Replacement of Dutch Walrus submarines: decision postponed to 2021

The news hit the air like a gunshot in the December 6, 2019 edition of Telegraaf (Niels Rigter, “ Cabinet: uitstel onderzeeërs "): the replacement of submarines of the class Walrus, who had been waiting since 2018 for the “ letter B » to be given to the successful bidder(s) for the definition phase, will not be sent before 2021, dashing the last hopes of a decision being made at the end of 2019. But a decision was still made: Navantia is eliminated.

Dutch Walrus-class submarines (Zr. Ms. Walrus (1992), Zr. Mrs. Zeeleeuw (1990), Zr. Mrs. Dolphin (1993) and Zr. Mrs. Bruinvis (1994) will have to leave service between 2027 and 2031 thanks to a mid-life overhaul carried out in 2013 and 2019. From 2014, the principle of replacing Walrus is recorded. THE White Paper 2018 in the second appendix (p. 24) explains this choice. Appendix 4 presents the schedule for renewal of Walrus (2,5 billion euros or more). A request for information was sent to the main submarine manufacturers in 2018. The choice of the bidder with whom exclusive negotiations will be conducted could be announced at the end of 2019.

Le White Paper 2018 specified the timetable for the country's military programming for each of the capabilities to be modernized or renewed. The “replacement of submarine capacity” is considered in this document as requiring a budget in excess of 2500 million euros, but the Dutch press rather refers to a budget envelope of around 3500 million euros.

Like other programs, the “replacement of submarine capacity” had to follow three very distinct phases.

The first consists of the issuance of a request for information by the Dutch Ministry of Defense to the main submarine manufacturers. The candidates who have expressed interest are the Dutch shipyards Women allied to Swedish SAAB thanks to its subsidiary Kockums ; the French company Naval group ; the Spanish naval enterprise Navantia and the German submarine subsidiary of TKMS (ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems).

The second phase was to begin with the sending of a letter B to successful bidders. This letter would have specified all the military characteristics expected for these submarines and would have allowed the opening of dialogue between the finalists and the Dutch navy so that the builders could show how the needs expressed are taken into account in their proposal.

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The A26 program benefited from an order in 2015: the future HMS Blekinge (2024?) and HMS Skåne (2025?). SAAB, after having bought Kockums (2014) from TKMS which allowed its Swedish subsidiary to die, is working to win a foreign order. After Australia (Model 612, 4000 t), SAAB, allied with Damen, offers a variant of the A26 (Model 712, ~ 3000 t) in the Netherlands.

According to the schedule of White Paper 2018, the letter should have been sent in 2018. The 2020 budget postponed the choice of finalists and therefore the sending of the letter B at the beginning of 2020. But a political will to bring this matter to fruition at the end of 2019 was perceptible. Final turnaround: the cabinet postpones the matter to 2021. The Secretary of State for Defense, Ms. Barbara Visser, must present the government decision to the lower house of the Batavian Parliament next week.

The government fears that the ambitions carried by the program to acquire four new submarines are too heavy and sources of financial risks. The program Walrus he himself had seen his initial financial estimate slip by 65%. All bidders agreed to transfer the intellectual property of their proposal and to ensure the assembly or even construction of the boats in Holland. Some Dutch decision-makers want an increase in power and capacity in terms of underwater construction in the country.

The first loser is without the slightest doubt Navantia whose commercial offensive at the NEDS show in Rotterdam was not enough to convince the Dutch ministries concerned by the program. The Spanish shipbuilding company only joined the competition late, with the support of the Spanish government, with the S-80Plus (3400 tonnes). Many predicted abandonment or elimination. Of which act.

Stay in the race Women/SAAB, Naval group et TKMS. The German industrialist's candidacy is considered the weakest because the two other proposals are in the lead. Furthermore, theGerman offer was deemed non-compliant with Norwegian and German requirements as part of the program to replace the six Ula-class submarines with four submarines Type 212 CD (Common Development). The publicity is necessarily bad and the diving movement of the Type 212 CD (~ 2000 tonnes) can only with difficulty satisfy the Dutch navy whose Walrus have a unit plunge displacement of 2650 tonnes.

