egypt, Italy’s FREMM design found international success having been selected by the US Navy for the FFG 62 CONSTELLATION programme and more recently by the Indonesian Navy for a new class of six units to be partially built locally with a technology transfer and support package by PT-PAL shipbuilder.

Although not classified as frigates, the Italian Navy’s THAON DE REVEL class of Pattugliatore Polivalenti d’Altura (PPAs) platforms have dimensions and a combat system compatible with the former warships. Intended by Italian Navy to replace a range of vessels (destroyers, frigates and patrol ships) with a multipurpose patrol vessel developed with a ‘one size fits all’ concept in mind, the PPAs come in three different configurations, from ‘PPA Light’  to perform low-intensity to the ‘PPA Full’ capable platforms for high-end operations.

The first-of-class PAOLO THAON di REVEL (PPA Light) is expected to be delivered by Fincantieri as prime contractor and Leonardo as combat system integrator and supplier, in the last quarter of 2021, with a few months delays due to the pandemic. The second PPA (PPA Light) is planned to be delivered in first quarter 2022, while the third (PPA Light Plus) and fourth (PPA Full) are being launched this year to be respectively handed over in first quarter 2023 and second quarter 2024.  All seven are to be delivered by 2026. With a full load displacement of 6,350 tonnes (PPA Full configuration) and a 143 meters length, the Full combat capable PPA configuration (to be delivered in two ships) features an advanced platform conducting and combat station, Leonardo new generation CMS and dual-band (C and X) 4 fixed faces each (4FF) AESA dual-band radar (DBR) and distributed IRST, Elettronica RESM/CESM/RECM suite together with MBDA Italia evolved SAAM-ESD (Surface Anti-Air Missile-Extended Self-Defence) based with 16 cell VLSs for ASTER family missiles, capable of handling ballistic missile threats, alongside Leonardo 127 mm LW VULCANO and 76/62 Single-Deck gun and two 25 mm RCWSs.

Poland

In July, the Polish MoD’s Armament Inspectorate and the PGZ-Miecznik consortium led by the PGZ group signed an agreement for the so-called ‘Miecznik’ procurement programme for three new frigates. The consortium also includes the PGZ SW shipbuilding facility and the Remontowa Holding shipbuilding group. The new frigates will be based on a foreign customised design with a technology transfer programme, for which three international contenders have been shortlisted: Babcock, Navantia and tkMS. According to industrial sources, the combat system is expected to be selected and provided among the down-selected contenders: Leonardo, Navantia Sistemas, Saab and Thales. The winning foreign partner is to be selected between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 with a design and shipbuilding programme aimed at a first frigate launch by the Polish consortium in four years-time.

Portugal

In December 2019, the Portuguese Government approved the armed forces’ procurement plan for the current decade, including for six OPVs recently authorised and logistics support ships, in addition to the upgrade for the VASCO DA GAMA class frigates. In the meantime, the two BARTOLOMEU DIAS (M) class frigates are currently undergoing mid-life upgrades in the Netherlands carried out by the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation. The programme sees the modernisation of the weapon package centred on new Raytheon Evolved SeaSparrow Missile Block II, Thales Nederland sensors and national communications systems and some of the equipment related to propulsion, ship maneuvering and power distribution. The first of class is to return into service by the end of 2021 while the second will return to Portugal in 2022.

Spain

With the Spanish MoD’s contract award to Navantia shipbuilding group in April 2019, followed by Parliament approval of initial funding release in November 2020, the Spanish Navy’s F110 frigate programme for the design and construction of five new multipurpose combatant platforms, has successfully reached the Critical Design Review (CDR) last May. This will lead to the first steel cut for the leading platform in the first half of 2022 and a planned launching around the end of 2024, for a commissioning into service at the beginning of 2027. The remaining frigates will follow by 2031. Capable of operating in high-to-low intensity warfare scenarios in blue and littoral waters, the 6,170 tonnes displacement and 145 meters long frigate is characterised by a multi-mission, flexible bay alongside the hangar, the latter able to accommodate one SH-60B/NH90 helicopter in addition to unmanned VTOL platforms.

Being developed by Indra as prime contractor and main provider, the F-110 combat system is based on an evolved SCOMBA CMS, with integration between AAW weapons and sensors suite through the so-called US International Aegis Fire Control Loop. The integrated mast includes:

  • a new 4FF AESA radar being developed by Indra with Lockheed Martin
  • Indra’s PRISMA 25X AESA multi-function surface radar
  • Indra/Tecnobit panoramic IRST
  • new generation communications
  • data link and identification package
  • EW suite with RESM/CESM/RECM
  • a new DORNA FCS, all developed by Indra, in addition to two illuminators for Raytheon STANDARD 2 AAW missiles.

