As Defencechronicles reported in its 21st March issue, in an unprecedented move, on mid-March, Hein van Ameijden, managing director of Damen Schelde and Dieter Dehlke, M.D of Blohm+Voss wrote a letter to the MPs of the German Parliament.
In this letter that Defencechronicles was in a position to read, both directors have tried to convince the MPs that their teaming is the perfect solution for the program of 4 heavy frigates dubbed as ‘MKS 180’.
The Damen-Lürssen letter to German MPs: the content
First of all, this is presented by the authors as a ‘pure German’ consortium, an assumption which goes against the mainstream of the German press which claimed that none of the German yards has been selected by the MoD.
The opposite is the case’ says the brief which continues: ‘If this Europe-wide advertised procurement project at the end goes to the partnership of Blohm & Voss in Hamburg and Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuliding (Damen) in Vlissingen it would mean the following:
- ‘Four frigates would be built at Bloom + Voss in Hamburg, and therefore by a German shipyard. This is agreed by contract between the partners’;
- ‘Hundreds of jobs at the traditional shipbuilding site Hamburg would not only be ensured for many years but also considerably extended: For the project we need approximately 150 to 200 highly qualified engineers in addition’;
- ‘More than one hundred German supplier companies of different federal states would be involved through numerous subcontracts.’;
- ‘The highly innovative and worldwide successful shipbuilding know how of Damen would be transmitted to Germany, which so far always led to constructing ships within the estimated time and budget frame‘;
- ‘The German key competencies in constructing surface vessels would be retrieved’.
The brief goes on an emphatic way: ‘We are therefore convinced: We would provide the German Navy with the best available material to the highest standards within the agreed time- and budget frame. In the meaning of a European tender the navy would get the best product to the best price.’
Europe, especially the close Dutch-German co-operation is not forgotten either: ‘At the same time we would push the yet on several levels successfully practiced German-Netherland military cooperation within the framework of the European defence cooperation politically promoted.’
Among some redundant repetitions on the supply-chain (localized in Germany) and the strength of the links between the two partners, DefenceChronicles has already noticed (‘MKS 180: The DAMEN coup attempt under a UE flag’, 2018/03/21):
- ‘The design for the offered frigates ‘MKS 180’ would come from the Netherlands (we underline the sentence). It confirms to the latest worldwide standards in surface vessel shipbuilding. Together with Blohm+Voss’ experience in shipbuilding the product would be “Europe at its best”.’
- ‘Besides shipbuilding the partners would also conduct the construction phase and the detailed design in Germany. This would restore all strategic key competencies for surface vessel shipbuilding in Germany – as decided in the coalition agreement between CDU/CSU and SPD. For us this isn’t only classical shipbuilding but also: system integration, engineering and construction.’
Last but not least, the two MDs conclude: ‘We hope that these information might be helpful for you. We are at your disposal if you have any further questions. We would be glad to proceed the positive dialogue with you, your staff members or with the relevant working groups of your fraction. Thank you very much indeed for your time and interest, Yours sincerely’
Hein van Ameijden
Managing Director Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding B.V.
Managing Director Blohm+Voss B.V.&Co.KG
This is the full letter. it could be read here.
This letter raises a number of questions, of various kind!
The Damen-Lürssen letter: a questionable design capability
In this letter, Damen states that, being in charge of the brains (the design), the Dutch would kindly leave the muscle work (the production) to the Germans, the 4 frigates being built in Hamburg.
But are there really brains at Damen for such complex frigates? From the factual Dutch recent naval History, one might doubt it!
Almost 30 years ago, the Dutch Navy, like other European ones, started a long run of budget restrictions, MOD directed, following the post cold war European politics, as defined by a former European Foreign Affairs Minister: “Let us collect the dividends of peace”.
In the Netherlands Navy, the result was clear cut as regard combat ships: no order since the commissioning of the 4 x type “De Zeven Provincien” frigates in 2002, following the 8 x M frigates of 1993. Total 6 frigates remain now operational (3), to be replaced in the next 10 years.
A likely major problem for the Dutch MOD and Admiralty, is now where to find in the Netherlands the credible Prime Contractor capable to achieve a new design meeting the operational specifications, to build , test, try and deliver the ships in due time and for a fixed price.
A combat ship achievement requires quite specific capacities, engineering and experience. They deal with naval ships architecture and combat system integration. The platform needs shock resistance, light and flexible hull, silent propulsion system, typical damage control, compactness, stealth including radiated noise reduction with advanced flexible mountings, minimized cross radar section, reduced thermal and IR emission etc.
