Sinan TOPUZ / email@example.com
The world is witnessing intense competition in the major combat platform market, with the commercial potential of the global warship market alone expected to rise from $39 billion in 2017 to $43.3 billion in 2023 . There is little doubt that regional competition, power rivalries, and efforts to gain a share in a market fraught with limited resources has had a significant impact on ship design and building activities. In this series of articles, we present a summary of the efforts of various countries to acquire warships over the previous year. In the first of the series, our focus is on the continent of Europe.
As a significant supplier of naval platforms to many countries around the world including Turkey, Germany will likely remember 2018 for the unfortunate course of events experienced in its own internal procurement processes.
In early 2018, the German media covered how the first platform in the €2.44 billion F125 frigate project was facing some major engineering issues, leading to its rejection by the German authorities. Designed by the Lürssen-Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) partnership, two of the 7,200-ton vessels have already been built, while construction is underway for the third vessel. To date, none of the open sources have disclosed the planned delivery dates for the ships.
In February this year, TKMS launched the first Type-218 submarine destined for Singapore, and the company, together with Atlas Elektronik, has also entered a group consortium that will compete in the Type-31 project of the United Kingdom, in which it will be proposing a variant of its MEKO 200.
The Multi-Purpose Warship (MKS 180) project, covering six vessels with a 10,000-ton displacement, is another project whose tender Germany expects to conclude in the upcoming days. The first four ships in the project, which is planned initially to cover the production of 4 + 2 ships, had an initial budget of €3.5 billion, but this figure was later revised to €5.3 billion. The MKS 180 is likely to be Germany’s largest project in recent years. Although initial reports stated that the Lürssen-TKMS partnership was excluded from the project, it was announced on August 2018 that TKMS had entered the tender as a subcontractor of Germany Naval Yards Kiel (GNYK). Following the break-up of BAE Systems’ partnership with GNYK, the latter entered into a partnership with TKMS, illustrating the greater preference for local/indigenous partnerships that has always prevailed in the shipbuilding sector. This development would appear to have effectively placed TKMS ahead of its Dutch rival Damen in the project. It seems that the only other contender in the competition will be the partnership of Damen and Blohm&Voss.
Should the Blohm&Voss-Damen joint venture win the bid, Damen – which has not designed or built a frigate in 30 years – will also probably be assigned with the construction of six frigates for the Netherlands and two frigates for Belgium, making it the undisputed and preeminent frigate-manufacturer in Northern Europe.
In addition to the five 1,850-ton K130 corvettes in its inventory, Germany has also purchased five corvettes of the same class. The second group of corvettes with a budget of €2.9 billion that is to be built by the Lürssen-TKMS partnership will feature the same main hull as the MEKO A, and shall have the same design outlines as Israel’s Saar 6 corvette.
In the submarine market, the latest news suggests that Germany and the Netherlands will work together in their procurement programmes. While the Netherlands plans to renew its aging Walrus-class submarines by 2027, TKMS’ agenda includes the construction of two Type 212 submarines for Norway and four for Germany, which will all be delivered by the mid-2020s. There have been articles stating that this submarine tender should be linked with the German MKS 180 tender, noting that Damen should also be taking part in the submarine tender.
Working to procure a number of corvettes for its inventory since 2005, but having been hampered by budget restrictions that have prevent their purchase, the Bulgarian Navy was finally given the green light for its corvette project in 2018. According to news published in 2017, the French Naval Group was tipped as the favourite to win the tender with their Gowind-class corvettes. Initially starting with six ships, the project was later revised to four and then two ships. The total budget allocated for the two vessels is $585 million.
Another project on the Bulgarian agenda is the in-country construction of two patrol boats. The figure envisaged for the project is $580 million, and the two boats are expected to be delivered in December in 2023 and 2024. Competing in the project are Naval Group, Fincantieri, TKMS-Lürssen, Navantia and Bulgar MTG Dolphin.
The most important naval procurement activity for Denmark last year was the purchase of 50 SM-2 Standard anti-air guided munitions for its Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates at a cost of $143 million. Preferring to maintain a low number of innovative platforms in its naval forces, the Royal Danish Navy is attracting global attention with its focus on modular designed ships, such as the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates that were constructed in modules in Lithuania and Estonia, and then assembles in Odanse, as well as the Absalon-class vessel.
