The Netherlands has managed to maintain its own naval shipbuilding cluster, but pressure for more European cooperation is mounting. Is this a threat or opportunity?
SWZ|Maritime’s November issue is a Navy Special coordinated by Jaap Huisman, a former Defence employee who has been involved with naval vessel building projects throughout his career. He contributed an article of his own to this special in
The construction of frigates in the Netherlands and relations with surrounding countries
The Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) is facing important replacement projects; those for minehunters have already been set in motion, while those for the Dutch and Belgian frigates and submarines will follow soon. Since the Second World War, the Netherlands has opted to develop its naval vessels in a close cooperation of navy, knowledge institutes and industry. This has resulted in a self-creating naval cluster, but pressure to allow for more European cooperation is mounting. Yet, this development also offers opportunities and may lift the Dutch naval shipbuilding industry to a European level. An outline of the developments.After the war, the navy was rebuilt energetically. The two cruisers of which both keels had already been laid before the war, were finished. Subsequently, sixteen A- and B-hunters were built. Ath this time, the larger ships were designed by the RNLN’s “Bureau Scheepsbouw” and then developed by the Nevesbu (“Nederlandse Verenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaus”, founded in 1935) into a quotation and contract specifications.
The “Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij” (NDSM) in Amsterdam, “Wilton Feijenoord” (WF), the “Rotterdamse Droogdok Maatschappij” (RDM) and the “Koninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde” (KMS) all participated in Nevsbu. These yards were then designated to build the ships. There was no competition. However, competition was put on the tender of the frigates of the Van Speijk class in 1962. These six ships were eventually divided between the NDSM and the KMS. The frigates were based on the English Leander class design, GW- and S-frigates.
In 1964 a plan was developed for fleet renewal. The airship and cruisers were replaced by long-haul patrol planes and guided weapon frigates. The A- and B-hunters by standard frigates.The design of the guided weapon frigates was started in 1965 and the construction of the two ships started in 1971. The design of the S frigates started in 1969. The first keel was laid in 1975. Twelve of these would eventually be built, the last one in 1980. In 1981 the keel was laid of two air defense frigates based on the design of the S frigates, but where the helicopter was replaced by a long-range air defense system.
It was a time of massive renewal and change. Due to the increased threat from Russian submarines, anti-submarine warfare became a high priority. The threat of guided weapons at sea was also recognised and this placed high demands on the sensors and weapons. The propulsion system changed from steam engines to gas turbines, changing the way training and maintenance were organised. Perhaps the biggest development took place in the automation from analogue to digital.
Appointed Shipyard and Suppliers
In the meantime, after the RSV debacle (shipbuilding group “Rijn-Schelde-Verolme Machinefabrieken en Scheepswerven NV” (RSV) was a combination of shipyards and machine factories that came into being in early 1971 and collapsed in 1983 as a result of many causes arising from the crisis in heavy shipbuilding at the time, ed.), KMS had been appointed as the master builder of the larger surface vessels and RDM specialised in the production of submarines. All the frigates mentioned were built by KMS (with the exception of two frigates that were put out to tender with WF) and that heralded the start of a naval construction cluster, in which not only the shipyard, but also permanent subsuppliers were chosen, who could build up sufficient knowledge and experience for these increasingly complex ships. Thales supplied sensors and fire control systems. This company has always been of great importance to the navy since its establishment in 1922. Imtech was responsible for the electrical installation and platform automation. The gas turbines were supplied by Rolls-Royce.
Because there was no competition, an open budget was used and every part of the vessel was negotiated from the specifications, both technically and financially. A disadvantage was that the yard did not immediately feel called to innovation.
On the side of the navy, the management was professionalised. This also created more bureaucracy and regulations. Especially after the Walrusaffaire in 1985, the authority and responsibilities of the project leader were defined and demarcated in relation to the technical departments. The reporting obligation was tightly regulated.
Operational Software in House
The “stafeisen” (list of requirements) are the responsibility of the navy staff and are the dominant document in the process. These requirements are based on an analysis of the threat, the technology available or that can still be made available in the meantime and of course the budget. A preliminary design was developed by the shipbuilding office. An iterative process, because a compromise acceptable to all parties was never found at once. Together with the master builder and the Nevesbu, a set of specifications was developed. Then, often through lengthy negotiations, a contract was reached.
Ministry Acquires SEWACO
A striking feature of the Dutch approach is that the Ministry itself acquires the sensor, weapon and command systems (SEWACO). This is in contrast to what is customary in many countries, where the entire project is usually placed with a main contractor. In the Netherlands, the ship platform is purchased separately, while the operational software is developed and produced in-house. This certainly saves costs, because it avoids the usually large financial margin of a master builder on the so-called SEWACO system. However, it does introduce a planning problem between the delivery times of the platform and the SEWACO system, which often solves itself only with difficulty. In addition, the Ministry takes responsibility for the proper functioning of the weapons system and everything related to it. In practice, however, this is not a real problem because the master builder cannot bear this responsibility for complex military systems.
The navy, therefore, has its own software house for the development, production and maintenance of operational software, for example for the air defence system. Due to the rapid technological developments and increasing threat, this software has an increasingly important role. By carrying out this development in-house, the experience on board can be fed back directly. The developments are preferably carried out in an “evolutionary” process. This prevents major errors and therefore high costs.
In 1980, the design of the so-called multipurpose frigate was started, as a replacement for the Van Speijk frigates and the Predator class. The “stafeisen” offered many new challenges. In the first place, the ship had to be cheaper to buy and maintain than the S-frigat. This meant smaller dimensions, introduction of more civil standards and less personnel on board. The latter demanded automation and preferably using the latest developments. This meant that the ship was operated from the technical centre, command centre and bridge using, for example, screens and keyboards.
Although some of them were already used on board the Walrus class, many applications still had to be developed, such as mimics for propulsion, damage control and fire fighting. Typically, a lot of ergonomic research was carried out during the development of the mimics and the living and working environment, in which mock-ups were also built and tested by future personnel. This has enabled the ship to distinguish itself. This frigate also had the task of combating submarines in addition to self-defence against, among other things, the threat of guide weapons. This meant that a lot of effort was made to limit the underwater noise as much as possible and also to minimize radar reflection and infrared radiation. In addition, the experiences of the British Navy during the Falklandoorlog in 1982 were also processed: the ship’s resilience was increased, bulkheads were strengthened, fire insulation was installed and fire extinguishing equipment was improved. A complaint about the S-frigat was that the ship took over relatively much green water in seas, which led to damage to the superstructure and systems. Intensive and systematic model research at Marin led to the lines plan being optimised for sea access and propulsion characteristics.
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