Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) can play many different roles to fulfil some of the missions traditionally offered by frigate-sized combatants, at significantly reduced costs. Depending on the region, these include SAR; marine pollution detection and clean-up; surveillance; EEZ monitoring; border protection; counter-terrorism and counter-piracy; counter-narcotics and anti-smuggling; customs; enforcement of arms embargoes; SOF lodgement and extraction; troop deployments; VIP transport to and between islands; and humanitarian aid.
For some additional reasons (e.g. fleet training, fisheries patrols, bio-security, mineral resource protection, and mine countermeasures - MCM), the OPV is very often the fastest deployable and most cost-effective asset available to navies and coast guard services.
This is one of the principal reasons why the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) will procure – under the auspices of Project SEA 1180 – a new class of multirole OPVs. It is also interesting to note that the OPV, when featuring mission modules and flexible arrangements of deck space, will be able to replace legacy platforms like missile-carrying fast attack craft/boats, corvettes, or even frigates.
Another example is the Finnish Navy, which plans to procure a new class of OPVs with full warfighting capabilities. As the life cycle of the six vessels to be replaced by the new class cannot be extended in a cost-efficient way, the Finnish Navy needs a capable platform able to be deployed to “monitor maritime areas above and under the water surface”, using “capable weapons” to counter potential threats by enemy forces, the Finnish Ministry of Defence (MoD) said. The project planning phase is expected to be completed in 2018, with the construction phase estimated to be initiated in 2019. The four new ships with a length of 90-100m and a full displacement of up to 2,500t will cost an approx. €1.2 billion.
In a similar way, Brazil procured the three AMAZONAS-class OPVs that were introduced into the Brazilian Navy under the auspices of the ongoing PROSUPER fleet modernisation programme between 2012 and 2013. The PROSUPER programme calls for five frigates in the 6,000t class, five OPVs with a displacement of 1,800t, and a single 20,000t logistic support ship. Bids were received from DCNS, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS), NAVANTIA, thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), Fincantieri, and BAE Systems Maritime.
Similarly, Venezuela’s Armada Bolivariana opted for a modular OPV design for its POVZEE requirement. Designed and built by Spain’s NAVANTIA, these assets can carry – to a lesser extent – modular mission modules.
The key drivers of these and many other international programmes coming on stream in the next couple of years are multi-mission capability, survivability, high-speed propulsion systems, good ship handling, and low total ownership cost. Training and manning costs can also be significantly reduced by having a core crew supplemented by specialists depending on the mission. Three leading concepts addressing all these requirements include Damen’s CROSSOVER platform concept, Fr. Lürssen Werft’s PV 80 design, and Fassmer’s OPV-80.
Who Else Follows This Path?
In France, the so-called BATISMAR programme for up to 20 OPVs was delayed and a decision is now expected in 2019. Possible contenders include DCNS’ GOWIND and CMN’s VIGILANTE 1400 CL79 designs. The latter is a 79m ship with helicopter facilities offering the possibility to integrate mission modules. At present, three 65m B2M patrol vessels are being built by Piriou and DCNS, with deliveries expected to be completed this year. They are based on a modified offshore support vessel design and are optimised for EEZ monitoring in French overseas territories and deploying security forces, rescuers, and divers.
The Italian Navy’s shipbuilding plan foresees the construction of seven Multi-Role Patrol Vessels, two or three of which will be in the so-called Light Patrol Configuration, armed with one 127mm and one 76mm naval gun provided by Leonardo-Finmeccanica (formerly OTO Melara). Their aviation facilities include a hangar and flight deck for accommodating and operating one Leonardo AW-101 or two NHIndustries NH90 helicopters. The design calls for two modular areas, one amid ship (on deck) for accommodating two 9m Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs), two 20ft containers, or eight 20ft containers with a 20t crane, and one aft (below the flight deck) for carriage of two 9m RHIBs or five containers, or palletised cargo with an over-head travelling crane. The first unit will be delivered in 2021.
BAE Systems has five 2,000t OPVs, the FORTH-class, under construction for the UK Royal Navy. The design is a modified RIVER-class fitted with a flight deck for a Loenardo MERLIN helicopter and a new operation system called Shared Infrastructure. The first unit is expected to be delivered in 2017. The recent increase from three to five units could partially compensate the reduction of Type 26 frigates to be constructed for the Royal Navy.
