MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Epilogue: NLMS Karel Doorman

The following is an unplanned epilogue to my three-part series, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Earlier parts are found here: Part one, part two and part three. As mentioned, I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

From somewhere under my radar, a completly new (admittedly somewhat far-fetched) alternative suddenly came to my notice. The Dutch are building a new 28 000 t Joint Logistic Support Ship, named HNLMS Karel Doorman in a ceremony earlier this month. The ship is a serious player amongst support ships, not only having two RAS-stations, but also having a flight deck capable of holding up to six NH90-sized choppers (or two CH-47 Chinooks) and stations for two LCVP landing crafts. While the ship is way larger than anything either the Finnish or the Swedish navies hopes to purchase, it is apparently also too big for the Dutch, who last year declared that budget cuts forced the navy to sell it before commissioning. The plans were quickly reversed, but the service is currently looking for possible partners.

One possibility, if the ship is seriously up for hire, would be to study the possibility of either jointly (in a show of the much talked about Finnish-Swedish defence cooperation) or separetly leasing the ship for training cruises and/or operational deployments to the Indian Ocean (or other trouble spots) every once in a while. While the ship is bigger than the projects discussed earlier, heavy automation means the crew is reduced to 150 persons (roughly twice the compliment of former Finnish training ship FNS Pohjanmaa (01)), which shouldn’t prove prohibitively large in the case of a mixed Finnish/Swedish crew. This arrangement would in turn mean that the ordered support ships could be shrunken in size (and cost), and trimmed for their wartime duties in the relatively restricted waters of the Baltic Sea, leaving both navies with better ships, while still sailing the Seven seas and chasing pirates every now and then.

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MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 3. Cooperation

The following is part three of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one (published Thursday) dealt mainly with the Swedish plans, with part two (published yesterday) focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and part three trying to wrap it up. As mentioned, I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

Takanen stopped short of saying that Sweden and Finland would pursue a joint design, only saying that they are “exchanging information about possible co-operation”. As an unrelated issue, he also denies any rumors that Finland would be interested in buying Visby-class corvettes, noting that they are too expensive.

An interesting detail is found in the legislative documents covering the blast test conducted on the decommissioned nameship of the Helsinki-class fast attack craft in 2010-11.

The blast test were made in cooperation with German and US authorities, and part of the deal was of such a nature that in Finland it fell under legislation as opposed to the armed force’s jurisdiction. This means that the tests are rather well described in open sources (including these document in Finnish/Swedish [1], [2], [3]). The testing took place in the Örö test and training range west of Hanko in the Gulf of Finland, and included detonating TNT and PENO plastic explosives charges, ranging in size from under a kilogram up to and including a “full size sea mine” (or several?).

The aim was to study the aluminum construction and its durability, with a focus on battle damage. Aside from the live fire tests, simulations and laboratory experiments were also included, and in the documents it is stated that “for Finland, the project forms part of the MTA2020 study”.

This is the interesting part, as it seems like the Finnish MTA2020 is drafted with an aluminum hull, while the L10, as far as I know, is a traditional steel hulled ship with an aluminum superstructure. Most probably the Swedish ship is considerably larger than what Finland has in mind (~6 000 t compared to ~4 000 t?).

There exists the possibility that the connection between MTA2020 and the test were mainly a clever idea from someone in the navy to be able to transfer funds from one budget to another without the politicians making a fuss about it (presumably from Merivoimien materiaalilaitos to Merisotakoulun tutkimuskeskus)… Note that this is pure speculation, the only thing that might point in this direction is the fact that for a support ship operating in the Indian Ocean, a steel hull would seem a more traditional choice (depending, however, on the overall size of the vessel).

So, what is left then to cooperate about, if the two classes are built of different materials, in different sizes, and to different specs?

Quite naturally, different systems and sub-systems can be rather similar, even though the platform themselves are differing. These include replenishment stations, flight facilities, weapons, and so forth. However, perhaps aside from outright joint acquisitions, the sharing of information which Takanen mentions might be of even greater importance.

Thus, while the projects seems to be heading their own ways, this “cross-border brainstorming” might in the end lead to better ships for both navies.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 2. Finland

The following is part two of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one (published yesterday) dealt mainly with the Swedish plans, with this part focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and in part three (published tomorrow) I will try to wrap it up. As mentioned, I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

Finland – MTA2020

The MTA2020 is very vaguely described in the article. As opposed to the Hämenmaa-class, which currently can operate in the Mediterranean but not further afield, the MTA2020 is supposed to be able to operate in the Indian Ocean on international duties, as well as to perform its wartime missions in the Finnish archipelagoes and home waters.

The MTA2020 will most probably be a large ship by Finnish standards. Also, seeing the emphasize placed by the Finnish navy on mines in naval warfare (e.g. the mine rails were kept on the refurbished Hämeenmaa ships, as opposed to the Swedish solution for HMS Carlskrona), the MTA2020 might well feature a combined Ro/Ro and mine deck. For prolonged operations abroad, full flight facilities including a hangar might be wished for, but it is unclear which helicopter would be used, as the Finnish Navy currently does not operate any helicopters of their own.