As regard combat system, there is more to perform than simply add modern sensors, CMS and weapons, plus ammunition storage. Their functional integration and above all integration with the platform, particularly the complex achievement of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), are key issues, out of the scope of commercial projects far from the blue water navies problems.
Obviously, DAMEN SCHELDE is not qualified for first rank combat vessels: design of the yard last frigate dates back to 25 years (4), delivery of the lead ship 15 years. They must team up with an experienced foreign naval yard to produce navy standards combat ships.
Yet DAMEN would claim that since the purchase of Royal Schelde, they have produced a certain number of military ships to several navies:
- 4 offshore patrol ships (PSO) ordered in 2007 by the Netherlands. ‘The role of the ships is to conduct low-intensity military operations including maritime interdiction, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian assistance‘);
- 3 OPV, so-called ‘corvettes’, ordered in 2008 ‘to extend the patrol capabilities of the MoroccanNavy‘ ;
- 4 OPV, so-called ‘corvette’s, ordered in 2004 and 2007 by the Indonesian ‘The role of the ships is to conduct coastal security operations‘ ;
- 2 OPV, so-called ‘frigates’, ordered in 2012 by the Indonesian ‘At the moment, platforms are armed only with the main gun, while other weapon systems are ‘fitted for but not with’‘ ;
- 1 OPV, same as previous one ordered by the MexicanNavy in 2017. ‘Similar to Indonesia’s Martadinata-class frigates‘
All those patrol vessels, built basically on commercial standards, are of great interest for navies and coast-guards in charge of police missions in peace-time (the ‘low intensity military operations‘ identified by Jane’s). They also are quite valuable for training duties. Designed and produced on commercial purpose, primarily to be cheap, and not for war naval operations, they probably brought appreciable cash to DAMEN; but in no way the capacity to design and build a new combat ship for a first rank NATO Navy.
In conclusion, Iit is by no way a coincidence if demanding navies such as Malaysia, Egypt or the UAE have recently preferred Naval Group’s Gowind corvettes over DAMEN corvettes.
The Damen-Lürssen letter : a questionable issue of nationality…
The recurring theme of the letter is that only the award of Damen would strengthen the German economy because of its co-operation with Blohm+Voss. By stating that Damen’s tender is the last remaining German tender, it implies, wrongly, that GNY’s offer is not “German”.
One can argue that this is a violation of the principle of equal treatment and the principle of non-discrimination because of nationality.
This view could be supported by a decision of the Higher Regional Court of Jena (decision of 16 July 2007 – 9 Verg 4/07). The court had to deal with the exclusion of a tenderer which tried to influence a member of the Thuringian state chancellery by letting him know that the contracting authority intends to award the contract to an Austrian company and by asking for an “examination of the award procedure”. The Court ruled that this exclusion was justified because “as experience has shown in the past, it cannot always be ruled out that political influence in the sense of protectionist measures is exercised for the benefit of regional or national companies instead of relying on a neutral, Europe-wide best selection that follows the legal rules”.
This is what Damen tries to achieve: to protect Blohm+Voss as, in their view, the leading German manufacturer for naval surface vessels. It could also be argued that the members of parliament are misled because Blohm+Voss is only a subcontractor to Damen and not part of a consortium.
Damen is a fully Dutch company and only attempts to appear as a German one based on a co-operation with Blohm+Voss as a sub-contractor. The case of the Higher Regional Court of Jena is therefore not identical.
The Damen-Lürssen letter : a very questionable lobbying method…
In Germany, according to the law, all the Defence projects above €25m must be approved by the Budget and Defence Committees. Writing to the members of those committees during a neck-to-neck competition, is a clear attempt to influence the procurement procedure.
This is all the more true that at the end of the letter, both managing directors conclude by their will to initiate a dialog ‘with you, your staff members or with the relevant working groups of your fraction’…
Although the letter does not say it so explicitly, Damen wants the Members of Parliament to put political pressure on the contracting authority in order to award the contract to Damen/Blohm+Voss instead of the German-British team GNY/BAES. Such lobbying methods seem all the more inexpert as regards ethics in such a major competition. Strangely, a few days later, the German press reported that the Damen/Blohm+Voss consortium was widely seen as ‘victorious’…The Handelsblatt of the 15th of March titled: ‘WERFTEN; Fregattenauftrag an Blohm +Voss?’…..