BNS Oostende, the Belgian Navy’s first mine countermeasures vessel (MCMV) delivered under a joint programme between Belgium and the Netherlands, has been launched at a ceremony in Concarneau, France.

M940 Oostende is the first of 12 new City-class ships planned to be procured by the two countries under the rMCM programme, to replace their ageing Tripartite-class and Alkmaar-class ships. Both countries will receive six vessels each.

The contract for the rMCM programme was awarded to Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium comprising Naval Group and ECA Group, now known as Exail, in 2019.

Belgium Naval & Robotics is responsible for the construction of the new MCM vessels and the supply of a toolbox of around 100 drones, including surface, underwater and aerial, intended to equip each vessel.

Construction of the second vessel, and the first intended for the Dutch Navy, is progressing and the ship is expected to be launched in September 2023. The launch of BNS Oostende coincided with the keel-laying of the third vessel, M941 Tournai, intended for the Belgian Navy.

The first delivery of the vessels to Belgium under the rMCM programme is planned for the end of 2024. The remaining deliveries will take place between 2025 and 2030.

The bi-national programme head lieutenant commander (1LV) Renauld Hock said: “From now on, it is an all-hands-on-deck approach: a new ship will be launched approximately every six months, the first Dutch vessel being scheduled for this autumn. The building of platforms number 3 and 4 has also begun.

“Moreover, this year we plan the setting-to-work of the first vessel and the tests of the toolbox, the toolbox being essential to this new rMCM capacity.

“Belgium and the Netherlands are convinced that the City-class is the best way forward in naval mine warfare: a true system-of-unmanned-systems which will pave the way for all modern navies.”

The mine countermeasures vessels will be installed with the autonomous ability to detect, classify and neutralise mines.

Capable of withstanding underwater explosions, the 82.6m-long vessels have very low acoustic, electrical and magnetic signatures.  

With a displacement of 2,800t, the vessels can cruise at a maximum speed of 15.3 knots and have a range of more than 3,500 nautical miles.

The MCMV is equipped with the Naval Group Polaris combat system. Drone systems that can be launched from the ship include the Exail UMISOFT System, unmanned surface vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, two towed sonars and two mine identification and disposal systems.