DSEI 2023: Dutch De Zeven Provincien mid-life upgrade delivers BMD effect

Trident Juncture 2018.
The mid-life upgrade (MLU) programme for the Royal Netherlands Navy’s De Zeven Provincien-class frigates has delivered a ballistic missile defence surveillance and tracking capability. HNLMS De Ruyter, pictured on the NATO exercise ‘Trident Juncture’ in the North Atlantic in 2018, is one of the three ships-in-class to have received the MLU to date.

Mid-life upgrade (MLU) work being conducted onboard the Royal Netherlands Navy’s (RNLN’s) four De Zeven Provincien-class air-defence and littoral command frigates has delivered a significant upgrade to ship capabilities, adding ballistic missile defence (BMD) sensing that allows the ships to detect and track targets and cue other warships acting as ‘shooters’.

The fitting of the Thales SMART-L Extended Long-Range (ELR) radar provides the capability for the ships to communicate with, for example, a US Navy (USN) destroyer, to provide tracking and targeting information the USN ship can then use to attack the target, senior officers onboard the De Zeven Provincien frigate HNLMS De Ruyter told a media briefing onboard during the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023 exhibition, which took place at ExCel London between 12-15 September.

The first three ships-in-class – HNLMS De Zeven Provincien, HNLMS Tromp, and De Ruyter – have completed MLU work. HNLMS Evertsen’s MLU is set to follow.

Having recently completed its MLU, De Ruyter is going through its post-refit technical readiness programme prior to commencing full operational readiness work-up in the first quarter of 2024. This readiness work, along with a visit to the UK Royal Navy’s Fleet Operational Standards and Training centre, are core elements of the ship’s return to readiness.

MLU work included upgrades to the ship’s gun, anti-ship missile, local air-defence missile, and torpedo capabilities. However, De Ruyter’s commanding officer (CO) Commander Welmer Veenstra told the briefing, “The biggest one is providing … the sensing and tracking for BMD capability”.

The BMD capability is important, the CO added, because the BMD threat has increased significantly. BMD capability must provide theatre defence of a maritime task group, including against the emerging hypersonic missile threat. “This is a continuous battle between the sensors and the weapons,” he continued.

As De Ruyter has conducted readiness work-up including testing and developing its new systems, the SMART-L ELR radar capability has demonstrated its capacity to improve space situational awareness – a central element in BMD capability – by tracking satellites, Lieutenant Commander Alex Haasnoot, the ship’s operations officer, told the media briefing.

“The radar is a huge capability, and there is a lot of development we can still do with it,” Lt Cdr Haasnoot added. He said the ship is only just beginning to exploit the capability, and the ship’s operators and engineers are working together to see what more can be done with it.

by Dr. Lee Willett