The hull of the Iver Huitfeldt also constitutes the basis of the Babcock, OMT and Thales partnership’s proposal for the British Type 31.
As part of the Squadron 2020 project, Finland has launched the construction of four corvettes under a contract valued at €1.2 billion for Pohjanmaa-class vessels, with a contract expected to be signed in 2019. Furthermore, in February 2019, news broke of Finland’s interest in the acquisition of Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles for these ships through a €81 million bid. The ships are also expected to be equipped with Saab torpedoes and Israel’s Gabriel guided missiles.
France received the fifth of the FREMM frigates in June 2018, and is expected to receive the sixth vessel in 2019. The final batch, consisting of the seventh and eight ships, are scheduled for delivery in 2021 and 2022. In the eight-ship package, the cost per ship has varied between €800 million and €1 billion, depending on the type. Naval Group has sold one of these 6,700-ton ships to Morocco in 2014, and another to Egypt in 2015.
Hailed by Naval Group as the frigate of the future, and setting itself apart from other vessels in its class with its axe-head design, the first of the medium-sized frigates (FTI), known also as the Belh@rra-class, is expected to enter into service in 2023. The French Navy plans to acquire five of FTIs initially, and there have been news that Greece is also taking an interest.
Another item on the French Navy’s docket is the overhaul of its La Fayette-class frigates, and France is also seeking to renew its submarine fleet with the Baracuda-class submarines. With the first vessel placed on the slipway in 2007 and expected to be commissioned in 2019, the sixth and final Barracuda will enter into service in 2029. Naval Group has already won the tender launched by Australia for the procurement of 12 submarines, for which it will provide the conventional variant of this class (known as the Shortfin Barracuda). While news broke of serious disputes with Australia regarding the signing of the contract, the outstanding issues were later resolved by the two parties, resulting in the signing of a framework agreement. Being constructed in France, the building costs of the Barracuda-class submarines was announced to the press as €1.3 billion per vessel.
France has also started working on the design of its second aircraft carrier.
The Netherlands plans to replace its four Walrus-class submarines starting in 2025, with the replacement candidates including the Saab-Damen partnership’s A-26, TKMS’ Type 212, Navantia’s S-80 and Naval Group’s Barracuda. There have been inevitable comments that the Saab-Damen partnership will impact Netherlands’ internal dynamics, and that Damen’s role in the tender for the German MKS 180 frigate might be used to leverage TKMS’ involvement in the Netherlands submarine project. In the meantime, Naval Group announced that it had joined forces with the Netherlands Royal IHC shipyards for the submarine project.
Following the sales to Portugal, Belgium and Chile of six of the eight Karel Doorman-class frigates produced to date, the two that remain in the Netherlands are expected to be replaced with newer frigates in 2025. There are currently two Karel Doorman serving in Belgium and two serving in the Netherlands, and these are expected to be replaced by Damen.
Damen and the Belgium-based Imtech company have submitted a joint bid for the Belgian and Dutch tenders regarding the procurement of mine counter-measure ships. There is a point worth mentioning related to this issue. The Netherlands and Belgium are acting together in many areas, including in the formation of a joint command structure. At the same time, Belgium is placing greater emphasis on its expertise in naval mines. As part of Imtech-Damen’s joint proposal, each country will receive a main ship, along with a vehicle designated as a “Toolbox”, to be employed in mine search and destroy missions in mine-laden areas. The Toolbox will consist of unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles. According to the latest reports in the press, the two companies submitted an offer that proposes two different options with regards to the Toolbox.
Competing in the tender for the Type-31 frigate, which has the potential to become an export item in the future, BAE Systems now entered the £5 million design phase, in which it will work with Babcock and Atlas Elektronik UK. The total value of the tender covering the construction of five ships is estimated to be £1.25 billion. The winning design is expected to be announced in late 2019 or early 2020, and the ships are expected to be delivered between 2023 and 2026.
By the 2030s, the Type 31 vessels and the eight Type 26 vessels are expected to replace all of the Type 23 in the UK’s inventory. The date of commissioning of the very first Type 26 is planned for 2026.
Counted among 2018’s most important developments in the naval field was BAE Systems’ success in the £20 billion Australian tender for nine vessels, and the winning of Canada’s £45 billion tender for 15 vessels by the Lockheed Martin-BAE Systems partnership.
