Under a major joint program launched by Belgium and the Netherlands, work on the construction of 12 new mine countermeasures vessels is scheduled to begin in mid-2021. The ships will be equipped with ten robotic MCM payloads, or ‘toolboxes’, comprising around 100 drones. The shipbuilding will take place at yards in Brittany, France, and other work in Belgium and the Netherlands. The contract, awarded on 22 May and worth €2 billion, was won by Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium set up by Naval Group and ECA Group. The first vessels are slated to begin replacing Belgian and Dutch Tripartite‑type minehunters from 2024. Belgium is acting as the program prime contractor, the Netherlands playing the corresponding role for the countries’ joint frigate renewal program. The first Tripartite minehunters entered service with the French, Belgian and Netherlands Navies under a tri‑nation program in the 1980s.
Belgian Tripartite-type minehunter Crocus (© Bernard Prezelin)
Mer et Marine has been given access to detailed descriptions of the new ships and their robotic MCM systems to detect, classify and neutralise mines. This article focuses on these Naval Group‑designed vessels and the new page they will open in the history of European mine warfare using airborne, surface and underwater drones.
81m for 2730t
The vessels, serving as motherships for the different drones, are designed for faster, safer MCM operations while dramatically reducing crew exposure to danger. They are also very different from their predecessors. Whereas the Tripartite minehunters have a length overall (LOA) of 51.5m for a beam of 89m and a full‑load displacement of 615t, their replacements will have an LOA of 81.4m for a 17m beam (15.5m at the waterline) and an as‑built displacement of 2730t with provision for increases to an end-of-life displacement of 2800t.
Computer image of a next-generation MCM vessel for the Belgian and Netherlands Navies (© Naval Group)
Low-signature steel hulls
Unlike the Tripartite type, which featured hulls made of a non‑magnetic glass‑reinforced composite material, the new vessels will have all‑steel hulls. “One of the main benefits of the stand‑off MCM concept is that the motherships send their drones into the mine field, instead of going in themselves. This enabled the design team to specify larger vessel…
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