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Naval group offers in Holland a boat with more than 3000 tonnes of diving displacement. This is a new version of what should be called the Barracuda “family” which already included the Attack (Australia) and Suffren (France) classes. This submarine is distinguished by its diving bars positioned on the massif and by a hull entirely covered with anechoic tiles.

It is therefore, in fact, a duel between Women/SAAB et Naval group.

The consortium formed by Women et SAAB is the big favorite of the competition, at least the one which receives the favor of public opinion, the House of Representatives and the Ministry of Defense and which is considered to be the most Dutch proposal.

The industrial proposal called Model 712 (3000 to 3500 tonnes submerged?) is derived from the A26 program (HMS Blekinge (2024?) and HMS Skåne (2025?) under construction). By an agreement concluded on October 2, 2019 by Women et SAAB with Thales UK, THE " Sound » 2076 is integrated into the proposal. More than a sonar, it is the continuation of the British nuclear submarines (SSBNs et SSN) including a bow sonar, flank sonars, a sonar wave interceptor, an underwater telephone, an active sonar for mine detection and a towed linear antenna. One of the best sonar solutions in the world awaiting ultra-low frequency sonars (2030s). A vertical launch system is proposed. It is composed of a missile launcher tube placed at the rear of the massif. This tube contains six cells, each loaded with a cruise missile.

And the situation is repeated where some (including the Ministry of Defense and the lower house of Parliament) in the Netherlands regret that the tender procedure is maintained, at the risk of seeing the favorite lose it. When selecting the offer Naval group et ECA group for the replacement of the Belgian and Dutch minehunters, the disappointment expressed by part of the Batavian public opinion was focused on the tender procedure considered responsible for the defeat of Women.

The proposal of Naval group was publicly revealed at the beginning of February 2019. It is neither a Scorpene, nor un Scorpène Evolution (3000 tonnes). This is an additional version of the Barracuda equipped with front diving bars on the massive and not on the front of the hull as for Australian and French boats. Naval group proposes as a decisive argument, in response to the 2076 sonar of the 712 model, a coating in anechoic tiles over the entire hull: from the top of the massif to the keel, from the bow to the steering gear. The French company has established an industrial partnership with the Dutch company Royal IHC whose activities in the offshore seem to be able to guarantee it possesses the necessary skills for the assembly of submarines.

The postponement of the decision from the end of 2019 to 2021 is clearly a source of concern for Women. The company did not win the contract to replace Belgian-Dutch minehunters. The replacement program for the four air defense frigates of the class By Zeven Provinciënn is postponed for no less than five years. The ambitious Dutch naval plan going hand in hand with an increase in industrial capacities seems to be suffering, once again after the case of the class frigates By Zeven Provinciënn, the increase in the cost of acquiring 46 F-35A.

SAAB Kockums would be in a critical situation. The Swedish proposal made to Poland to join the class modernization project Archer et Södermanland en acquiring the two boats of this last class testifies to an industrial workload in desperate need of being supplemented. In the event of another failure on a foreign market, the Swedish government may have to activate public procurement to do so.

Naval group would be the candidate most likely to benefit from this postponement. The French company has no outstanding workload plans. It will benefit from an additional year to ramp up its industrial proposals while leading a public communications campaign in a country where it is perceived as benefiting from French public aid and therefore as a subsidized foreign application.

The framework is emerging within which the Dutch ministries (Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Economy) will have to convince the cabinet to decide in favor of one of the candidates. The proposal striking the best balance between the operational capacities proposed, the workload provided to Dutch manufacturers, the skills acquired by national industry and the best-controlled budget envelope will certainly win favor. It is feared that a new “Walrus affair” could be created while the acquisition of the 46 F-35A already imbalances the military programming of the Netherlands. Hence the choice of the least risky proposition.

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