Differently from its surface ships, the United Kingdom considers it mandatory to maintain its submarines ready for a secondary nuclear strike. To this end, it has launched the construction of the 17,200-ton Dreadnought-class submarines that will replace its Vanguard-class submarines. The four submarines to be constructed are expected to have a total cost of £31 billion, and the first of these vessels is expected to be commissioned in 2028. As part of its submarine modernisation efforts, the United Kingdom is also gradually introducing its Astute-class submarines to the inventory. Aside from the four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines with ballistic missile-launching capabilities in the UK inventory, there are also three Astute-class and three Trafalgar-class submarines that are nuclear-powered, but which fire conventional weapons. The Trafalgar-class submarines are planned to be replaced gradually by Astute-class submarines, with the final replacement vessel expected to enter into service in 2024.
Furthermore, the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier, the sibling of the Queen Elizabeth, will be commissioned in 2020.
Italy’s ninth FREMM frigate was launched on January 2019, having been constructed jointly with France. While the tenth and final FREMM frigate was due for delivery to the Italian Navy in April 2021, recent news has stated that the ninth and tenth ships in the programme might actually be sold to Brazil. Also in the news has been Brazil’s request for a long-term credit to cover the costs, as well as disagreements on the €1.5-billion price tag.
Fincantieri, Italy’s leading company in the shipbuilding sector, which is also involved in the construction of the FREMMs, launched the construction of its new Trieste amphibious assault ship in 2017. The ship, which can be described as a smaller version of the America-class vessel of the United States, is designed to accommodate helicopters, although it was later decided that it would serve also as a landing platform for F-35s. Italy already has an operational aircraft carrier that can accommodate F-35s.
Spain expects to receive the first of the four S-80 submarines currently under construction by Navantia, in 2022. The four submarines come with a total price tag of €2.1 billion, and are equipped with an air independent propulsion system. News broke in 2013 that the vessel was experiencing problems in resurfacing after a dive, which lead to an increase of 10 meters in the overall length of the vessel in order to overcome the problem. However, this also had the effect of raising the total cost of the vessel to €3.9 billion . Initially measuring 71 metres and with a displacement of 2,200 tons, the structural change increased the vessel’s length to 81 metres and its displacement to 3,000 tons. After the news was broken by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, they were later admitted by Margarita Robles, the Spanish Minister of Defence, who said that the necessary corrective measures had been taken . As it stands, the cost of the S-80 has skyrocketed to nearly twice that of the German Type 214, its closest rival.
Spain is also envisaging the procurement of five F110-class frigates from Navantia for a total cost of €4.325 billion. The ships are planned to be commissioned between 2023 and 2027, at a rate of one ship per year. The F110-class will have roughly the same displacement as the joint Italian-French made FREMM frigates, approaching the 6,000-ton range.
On June 30, 2018, Spain added to its inventory the fifth of the 2,500-ton offshore patrol vessel, of which nine will be procured in total.
Having lost one of its five Navantia-built Nansen-class frigates to an accident in November 2018, Norway has rebuilt its overall naval strategy around the denial of use and access of its seas.
Norway’s current naval projects include the replacement of six Ula-class submarines with four new ones (the new submarines will cost $1.4 billion, while the scrapping of the older ones will entail a cost of $170 million), as well as the modernisation of Nansen-class frigates (at an expected cost of $453-680 million) and the procurement of NH 90 helicopters.
Poland’s Orka submarine project, valued at $2.71 billion, is certainly whetting the appetite of Naval Group, TKMS and Saab. For the three submarines to be procured, TKMS showed its experience by proposing the delivery of the first submarine by 2027, while Naval Group is seeking to gain an advantage by proposing SCALP missiles on top of its Scorpene submarines. Poland requires the submarines to have the capability to launch cruise missiles. Should Poland opt for the Type 212 CD (“CD” standing for Common Design, having been designed jointly by Germany and Norway), it will have to obtain its cruise missiles from a third country.
It is known that the Polish Ministry of Defence’s efforts to purchase the 25-year-old Adelaide-class frigates (known in Turkey as the Gabya-class, and in the United States as the Perry-class) led to disagreements within the Polish government, with the Polish Ministry of Marine Economy and Inland Navigation opposing the $500 million purchase by stating that “Polish warships should be built in Poland.” The Ministry of Defence had also stated that the ships are unsuitable for the Baltic Sea.