If the ship would indeed receive full flight facilities, my personal belief is that the use of NH-90, even in its NFH-version, is unlikely, as it is a rather heavy helicopter. An order for a limited number of light marine helicopters, e.g. the AW159 Wildcat or AS565 Panther, would seem logical, and would dramatically boost both the ASW and ASuW capabilities of the navy, by providing stand-off ASW capability and over-the-horizon targeting capability for ship based AShM. However, the cost of such a procurement might well prove to be prohibitive.

Exactly in which way the MTA2020 is supposed to replace the Rauma-class is more uncertain, as weapons will probably be limited to a self-defence SAM-system, one medium caliber dual-purpose gun similar in performance to the Bofors 57 mm currently fitted to the Hämeenmaa, and some kind of anti-submarine weapons (might we see torpedoes aboard a Finnish ship for the first time since WWII?).

The role it could take over from the Rauma is escorting merchant shipping, where it could tackle air and potentially sub-surface threats. Operating a MTO2020 in this way together with a Hamina-class PGG or two might prove a winning combo, being able to take on air, surface and sub-surface threats, with the MTO2020 replenishing the Haminas at sea to provide longer endurance.

However, having heavier equipment on support ships are not unheard of. The Rhein-class depot ships of the Bundesmarine were fitted with two 100 mm DP guns in single turrets, a number of 40 mm AA guns, and up to 70 mines, meaning they could fulfill wartime roles as a mineship or light frigate (this was before guided missiles became the weapons of choice for almost every mission). The heavy armament also meant that they could serve as training ships, benefitting from a larger complement, meaning that more people could be trained per cruise compared to a “real” frigate or missile/torpedo craft.

This later might be an idea that would interest the Finnish navy. Mounting a four-cell AShM launcher on the MTA2020 would provide the navy with a more or less ideal training vessel, having the same(?) weapons and sensors as the Hamina-class (or, whatever the Hamina-class will receive when the time comes for their MLU), as well as mine rails, almost every position on most warships of the navy could be taught onboard the MTA2020.

While the Finnish navy is no stranger to this kind of arrangement, having operated the Bay-class frigate HMS Porlock Bay (‘K650’/’F650’) for over ten years in the training role as Matti Kurki before scrapping her in 1975, as stated above, I find it unlikely that the MTA2020 will get its own AShM-launcher.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 1. Sweden

The following is part one of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one deals mainly with the Swedish plans, with part two (published tomorrow) focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and part three (published Saturday) rounding off the whole thing. Note that I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

One of the major ongoing projects for the Finnish Navy is the Monitoimialus 2020, or MTA2020. The project name literally means “Multipurpose ship 2020”, and is set to replace both the larger mine ships of the Pohjanmaa (single ship, decommissioned last year) and Hämeenmaa (two ships) classes, as well as the Rauma-class fast attack crafts (four boats).

There are a number of interesting aspects here, not at least because the defence forces have been relatively silent about how the MTA2020 is coming along. However, some pieces of the puzzle became a bit clearer earlier this week when HS published an interview with the C-in-C of the navy, Rear Admiral Kari Takanen (English version here).

The new(?) information in the article is that Finland is eyeing cooperation with Sweden, who has an ongoing project to replace its ageing fleet of support ships, namely HMS Trossö (A264) and rebuilt mine ship HMS Carlskrona (P 04).

Sweden – L10

The Swedish project has had quite a number of twists and turns, and it is possible that I have missed some of them, but here’s a short recap.

Originally the class, codenamed ‘L10’, was to be a delivered by 2017, but the purchase of 15 UH-60M Black Hawk as Hkp 16 in 2011 meant that the budget for L10 was drastically reduced, and the delivery of one of the ships will be after 2020. This in turn meant that HMS Carlskrona was sent for another refit, having all mine rails and associated equipment removed to facilitate the modification to a full-blown support ship. This was done as the support ship HMS Visborg (A265), another converted mine ship, had to be retired before the two new L10 ships were delivered.

The specifications of the new ship are (almost) as uncertain as those of the MTA2020. Originally the displacement was stated at about 8 000 tons, but it seems to have been reduced to 6 000 tons.  Hangars and full flight facilities for two helicopters were also mentioned, but their current status is unknown.

The Royal Schelde (now part of Damen Shipyards Group) Enforcer-design have been mentioned as a possibility, but most probably without the well dock facilities. The Enforcer is operational in three different classes, namely the Dutch and Spanish LPD classes Rotterdam and Galicia, and the British Bay-class LSD lacking the hangar facilities. However, the ships are all displacing 13 000 tons or more, and as such are far larger than the projected L10.

Norway – LSV

At one point, a joint Swedish-Norwegian project was discussed. However, last summer the Norwegians went ‘all in’, and ordered two (from a Nordic perspective) huge 26 000 ton logistics and support vessels from Daewoo. These will be based on the BMT-designed Tide-class replenishments tankers currently being built for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.