The Dutch submarine replacement project has entered the next phase, the so-called Dialogue phase. According to Dutch Underwater Knowledge Centre (DUKC) chairman Harm Kappen, Dutch maritime companies must therefore now show what they have to offer in order to ensure the greatest possible involvement of the Dutch naval construction cluster.

The NIDV DUKC Platform is committed to retaining knowledge of submarine technology in the Netherlands and was initiated in 2004, prelimenary with a view to the sustainment of underwater technology in the Netherlands and the major upkeep programme of the current Dutch Walrus class submarines. Later, the ambition to play a role in the replacement of the Walrus class was added.

In an online webinar on the Dutch submarine replacement project organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and the Ministry of Defence on 9 March, the project status was discussed as well as the timeline. Both Kappen en Maarten Lutje Schipholt, Deputy Director of the Netherlands Industries for Defence and Security Foundation (NIDV), discussed the possible opportunities for Dutch suppliers and why it is so important to participate in the Dialogue phase.

The knowledge is still there

‘Sometimes politicians might have the impression that the knowledge of submarine construction has almost disappeared in the Netherlands, but that is not the case,’ says Kappen. In the run-up to the Dialogue phase, DUKC produced an ambition document. Kappen: ‘This shows that we really still have a lot of potential in the Netherlands and that we have a lot to offer to the candidate shipyards, but also to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which the Ministry can then take into account in its talks with the shipyards.’

We really still have a lot of potential in the Netherlands

Lutje Schipholt: ‘For the upkeep programme of the Walrus class, the submarines have been completely stripped and rebuilt; a complex high-tech project carried out by the Dutch maritime industry. This shows the knowledge and the high-end technology is still there.’

‘The ambition document shows that the involvement of Dutch companies in the design and engineering phase is high. The workshare percentage for certain systems and components could even be over 75 per cent (see picture below). Although this is somewhat lower for specific components such as armament, we can contribute to the platform side and hull construction,’ says Kappen.

Participation in design and engineering. Category A represents companies that can join for specific tasks. Category B can receive (an) order(s) for design and engineering. Category C represents companies that can participate with management and integration responsibilities.

He adds: ‘We can also do a lot in the area of production and assembly. In the Netherlands we still have a number of production companies in the maritime domain that can certainly play a role. Think of building electrical equipment, doing Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) during the submarine’s lifetime and fulfilling maintenance obligations. We can also do the assembly of the pressure hull in the Netherlands.’

Create awareness

‘We want to be at the table, in sight and play a role in the Dialogue phase to guarantee future strategic autonomy and be able to do in-country sustainment,’ says Kappen. ‘It is therefore particularly important to use targeted communication to make those directly involved aware of what is still possible in the Netherlands. The Netherlands certainly has something to offer.’

Lutje Schipholt agrees and adds: ‘The Dutch naval cluster relies on the Triple Helix of industry, government and knowledge institutes. A strong foundation that results in the capacity to innovate; we are good at that.’

On its website, the NIDV stresses the Walrus class preservation project is an example of the success of this Triple Helix: ‘designing together, building together and maintaining together’, something the NIDV wants the government to be aware of and the NIDV would like to see repeated in the replacement programme.

The Walrus class preservation project is an example of the success of the Triple Helix

‘This recognition is important, as is belief in the power and effectiveness of the Dutch Triple Helix. This should ensure our contribution and make it possible,’ says Kappen.

Benefits of participating

When it comes to why Dutch companies should try to be a part of this project, both Kappen and Lutje Schipholt state it is of great importance to the maritime industry but also to knowledge institutes such as TNO and MARIN to maintain the necessary knowledge and a leading position in naval shipbuilding, which in turn is important for the strategic autonomy of the Netherlands. It will also give a boost to the development of the innovative capability in the area of subsea technology. Or as Kappen puts it, ‘It is good to be a part of a Formula 1 or better Formula E of naval shipbuilding type project.’

‘In addition, if you take part in the beginning, it is likely you will also play a part in the submarines’ later conservation programmes and future maintenance and replacements. It will also help position the Dutch subsea technology industry and the research institutes internationally,’ says Lutje Schipholt.

If you take part in the beginning, it is likely you will also play a part in the submarines’ later conservation programmes and future maintenance and replacements

Kappen adds: ‘We want the best product for the best price within the framework of strategic autonomy and national security interests. Employment in this sector of historically Dutch pride is also important. And the new technology that may be developed can also obtain a place in the international civil domain, because we are still frontrunners and already have an international role, the so called spin off.’

In it for the long haul

Of course there are things to consider when participating in such a complex project. First of all, Lutje Schipholt says: ‘You are in it for the long haul and it will require a lot of capacity.’ To make it more concrete, Kappen explains the project has a lead time of at least ten to fifteen years.

The NIDV explains on its website that the Dutch suppliers have to convert the Dutch requirements into designs with three candidate shipyards in “stove pipes”. And then make three offers, all for their own account and risk. The information from the three candidate shipyards may not be exchanged. That is not only a strong barrier for some parties, but it will also push up the costs. These costs that have been incurred towards the three candidates must be recovered.

As Kappen explains further: ‘You need to be at the table with all three candidate shipyards. And for such a project, you will deploy your best people. This requires a major investment as all efforts must be made in triplicate. You can’t choose one and risk that not being the one the government chooses. So, two thirds of your investment will become an expense. We are in discussions with government to anyhow get these costs for the triplicate endeavour reimbursed from government.’

So, two thirds of your investment will become an expense

This is also why the NIDV has called on the Dutch government to speed up the selection process as this is essential for Dutch business in the dialogue.

Time to act is now

Both Lutje Schipholt and Kappen stress the time to act is now. Kappen: ‘Now is the time to get in touch with the candidate shipyards and to bring our knowledge and know-how to the table. Participating in the design phase increases knowledge and opportunities for participation in maintenance, upkeep and lifespan adjustments.’

‘If we don’t participate in the Dialogue phase now, it means that the autonomy we can retain in this matter will also be less and less money will eventually flow back to the Netherlands. For us, it is important that we participate as widely as possible at the top. The ambition document also shows that we can play a major role,’ says Kappen.

‘This project is of mutual interest to government, industry and knowledge institutes. Let’s support each other, be transparent towards each other and acknowledge that we can still do a lot ourselves in the Netherlands. We are open to start discussions and we are already in talks with many of the players. Let’s do this together as government and industry to benefit our security interest and maximise our contribution from the Netherlands,’ he concludes.

Also read: ‘Defence must offer Dutch suppliers prospects in submarine tender’