The Dutch Ministry of Defence has reached an agreement with Damen and Thales Netherlands for four new Anti Submarine Warfare frigates and revealed what the new ships will be capable of. Two will be built for the Royal Netherlands Navy, two for the Belgian Navy. The first will enter service in 2029.

The vessels will be bigger than originally planned resulting in a price tag of EUR 1.9 billion for the two Dutch frigates alone.
Damen Shipyards is responsible for the platform, while Thales will supply the radar and fire control system.

In total, the Dutch Ministry of Defence expects to award about forty contracts for the contracts. These include things like the 76mm gun and other weapon systems for countering surface targets and air targets, sonar equipment, communications equipment, and electronic warfare equipment. Some of these contracts have now also been agreed. The knowledge institutes TNO and MARIN will also play an important role in this project.

Defence invoked Article 346 TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) for these contracts. Recourse to this article allows the Netherlands to waive a European tender in public procurement for the sake of national security interests.

Also read: Dutch Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigates return to the drawing board

Cooperation with Belgium

The Royal Netherlands Navy has two Multipurpose Frigates (M frigates) specialised in anti-submarine warfare. The M-class frigates entered service between 1991 and 1995 with an expected service life of 25 years. Although the ships are still fit for deployment, they have already reached the originally envisaged end of their service life.

Together with Belgium, which also has two M-class frigates, Defence is replacing the M-class frigates with Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) frigates. The ASW frigate will be a robust and future-proof frigate that, besides fighting submarines, can also act against surface targets at sea and on land. In addition, the frigate can also perform other maritime tasks, for example in the Caribbean.

The ASW frigate project is led by the Netherlands, while Belgium is in charge of the Mine Countermeasure Vessel replacement project, which is also being executed together with the Netherlands.

The acquisition of the ASW frigates will prove more expensive than planned, while the Belgian-led Mine Countermeasure Vessel project has remained almost within its original budget. Against the backdrop of the major role of Dutch industry in the ASW frigates, Belgium and the Netherlands have agreed that the Netherlands will spend EUR 355 million on goods and services from Belgian industry.

Bigger than planned and more quiet

By mid-2020, a ship design had been determined with a displacement of nearly 5500 tonnes, compared to about 3300 tonnes of the current M-class frigates. When the ship design was further developed, gradually, it emerged that further modification was needed to meet requirements for underwater noise and shock resistance, among others.

To do so, the design had to become larger. The final design has a water displacement of about 6400 tonnes.

Much attention has been paid to making the frigates as quiet as possible and to shock resistance. Composite materials that are strong, but lighter in weight are used for the ship’s masts and superstructure. Ergonomic studies were used to design the command bridge. Automation plays a major role and with the command and control systems, including the AWWS (above-water) and the UWWS (underwater, see armament and sensors below), Defence is leading the way internationally.

Also read: Damen creates custom rudders for new German frigates


The ASW frigate can act either independently or integrated into an (international) task force of naval vessels. The main task of the ASW frigate is to fight submarines remotely. The NH-90 board helicopter plays a major role in this. The ASW frigate can use the helicopter to detect a submarine at a great distance, but conversely, the frigate is difficult for a submarine to notice because the frigate is extremely quiet, much quieter than other naval vessels. The frigate, together with the helicopter, tries to disable or expel the submarine before it can launch a torpedo.

Besides anti-submarine warfare, the frigate can also conduct other maritime combat operations worldwide, such as combating surface targets at sea or on land, or securing vulnerable units such as amphibious ships, supply ships or mine-fighting vessels. In doing so, the frigate has escalation dominance, meaning it can emerge victorious in combat.

Maritime security operations such as counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics or counter-piracy are also among its capabilities. Furthermore, the frigate is suitable for coast guard duties and maritime assistance such as emergency relief or evacuations, or for a diplomatic or economic mission through flag display.

Crew and propulsion

The ASW frigate has a basic crew of 117 compared to 153 for an M frigate. There is also room for 35 people sailing along for a specific mission, such as the deployment of the NH-90 or deployment for anti-piracy, for example. The reduction of the basic crew has been made possible by automation. A maximum of four people sleep in a cabin, compared to nine in the current M frigate.

To reduce fuel consumption as much as possible, the ASW frigate will be propelled by diesel and electric engines without gas turbines. The diesel engines meet the latest emission requirements. With these engines, the Dutch Ministry of Defence may start using sustainably produced fuels in the longer term. The fuel consumption compared to the tonnage of displacement is more favourable for the ASW frigate than for the M frigate. However, as the water displacement of the ASW frigate is almost twice as large, fuel consumption is higher in absolute terms.

Also read: New radars and jammers for Dutch frigates

Armament and sensors

To detect and combat submarines, the ASW frigate has a new integrated system: the Under Water Warfare Suite (UWWS). TNO and Defence have collaborated intensively on its development. This system gives crews timely insight into the submarine threat and allows them to better combat it. The UWWS integrates the torpedo launcher with data from various sonar systems. These include the under-hull sonar, another sonar intended for warning against mines and obstacles, and a towed sonar. The main weapon system against submarines is the Mk54 torpedo, which will become available in a few years. Both the frigate and the NH-90 can launch this torpedo.

For defence against enemy torpedoes, the frigate has a softkill system that misleads the torpedoes. For physical elimination of enemy torpedoes, an anti-torpedo system is under development.

For the purpose of combating surface targets at sea and on land, the ASW frigate has a 76mm gun. For surface targets, the frigate is additionally equipped with the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM), the successor to the Harpoon anti-ship missile. For self-defence against small surface targets, the frigate will have two smaller guns and remotely operated machine guns.

Air and surface targets can be detected and fought by the ASW frigate using Thales Netherlands’ Above Water Warfare System (AWWS). This integrated radar and fire control system brings together information from multiple sensors, including radars. In doing so, it helps the crew make decisions on armament deployment. A human decision remains necessary when deploying offensive armament. For defensive armament, far-reaching automation is necessary because the response time in case of an attack can be very short.

For medium-range air defence, the ASW frigate has the ESSM Block 2 missile with which two Air Defence and Command (LC) frigates are also being equipped. It also allows the ASW frigate to protect ships in close proximity.

Also read: Dutch navy frigates get Naval Strike Missiles


Defence plans to enter into contractual commitments with Damen, Thales Netherlands and some other suppliers in June. All contracts are expected to be concluded in 2024 at the latest.

The project schedule has changed from previous communications. It is now planned that physical construction of the ships will begin in 2025. The hulls of the ships will be built in Romania, as is currently done for the Combat Support Ship, for example. The ships will then be completed in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands and Belgium have agreed that the Netherlands will get the first and third ASW frigates and Belgium the second and fourth. Initially, the Netherlands was to receive the first two frigates and Belgium the third and fourth. For both navies, it is more favourable for operations if the two new ships do not come in right after each other.

The Netherlands will receive the first ASW frigate in 2028 and this ship will enter service in 2029. For the second Dutch frigate – the third in the production series – this will be 2030 and 2031, respectively. The current two M-class frigates will be decommissioned in 2026 and 2030.

The two Dutch ASW frigates will be named after women of great significance to Dutch freedom. But what these names will be has not yet been announced.

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