MKS 180: The DAMEN coup attempt under a UE flag

In a former article dated 9 March 2018, Defence Chronicles elaborated on the recent German MOD decision to eliminate the TKMS-Lürssen offer from the MKS 180 frigate contest.

It is reminded that 2 competitors stay in this European race:

  • German Naval Yard (GNY) + BAES
  • Blöhm & Voss (B&V) + DAMEN

Damen, a frigate designer, really ?

Obviously there is, right now, no design capability of a combat ship type MKS 180, neither in GNY nor in B&V, all German first rank warship design capabilities having been put aside by TKMS, for its own use, when they sold the Hamburg yard to B&V and the Kiel one to GNY.

Clearly also, out of the two European partners: DAMEN and BAE, only BAE still retains some warship design capacity; even if not a dream partner, with a last frigate design experience in 1984 (Type 23), somewhat revived by the Type 45 destroyers designed in 2000 (first of class delivered by Vosper, a  shipyard now closed).

As for DAMEN, one cannot but be stunned by the provocative letter sent last week to Members of the German Parliament by the joint CEOs of B&V and DAMEN, in which DAMEN is highlighted as responsible for the complete design of the future MKS 180! [1]

In the same letter it is stated with some surprising commercial coarseness that the MKS 180 of DAMEN brand would rank one of the first in the world of surface combatants[2], which sounds as an attractive marketing hook.

[1] « Das design für die angebotenen Fregatten MKS 180 käme aus den Niederlanden ».

[2] « Es entspricht den weltweit modernsten Standards im Überwassersschiffbau ». 

Damen pretentions to join the club

Hard to believe indeed to those observers of the European naval forces and shipyards, since DAMEN, a real champion in civilian service boats or dredges worldwide is now a pretender in the combat ships area. Certainly in 2001 they bought the ailing DE SCHELDE, a traditional supplier of the Royal Netherlands Navy; but since then, no frigate neither first rank combat ship was ever ordered to them.

Probably disappointed but not discouraged the brave building Dutchman turned to the export market of « Security and patrol vessels », applying the modular shipbuilding concept and the so-called DAMEN Standard to OPV platforms, under the trademark SIGMA[1]. Basic weapons and systems installation from Thales Naval Netherlands, nice stealth- looking shapes and grey painting gave them the corvettes look required by some foreign navies or coast-guards but may not qualify DAMEN as a first rank combat ships designer.

For the German naval industry, another good news of this letter to German MPs is that, being in charge of the brains, the Dutch would kindly leave the muscle work to the Germans, the 4 frigates being built in Hamburg[2].

The key of this Dutch commendable generosity is given in the 14 March Handelsblatt edition. It is disclosed there that in consideration for the DAMEN MKS 180 design, the German TKMS would receive from the Dutch Government an order for the replacement of the 4 WALRUS submarines[3].

[1] Damen Shipyards group c 2017-KvK 23 04 99 23.

[2] « Würden die vier Fregatten bei Blohm+Voss in Hamburg und damit von einer deutschen Werft gebaut. ». 

[3] « Sollte Damen den Zuschlag für MKS 180 erhalten, dann köntendie Niederländer im Gegenzug U-Boote bei TKMS bestellen ». 

Germany, Holland, Belgian: UE fashionable frigates and subs


Otherwise, it is known that the future Dutch frigates, in replacement of the 4 existing De Zeven Provincien and the planned 2 Belgian ones, should be of the same type: why not class MKS 180? The specifications suggest boats of the same size (MKS 180 displacement: over 5800 t, De Zeven Provincien:  6145 t[4]) and the NATO could be crazy about a common frigate easing missions sharing between the Germans, the Dutch and the Belgians.

With the building in Holland of the 6 Dutch-German MKS 180, this happy end win-win proposal of DAMEN would fill with a ten years workload the starving Damen Schelde yard in Vlissingen; it would also delight together Hamburg ,with the building of the 4 German ones, and Kiel with the building of the 4 Dutch Walrus submarines replacement (most likely of the class 212 CD, 6 units being presently  ordered: 4  Norway and 2 Germany).

[4] Jane’s Fighting Ships, 07-Mar-2018. 


Help, politicians!


So nice, so good, so many people happy in Northern Europe, so pleased a NATO command…Those politicians in Germany recipient of the titillating letter from Hein van Ameijden (Damen) and Dieter Dehlke (B&V Lürssen), reading Handelsblatt[5] the day after cannot help but applaud the superb plan that makes no looser in the UE…. except maybe the German, Holland and Belgian Navies and tax-payers.

The whole plan indeed is based on the DAMEN credibility to produce a detailed design for a modern first rank frigate equipped with a complex weapons system combining anti-missiles and air defense, anti submarine warfare, anti-surface and cruise missiles capability, stealth, noise reduction, resilience in combat conditions etc.

[5] Handelsblatt 14 March


DAMEN very questionable


The German MOD, by putting TKMS out of the game, made it public that this capability no longer existed in Germany. Analysis of the DAMEN capacity, experience and track record today shows obviously that they remain far behind those previously denied to TKMS.

Of course it is always feasible in Europe to build up new combat ships design and production facilities from almost scratch and deliver the MKS  180 project  over 20 years: time and money can do it! But nobody knows how long it will take, how much it will cost; and the end-users navies hand in hand with their taxpayers have better be utterly suspicious of empty promises.

The DAMEN ones today can only lure politicians, not Navy professionals…neither insurers!

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