The Thales ASW package includes the BlueMaster (UMS 4110) bow-mounted sonar and CAPTAS 4 Compact VDS, in addition to the BlueScan digital acoustic suite. The weapon package includes Raytheon STANDARD and ESSM Block 2 missiles, finding accommodation in a 16 cell Mk41 VLS, while ASuW armament include launchers for eight anti-ship missiles. The gun package features a Leonardo 127/64 mm LW VULCANO main gun, two 30 mm and four 12.7 mm RCWSs, in addition to lightweight torpedo launchers and provisions for DEW.

Turkey

Last January, the first I-class (ISTIF class) frigate was launched at Istanbul Naval Shipyard. Under a contract awarded in September 2019, the Turkish industrial team led by STM as prime contractor will delivery four frigates between 2023 and 2027. Based on ADA class corvette design which has found export success in Pakistan, the new class of frigates has a larger national systems content.

With a 3,000 t displacement and 113.2 metre length, the I-class platform features a more efficient propulsion system and combat suite based on the Havelsan ADVENT CMS. The latter manages a national sensor suite including:

  • Aselsan HAZAR 3D AESA radar
  • Aselsan ARES-2N/AREAS-2N RESM/RECM
  • AKREP fire control radar
  • PIRI IRST
  • Aselsan FERSAH hull-mounted and HIZIR torpedo defence system

The armament package includes locally-developed 16-cell VLS and air-defence missiles, 35 mm GÖKDENIZ inner-layer defence system, Roketsan ATMACA Block 1 anti-ship missiles in addition to a Leonardo or MKEK 76/62 mm gun and Aselsan 25 mm RCWSs.

In parallel, the Turkish MoD launched the Mid-Life Upgrade programme for the BARBAROS (MEKO 200TN) class frigates in 2018. It regards the integration by Aselsan/Havelsan of latest generation nationally-developed systems, with the four frigates upgrade to be completed in the 2022-2024 period.

UK  

With a contract awarded to BAE Systems in June 2017 for the first batch of three frigates, the UK MoD’s Type 26 programme is today AT an advanced shipbuilding stage with all three ships under construction. Designed to meet requirements for a globally deployable and multi-mission warship, the Type 26 class includes eight ASW-oriented frigates, of which the first-of-class is planned to enter in service in 2026, twelve months sooner than forecast at the contract award time. The BAE Systems’ Type 26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) digital design found worldwide success among the ‘five eyes’ countries, having been contracted in customised versions by Australia and Canada. With an 8,000 tonnes full load displacement and a length of 149.9 metres, the Type 26 design features an amidship flexible mission bay, a large flight deck and hangar for two Leonardo WILDCAT helicopters. The BAE Systems CMS with shared network infrastructure and environment manages a sensors and weapons suite including BAE Systems Artisan 997 medium range radar, Thales UK UAT MOD 2 family RESM, and an ASW suite with Ultra Electronics Type 2150 bow-mounted and Thales Sonar 2087 variable depth sonars.

The missile package features two 24-cell VLSs for the MBDA SEA CEPTOR air-defence missiles and 24-cell strike-length Lockheed Martin Mk41 VLS to accommodate the MBDA Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) from 2028. Also featured are the BAE Systems Mk45 Mod 4 5-inch/127 mm main gun, two Raytheon PHALANX 1B, two MSI-Defence Systems SEAHAWK DS30M Mark2 30 mm and provision for DEW growth.

Balance of the Fleet

The balance of the Royal Navy’s frigate component is satisfied by the Type 31 programme for a fleet of five lighter, cheaper and readily exportable general purpose frigates, for which a contract was awarded in November 2019 to the Babcock International-led industrial team including Thales, OMT, BMT and Frazer-Nash. The UK Government announced in late 2020 the future procurement of a new class of more flexible Type 32 frigates. Based on Danish Navy’s IVER HUITFELDT class proven platform, the Type 31/ARROWHEAD 140 design passed the Whole Ship Critical Design Review (WSCDR) last April, for a first-of-class platform entering into service in 2027.

With a 6,000+ tonnes displacement and a 138.7 meters length, the INSPIRATION class frigate combat system is centred around the Thales TACTICOS CMS with communication suite and a sensors package including:

  • Thales NS100 AESA radar
  • Thales GATEKEEPER non-rotating EO cameras
  • two Thales MIRADOR MK2 EO FCSs
  • Thales VIGILE-D RESM and decoy launchers.

The armament includes a BAE Systems BOFORS 57 mm Mk3 main gun, a 12-cell VLS for MBDA SEA CEPTOR SAMs, two BAE Systems BOFORS 40 mm Mk4 guns, machine guns, space and provisions for anti-ship missiles and additional air-defence missiles VLSs.