Poland’s long-delayed SLAZAK (MEKO A100) OPV project now enters into a new programme consisting of three MIECZNIK-class Coastal Defence Vessels (CDVs) and three CZAPLA-class patrols with an organic MCM capability. According to industry, the common design will be a 99.7m long, 2,400t vessel with a maximum speed of 25 knots. Weapons and sensors would consist of a 76mm naval gun from Leonardo; 30mm automatic cannons from MSI-Defence Systems; two quad launchers for Kongsberg Defence Systems’ NSM (Naval Strike Missile) surface-to-surface missile; launchers for Eurotorp’s MU-90 Lightweight Torpedo (LWT); four MBDA SYLVER A35 cells for quad-packed VL-MICA surface to air-missiles; THALES Nederland’s SMART-S 3D radar; and optronic systems and KINGCLIP sonar from THALES.
Dearsan Shipyard in Turkey is now completing the 16-unit TUZLA-class OPV programme. The 57m long, 380t vessels are armed with one twin 40mm gun, delivered by Leonardo, and two 12.7mm STAMP Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) from Aselsan. Deliveries are expected to be completed by 2017. Six vessels of the same design were delivered to the Turkmenistan Boarder Guard in 2014 and 2015.
Australia’s High-End Needs
Under Project SEA 1180 (Future Multirole OPV), Australia will procure 20 multirole patrols, with the background preamble to the SEA 1180 littoral warfare project stating: “The government has directed that Defence develop proposals to rationalise the Navy’s patrol boat [ARMIDALE class], [MCM], hydrographic and oceanographic forces, potentially into a single modular multi-role class or family of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels [OCVs], combining four existing classes of vessels,” totalling 26 ships in service at present.
The OCV will be a high-performance ship optimised for different missions, for which RAN sources foresee integration of swappable mission system modules. According to SEA 1180 Phase 1, the OCV should be developed, “as part of a system that has at its centre transportable and deployable mission modules to deliver the effects currently achieved in the existing role-specific vessels, including the inherent support to sustain them.”
Mönch understands that the mission modules deployed from the OCV, other naval ships, vessels of opportunity, or independently from ashore will be capable of transportation by land, air, rail or sea.
The Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP) will look at various platform designs to deliver a multirole combatant class with a displacement of 1,500t, and featuring a common hull, propulsion and support systems, a flight deck for embarking a helicopter or UAV, and self-defence weapon systems, as well as ISR sensors and networking capabilities. With the new class of OCVs, it is suggested that the project will be able to generate long-term savings in operating and training costs by rationalising the four in-service ship classes into one capable class. However, Navy sources warn of too much functionality to the basic ship that may affect its cost, weight, and size and would have a negative influence on the original intention to create a small vessel, which can be easily adapted for different roles.
According to the Australian Government, construction is to begin in 2018. The 2012 Public Defence Capability Plan (DCP) indicates the project could have an acquisition cost in the range of AU$5-10 billion.
Taking the nature of Australia’s OCV procurement project into consideration, there are only few platform designs from international shipbuilders that would be available without ‘black boxes’ and with an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) only two years after the Government’s decision would have taken place.
Navantia, which was selected for the RAN’s Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) projects, proposes three different Off-the-Shelf (OTS) designs from its OPV range. The designs include the 2,800t AVANTE 3000 Patrol derived from the Spanish Navy’s BAM programme; the 2,500t AVANTE 2200; and the 1,500t AVANTE 1400 delivered to Venezuela’s Armada Bolivariana. These are to be modified to meet the Australian government’s requirements.
Fr. Lürssen Werft in Germany may offer its mission-proven PV 80 design, a 1,450t displacement patrol ship, which the Royal Brunei Navy selected for its demanding EEZ monitoring requirements. The four ships (DARUSSALAM-class) delivered to the Sultanate of Brunei were constructed in a modular design concept for easy integration of different weapons, sensors, and other equipment.
Another candidate could be AUSTAL’s Multi-Role Vessel (MRV), which takes advantage of new technological developments mainly in the fields of hull design and propulsion. The MRV is an 80m trimaran with a displacement of only 400t, offering some 500sqm of mission/logistics deck and 290sqm of flight deck, said AUSTAL, in addition to a hangar for accommodating and handling a medium-size helicopter in the category of the NHIndustries NH90. The MRV offers a range of 4,500nm, according to AUSTAL.
Australian naval shipbuilding and repair industry is expected to play a significant role in Project SEA 1180, focusing on systems integration, construction, and support of the capability. The DCP states that the focus will be on the, “capacity of Australian industry to maintain, repair, and adapt the mission systems and the ships on which they are embarked.” Noting that naval shipbuilding is a Strategic Industry Capability (SIC), the DCP continues: “These are primarily systems integration and ship repair capabilities.”
