Last Friday, the Dutch Government announced it intends to let French Naval Group build the Royal Netherlands Navy’s four new submarines. The decision has been met with strong disappointment from Damen Shipyards – one of the other contenders for the contract together with Swedish Saab – and Huisman Equipment. The final decision rests in the hands of Dutch Parliament.

The four new submarines will replace the current Walrus class. The three contenders for the contract were French Naval Group, which enlisted Royal IHC as a partner, a consortium of Saab and Damen and German Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. Altogether, the contract award has been a process taking ten years.

A few weeks ago, rumours already surfaced saying that the contract was headed for Naval. It generated a storm of criticism, both from Members of Parliament and local authorities, and industry itself. At stake is the largest possible involvement of the Dutch maritime industry. It is feared that leaving the order with Naval, will sideline the Dutch industry and result in a loss of submarine building knowledge.

Also read: Dutch submarine contract provisionally awarded to Naval

NMT expects Dutch involvement to be secured

The exact amount of involvement of the Dutch maritime industry is still to be revealed as well as which companies will play a role, next to Royal IHC. The Dutch State Secretary of Defence, Christophe van der Maat, has said that the role the Dutch industry will play in the project formed an important criterium for the contract award. So far, all that has been confirmed is that at least ten different Dutch companies and two knowledge institutes will be directly involved in production.

Trade organisation Netherlands Maritime Technology released the following statement regarding the contract award: ‘As NMT, we consider it of strategic importance to anchor naval technology knowledge and development in the Netherlands. We assume that the involvement of the Dutch maritime manufacturing industry in the development, construction and maintenance is maximally secured, as the government agreed with us in the Sector Agenda and was widely expressed at last Wednesday’s Lower House debate.’

Also read: ‘Dutch govt awards submarine contract to Naval’ 

Damen and Huisman disappointed

Yet, despite the rather celebratory announcement of the contract award by the State Secretary of Defence on Friday, 15 March, Damen and Huisman Equipment responded with disappointment and feel the choice for Naval will result in a loss of knowledge and work for the Dutch industry.

In a written statement, Damen says: ‘It is a sad day. With the provisional award of the most innovative Dutch maritime project to a French state-owned company, the foundation of our complete and well-functioning Dutch naval construction industry has been swept away. We are thus losing an essential domain of knowledge and innovation within a completely uneven European playing field. This move by the Cabinet to build outside the Netherlands directly affects the implementation of the Maritime Manufacturing Sector Agenda and the aspired Northern European cooperation. Despite this disappointing outcome, we remain ready to support the Royal Netherlands Navy in designing, building and maintaining their naval vessels. Dutch naval construction will also remain responsible, together with defence, for keeping the current submarines in service for the next ten years.’

David Roodenburg, CEO of Huisman Equipment BV adds: ‘We were very optimistic given Saab Damen’s strong tender, which contains a substantial proportion of fundamental Dutch content. The Cabinet’s preliminary choice of French state-owned company Naval represents a huge missed opportunity for the Dutch maritime manufacturing industry. We are confident that Parliament will weigh the share of our industry heavily in their assessment and commit to the Maritime Manufacturing Sector Agenda. Because only if Saab Damen gets this order, can the Netherlands secure and expand its international competitive position in this important niche market.’

Glimmer of hope

The contract award, however, still has to be approved by Dutch Parliament, so a glimmer of hope remains for those hoping the project will end up with Damen and Saab after all.

Member of Parliament Chris Stoffer, who has been campaigning for the contract to go to Damen and Saab, says on X (formerly Twitter): ‘From 2018, when I became an MP, I have been pushing for submarines to be built in the Netherlands. The government wanted that too. All the more sad that the current outgoing cabinet is now giving the order to the French after all. Fortunately, the last word has not yet been said about this.’

Picture: Walrus class submarine (by the Dutch Ministry of Defence).