Keel laid for first MCM vessel of Belgian-Dutch minehunter program

French defense contractor Naval Group has held a keel-laying ceremony for the first of the twelve mine countermeasure (MCM) vessels of the Belgian-Dutch minehunter (rMCM) program, intended for Belgium. 

As informed, the keel-laying ceremony took place in Concarneau on 30 November. The contract for the construction of the ships was awarded in 2019 to Belgium Naval & Robotics, the consortium formed by Naval Group and ECA Group, following an international competition. 

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Under the program, the companies will build twelve mine countermeasures vessels and around a hundred drones
integrated inside a toolbox that will equip the vessels for the Belgian Navy and the Royal Dutch Navy.

These specialized mine warfare vessels are the first to have the capability to embark and launch or fly a combination of surface drones, underwater drones and aerial drones. The 82.6-meter long units will use a fully robotic system for the detection, classification and neutralization of mines.

With a displacement of 2,800 tonnes and a maximum speed of 15.3 knots, they can withstand underwater explosions and have very low acoustic, electrical and magnetic signatures, in line with the missions to be carried out.

”We are very happy to be here in Concarneau to take this next step in the program with the keel laying of the first mine countermeasure vessel. This program is the result of European cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands, in which Naval Group is proud to participate. It is also the result of a solid industrial partnership and of a commitment to competitiveness between Naval Group and ECA Group,” Pierre Eric Pommellet, CEO of Naval Group said.

Kership, a joint venture between Naval Group and Piriou, is in charge of the production of the twelve vessels which are assembled in Concarneau. Specifically, they will be armed afloat by Piriou.

On the other hand, Naval Group, as an overall architect and prime contractor, is responsible for the design of the ships, the overall integration, and the testing and commissioning of the mission system (combat system and mine countermeasures system).

Furthermore, ECA Group, as co-contractor, is in charge of the unmanned drones’ system. The drones will be produced in ECA Group workshop (Ostend, Belgium). The maintenance of the ships will be carried out in Belgium in close collaboration between the Belgian Navy and Naval Group Belgium, with the assistance of its partner Flanders Ship Repair.

“All ECA Group teams are mobilised for the success of this … program: it aims at an unprecedented level of automation of mine warfare operations, with the coordinated implementation of underwater, surface and aerial drones. In close collaboration with Naval Group teams, we are developing an integrated and optimised system to meet the requirements of our Belgian and Dutch customers,” Dominique Giannoni, CEO of ECA Group added.

The partners selected French contractor Thales to supply NS50 radars for the MCM units. The NS50 is said to be the world’s first compact, multi-mission 4D Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar available in the market for smaller vessels offering both air and surface surveillance with missile and gun fire control.

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The first delivery is scheduled for the end of 2024 in Zeebrugge, Belgium. Deliveries will then be staggered until 2030.

“The Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navy can be proud of this innovative and (r)evolutionary mine countermeasures replacement program. The ambition of this program is to become the world reference in this field,” CPF BAM Claude Bultot, head of the program noted.

“In the 2015 NATO Maritime Operations study, the main shortcomings of shipborne systems were slow operation, poor mine discrimination, inability to detect buried and drifting mines, self-defense and the ability of platforms to easily project globally. It was already clear that the existing conventional platforms could not meet all these challenges. Therefore, we were looking for a reliable partner to carry out this small revolution in mine warfare,” Admiral Michel Hofman, Belgian Chief of Defence concluded.