The Karel Doorman-class frigates purchased from the Netherlands, also referred to as M-class frigates, constitute the backbone of the Portuguese fleet. The other three vessels in the Portuguese Navy are the Vasco de Gama-class vessels, which are based on the German MEKO 200 design. As 15 of its vessels are over 30 years old, while five are in their 20s, the Portuguese Navy was in dire need of a modernisation drive, and accordingly, the modernisation of the M-class frigates in the inventory was launched in Dutch shipyards with a budget of approximately €100 million. The modernisations of the first and second ships are expected to be completed in 2019 and 2021, allowing them to serve until 2035.
Portugal has also launched the construction of six offshore patrol vessels with a total budget of €500 million, three of which were commissioned in July 2018. In the same month, Portugal announced the purchase of a seventh offshore patrol vessel.
Corvettes are at the very centre of the Romanian Naval Forces’ modernisation programme. Although Romania has sought to replace its four Tetal-class corvettes over a period of seven years under a €1.6 billion project, the plan only received the green light in February 2018. The Romanian government was keen to see the vessel built in-country, and it was initially thought that the project would be assigned to Damen, which owns the Galati Shipyard and manages the Mangalia Shipyard in Romania. Damen had proposed the Sigma 10514 to Romania, along with the Thales combat management system. As a rival to Damen, Fincantieri controls the Tulcea and Braila shipyards in Romania, and had proposed a variant of its Abu Dhabi-class corvettes. Other candidates in the project included the TKMS; the Naval Group, in partnership with the Constanza Shipyard; and the STM. The project has since been cancelled, according to a January 15 report, after the government identified non-conformities in the tender requirements.
It is worth noting that following the cancellation of the tender, news broke on January 19 that Naval Group was taking legal action against Romania for its decision, and the case is ongoing. According to information from Naval Group, the French had proposed a bid of €1.2 billion, Damen a bid of €1.25 billion, and Fincantieri a bid of €1.34 for the four ships.
Romania is also seeking to purchase three diesel submarines, starting from 2020.
Greece is one of the rare countries in Europe that, despite having a large number of naval units, lacks vessels in its inventory that can fire medium- and long-range anti-air missiles. Furthermore, the Dutch-made Kortenear-class frigates (known as Elli-class frigates in Greece) that make up the bulk of Greece’s fleet are about 40 years old. Holding meetings with Naval Group on March 2018, Greece expressed its interest in the French company’s FTI/Belh@rra-class frigates. During the meetings, in which focus was on a purchase of 2 + 2 vessels, the information shared with the public included the €2 billion cost that the purchase of the two frigates would entail, as well as the possibility that the purchase may be financed through European Union funds. As a country that has struggled extensively with Greece over the repayment of earlier loans, Germany opposed such a purchase model. Time is another issue relating to Greece’s potential purchase of the FTI/Belh@rra frigate. Even if France decides to relinquish one of the ships intended for its own inventory (as it did for Egypt and Tunisia) to prioritise Greece’s request, the earliest delivery of the first ship would not be until after 2021. In April 2018, Greece considered the possibility of renting a FREMM frigate, and news in the press mentioned the possibility of a five-year agreement for two vessels, although there would seem to have been no follow-up or further developments in relation to this idea.
The Greek Minister of Defence’s request for public support from for the purchase of new vessels was viewed as an indication of the urgent need of Greece to modernise its ships, along with the lack of available financial resources. Turkey is keeping a close eye on the developments, as Greece is running after funds while pointing at Turkey’s own modernisation efforts.
- Cision Pr Wire, 2019, Global Warship and Naval Vessels Market to 2023, Date of Access: 19 February 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-warship-and-naval-vessels-market-to-2023-continuous-growth-in-global-defense-spending-to-drive-growth-from-39-4-bn-in-2017–to-43-3-bn-in-2023–300775489.html
- BBC, 2018, Spain’s new submarine “too big for its dock”, Date of Access: 26 February 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44871788
- Andrew Jarowski, 2018, What’s the problem with Spain’s new submarine?, Defence News, ttps://www.defensenews.com/naval/2018/07/26/whats-the-problem-with-spains-new-submarine/
- Miguel Gonzales, 2018, New Spanish high-tech submarine has one hitch…, El Pais, https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/07/18/inenglish/1531905099_853875.html