Future need for Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilies in European context – Part 1

Some time ago I wrote two blogs about the need for a future RNLN Walrus class submarine replacement:

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Of course just having four submarines isn’t the only thing needed to have an effective Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability. With this blog I will try to make a case for a European improvement of ASW capabilities. With this first blog I will look at the decreasing numbers of some capabilities within the Netherlands Armed forces. The next blog will show the European context and the last blog will point out… the necessity of submarines, ASW capabilities and the ultimate goal: being able to command the seas: and thus perform Sea Control / Sea denial operations, where we want it, whenever we want it!

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Spend more, getting less in return
European defence forces spend less on their defence capabilies is a very common remark… but is that really true? Because the numbers are declining and the costs for new systems and operating them are skyrocketing.

The Dutch MoD assumes that it will cost around € 270 million to operate 35 + 2 (test) JSF thingies from two main operating bases per year.. This wil be the same as it is until now…. But only then we now operate about 68 F16 fighters. So There may be less budget, but the budget that we have will be used to operate almost half the fleet we used to operate. So in the end we spend more… per aircraft… while we will get less output: less aircraft operational at one time, less training hours, and very, very expensive aircraft for certain “simple” tasks like QRA. And as we can see in many unbiased official documents, Other fighters have their qualities too, are proven and effective… and can be very affordable.

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The last couple of years… well almost 10 to 20 years, many European governments, like the Dutch government seem to have forgotten why  we need a well-equipped war fighting capable navy. A new trend have arose where full fletched destroyers, frigate’s and corvettes have been replaced by so called Ocean capable  (a term also used: Offshore) Patrol Vessels. These vessels are mostly capable of operating in a coastguard role, with some weaponry and sensors and often helicopter facilities.  One of the main area’s which this “rebalancing” of fleets have led to is a large diminish of Anti-Submarine warfare capabilities. The European navies decreased the number of submarines, submarine hunting vessels, Anti-Submarine Maritime Patrol Aircraft and Helicopters capable of these important tasks.  Besides that navies tend to invest less in training hours for these kind of operations. Why? The threat of the Soviet fleets have disappeared right? To give you an example: The Dutch Navy in 2004 (ten years ago) had:

  • 13 (around 2004 it where 10) P3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft in the latest modernisation standard. These aircraft where capable of searching and destroying submarines and surface vessel at great range and long endurance. Also capable of Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. Later some were improved for operation over land (EW and SIGINT operations)

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  • 24 owned (during 2004 they had 22) SH-14D Lynx naval helicopter These helicopters where integrated on naval frigates and surface ships to help defend and hunt enemy submarines to secure the vicinity of own and friendly ships, both military and merchant vessels in convoy. These helicopters were also used for SAR, Special Forces Insertion, Transport and security operations (like Operation Atalanta)
  • Surface vessels: The Dutch Navy had several types of surface vessels which are capable of Anti-Submarine warfare, with or without naval helicopters.
    • 2x Replenishment ships capable of carrying 2 Lynx helicopters and loads of Aircraft fuels, spares and torpedo’s
    • 1x Air defence frigate with Torpedo tubes, and sonar
    • 7x Multi purpose Frigates with Torpedo tubes, and a bow sonar and equipped with one Lynx helicopter. Besides the hull mounted sonar these frigates are also fitted with a special towed sonar specifically intended for Anti Submarine Warfare. (Anaconda DSBV-61A towed array sonar)
    • 2x Landing Platform Dock ship with the secondary capability of operating as an ASW command and support ship with room for 6x naval helicopters.
    • 4x Air defence and Command Frigates. These are armed with hull mounted sonars
  • Submarines: 4x Walrus class submarines armed with torpedo’s and if necessary armed with Harpoon Anti Ship missiles (never bought by the Dutch Navy though).

If we look at the current status of the Dutch Navy… don’t fall of your chairJ I start with the actual decrease/increase (if there is any) by – xx! or + xx!

  • – 13! No more MPA; all sold to Germany (8) and Portugal (5). These aircraft replaced older/other aircraft so in the end EU/NATO decreased this important capability.
  • – 8! ASW capable helicopters; ass a cost-cutting measure all flying Lynx helicopters stood down on September 2012. At that time there were a couple of new NH90 in service. But this project has many problems so these where scaled down versions, not full Operation capable. Also the number of ASW capable versions are scaled down, 12 are planned as ASW naval helicopters, the other 8 where intended as naval transport helicopters for marines support operations.
  • Surface vessels:
    • -1! Replenishment ship operational; 1 Joint Support ship in construction, but because of the broad tasks it is supposed to fulfil it couldn’t always function as a replenishment ship. Besides that it is expected that the purposely build Replenishment ship Zr.Ms. Amsterdam (A836) will be sold around 2014. Effectively this means that the capability will be decreased more than just -1. Say -1,5!
    • -1! The Air defence frigate was effectively out of service around 2005.
    • -5/6! Originally there have been 8 Multi-Purpose frigates serving the RNLN. These ships where the backbone of Dutch Submarine hunting capacity. During the year 2004 Hr.Ms. Abraham van der Hulst (F832) was sold. Therefore I speak of a loss of 5 frigates compared to the current situation. The Dutch navy has only 2 of these specialized submarine hunting frigates left. Ofcourse we can count in the 2 Belgian ones because they are integrated within the Admiral BENELUX. But for EU/NATo thise meant a loss because they replaced their 3 frigates with two former Dutch MP frigates.
    • 0! The 2 Landing Platform Docks still remain in service.
    • 0! The 4 Air defence and Command Frigates still remain in service.
    • Submarines: 0! The 4 Dutch submarines eventually survived numerous “attacks” of politicians who wanted to get rid of the submarine service. One quote in particular is very interesting because it’s from the current Dutch minister of foreign affairs Timmermans:

Timmermans (Labour), “Yes, but it’s not the answer I want to hear I want to hear that there were no life-sustaining investments would be done in the submarine service.”. When (minister of Defence) Kamp stuck to his point, the parliamentarian Timmermans decided to break with: “Then this decision wil be the nose of the camel and I predict that we will never get rid of the submarine service.”

The Dutch submarine service has lost a lot of “fat from the bones”… it’s a very tiny service with very few personnel. But the effects it can generate is very interesting. They do a far more better job than the Canadians, Australians and many other countries operating the same or more ships with a lot more personnel. All those other services deliver fewer hours at sea at larger cost.

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