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Netherlands to renew fleet with four advanced air-defense Frigates.

| Naval News Navy 2024

The Dutch State Secretary of Defense, Christophe van der Maat, announced in a letter to the parliament on Friday that the Netherlands plans to order four new air-defense frigates for over €3.5 billion ($3.8 billion US) to replace its current fleet. The Dutch Defense Ministry aims to collaborate with the local shipbuilder Damen Naval for the naval platform and Thales for the surface warfare system, although agreements with these companies are yet to be finalized, the government indicated. The four existing air-defense frigates will be replaced sequentially, with the first new unit expected to become operational in 2036.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001Zr.Ms. De Zeven Provinciën is one of the air defense and command frigates of the De Zeven Provinciën class (Picture source: Dutch MoD)

The current Zeven Provinciën-class frigates, commissioned between 2002 and 2005, are set to be replaced in the 2030s, according to the ministry. Moreover, modern weapons like hypersonic anti-ship missiles and the proliferation of relatively simple systems such as drones have increased the threat level to naval vessels.

The Dutch government is also discussing cooperation with other European countries looking to replace frigates, including Denmark, Germany, and Norway. However, no concrete agreement has been reached yet, the ministry mentioned in its letter to the parliament. Cooperation might encompass joint development and construction, as well as collective procurement, training, and maintenance. "The Netherlands is leading these ships, but we would welcome other countries joining us," Van der Maat stated in a video declaration.

The first delivery is scheduled for no later than 2034, with the final one of the four new air-defense frigates expected to be operational by 2041. This means the current fleet will continue to serve two more years than initially planned, according to the ministry.

The Netherlands plans to repurpose some equipment installed to modernize its current air-defense frigates, including two new Active Phased Array Radars and four 127mm cannons against surface targets. The radar and fire control system being developed for two new anti-submarine warfare frigates will be further refined for the new air-defense ships. The replacement frigates will feature layered air defense, with a preference for various missile ranges to be covered by the same manufacturer, the ministry stated. The ships will also be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile.

The frigate replacement is the ministry’s largest maritime project, with a budget of over €2.5 billion for the vessels and an additional investment of €1 billion to €2.5 billion for the weapon systems. The budget assumes the bare hull will be built elsewhere in Europe, as is the case for the new anti-submarine warfare frigates, though local construction is not ruled out, the ministry noted. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Dutch government has increased its defense budget, allocating 1.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defense by the end of last year, up from 1.15% in 2014. Spending is expected to approach the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) target of 2% of GDP starting this year.

Additionally, the new ships will include defense capabilities against hypersonic weapons, which are not part of the budget due to still being in development. The ministry is part of the Hypersonic Defence Interceptor Study project, led by the pan-European missile manufacturer MBDA.

The Defense Ministry is replacing most of its major naval surface combatants in the next 15 years, which is expected to significantly enhance Dutch maritime capabilities. The resulting industrial cooperation is projected to "provide a powerful boost to European strategic autonomy and the Dutch defense industry."

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