In line with their plans to disperse air defence capabilities across the fleet to meet a new range of maritime threats, the Royal Netherlands Navy will acquire two home-built “civil supplier type” support ships.

Currently, the government has not determined the specific model of the ships. A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said that the details will be confirmed after the topic has been discussed among the House of Representatives before the end of 2024.

The force refers to these future vessels as Multi Functional Support Ships (MFSS). The government will approach their own supplier base within the Dutch maritime industry. The Netherlands Material and IT command investigates the total market of suppliers who provide containerised payloads.

“The initial goal is to integrate [an] air defence payload in a network with a frigate. Integration in a wider network will be considered” down the line, they added.

Netherlands undergoes extensive fleet renewal

Over the next 15 years the Dutch Government have committed to an extensive modernisation programme to replace its largely ageing fleet. This endeavour will cost the government several billion euros.

Besides the two new MFSS, the Royal Netherlands Navy will also deploy medium-sized, uncrewed surface vessels to carry air defence payloads.

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Soon, however, the first of the Netherlands’ new naval platforms – a Combat Support Ship – is due to arrive in the country in a matter of months. Based on the Karel Doorman, an existing support ship that entered service in 2015, the vessel will have the capability to operate in high threat situations when protected by frigates.

Other platforms include four future frigates to replace the existing De Zeven Provinciën class fleet acquired between 2002 and 2005.

HNLMS Evertsen (F805) is the fourth De Zeven Provinciën class frigate of the Royal Netherlands Navy around Klaipeda, Lithuania on 29 May 2017. Credit: Shutterstock/Vytautas Kielatitis.

This new frigate class will play a pivotal role within the seaborne air defence network that the Navy intends to project. They will interplay with MFSS units in and around the North Sea theatre, acting as Air Defence Command Frigates (ADCFs), the spokesperson confirmed.

What type of air defence payload will the ships carry?

To fulfill the tactical requirement of dispersed operations and to enhance the firepower of a Naval Task Group, Multi Functional Low (and in the future un-) crewed support vessels will be equipped with an air defence payload.

The MFSSs will deploy the Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) designed and built by the US defence producer Raytheon, now an RTX subsidiary. Specifically, the ships will use SM-2 Block IIIA long range missiles from modular, remote launchers.

A dedicated link between the ADCF and the MFSS enables the user to control the remote launchers from the frigate and provides them with the required targeting data for launch and guidance.

ADCFs execute the missile uplink-downlink, the MFSS controls the status of the remote launcher, which is equipped with a command veto function for safety.

The modular Electronic Support Measure (ESM) and Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) systems will be controlled from the MFSS. When operating in support of an ADCF, the ECM mission module can also be operated from the ADCF through a dedicated link.

The module can be tasked to disrupt radio frequency seekers in adversarial missiles; counter drones; and prevent or hamper the enemy picture compilation.

High-threat maritime environment

“The evolving threat (varying from simple drone systems to hypersonic high divers) require a more diverse air defence package to mitigate that threat,” explained the spokesperson.

According to intelligence from GlobalData, the global military uncrewed aerial vehicles market is due to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6% from $12.2bn in 2024 to $21.9bn by 2034.

Likewise, hypersonics pose a dangerous threat as the global powers the US, Russia, and China are all testing hypersonic technology, generating fears of escalating global competition for weaponry that has the potential to render current defences inadequate.

Our proclivity for missile diplomacy has only grown as demonstrated by the Yemeni Houthi militants holding naval task forces and civilian shipping to ransom in the Red Sea.

For the first time during its deployment to the threatre HNLMS Karel Doorman has provided medical treatment to a casualty onboard the ship. It concerned a seafarer from a merchant ship hit by two missiles in the Gulf of Aden.