Their Time Has Come
Many African countries received ‘second-hand’ patrols, but are lacking modern OPV capacities. One essence taken from recent international OPV conferences is the fact that many countries in West Africa (Angola, Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Togo) and some East African nations (Kenia and Tanzania), as well as Mauritania, Madagascar, and Namibia, are in strong need of more modern patrol forces.
In Angola, Damen delivered two OPV-1000s to the country’s Fishery Protection Agency in 2014. The 62m patrols were built by Damen Galati in Romania. Nigeria commissioned two ex-US Coast Guard (USCG) HAMILTON-class cutters in 2012 and 2015, together with a single 65m OPV received from Ireland. According to media reports, the Nigerian Navy selected the Chinese P18N OPV, a derivative of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Type 056 (JIANGDAO- class) corvette. The first unit was delivered in February 2015 and the second, which was originally planned to be assembled in Nigeria, was built and outfitted in the People’s Republic of China. In addition to this, the Nigerian Navy plans to procure seven other OPVs in the next five years. The Gabonese Navy acquired a refurbished ex-French Navy P400 patrol vessel in mid-2015. In January 2015, a contract was awarded to French shipbuilder OCEA for the construction of a single 68m OPV 190 MkII for the Navy of Senegal, with delivery scheduled in autumn 2016. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Project BIRO remains active, regardless the many postponements. Three 85m long, 1,500t OPVs are being considered.
In Asia, a premier example is the Sultanate of Brunei, which certainly mirrors the region’s ‘fast run’ for new-build patrol vessels with multirole/multimission characteristics. With the induction of four 80m vessels of Fr. Lürssen Werft’s PV 80 design, the Royal Brunei Navy can now position itself as a capable force, fulfilling its steadily increasing obligations in the Sultanate’s coastal waters. Adding to the capability of the four IJTIHAD-class (Type FPB 41) patrol boats also built by Lürssen, and delivered to the service in 2009 and 2010, they considerably enhanced its operational capabilities, and provide the fleet with a significant enforcement capacity. The DARUSSALAM-class OPVs form exactly that part of a more capable force, which is needed to defend Brunei’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Royal Brunei Navy’s Chief, First Adm. Halim, said in an interview with NAVAL FORCES in 2014 that the DARUSSALAM-class allows the service to deploy at far greater distances, including the Philippine Sea, Eastern Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific Ocean. He also stated that, “their versatility was emphasised in the tragic wake of Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines.”
Lürssen also successfully targeted potential customers in South America. In June 2015, the Uruguayan Navy confirmed the selection of PV 80 design.
In India, the first of six improved SANKALP-class OPVs was commissioned in October 2015 into the Indian Coast Guard. The programme is progressing well, as the first four units in the class were already launched by Goa Shipyards. The shipbuilder is constructing the same type for the Sri Lanka Navy. These are 105m long, 2,400t vessels armed with one 30mm gun.
Japan Coast Guard’s newest procurement programmes include the completion of the 1,250t IWAMI-class OPV (delivered in 2015) and the building of the 1,700t TAKETOMI-class patrols. Four units are in service, with 12 additional units under planning or construction. In 2013, the government announced the intention to transfer four of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) HATSUYUKI-class frigates to the Coast Guard.
South Korea’s Coast Guard announced the reinforcement of its inventory with one 1,000t and two 3,500t TAE PUNG-class OPVs built by STX Offshore & Shipbuilding. The latter are 113m long, with a top speed of 30 knots. They are to be armed with one 40mm gun and a single 20mm SEA-VULCAN cannon. Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration is now progressively building a new capacity that facilitates on an overall 10-years programme of 37 units, including nine OPVs. The largest units are two 120m long, 3,000t YILAN-class OPVs that were commissioned in 2015. Additionally, the service is about to receive four 88m long, 1,000t MIAOLI-class patrols. Their commissioning should be completed in June 2016.
Littoral waters represent the ideal environment for the employment of modern OPVs, where they perform increasingly diverse missions. The future trend seems to be on designing multirole/multi-purpose platforms fitted with modular mission modules and helicopter facilities. Additionally, there is a strong tendency whereby both new-construction and in-service platforms are being outfitted with more advanced Combat Management Systems and integrated bridge systems, sophisticated Electronic Warfare equipment, more efficient sensors and processing systems, as well as better weaponry for self-defence and attack purposes.
RAdm. (Italian Navy Ret.) Massimo Annati is a frequent contributor to the Mönch Group. With additional comments by Stefan Nitschke, Editor-in-Chief of our maritime sister magazine NAVAL FORCES.