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Imagine it is 2054

Naval Combat System Development Cooperation in the Future

A tale of technology and multinational cooperation.

Imagine it is 2054. You are the Commanding Officer of the European Navy ship ENS “Duisenberg”, named after the first President of the European Central Bank, who introduced the Euro as common European currency more than five decades ago. You are patrolling with your ship along the African West Coast near Nigeria. You are not a Commander or Captain in the traditional way a Commanding Officer would have been until the 2020’s when the ships like The Netherlands’ Air Defense and Command Frigates (ADCF) and the German F124 formed the core of European navies. No, you have the rank of Lieutenant as you only have a handful of crew members. You almost never see the senior Chief Petty Officer since he takes the other half of your daily duties.

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Figures 1A and 1B: Artist impression of a trimaran in 2054 (Courtesy Thales Corporation)

Your ship is a trimaran about 100 meters long. A good seaworthy ship with a lot of space to fit sensors and weapon systems. Many new systems have been fielded on your ship since the threat has evolved over the first half of the century from the old Blue Ocean Cold War scenario into numerous high speed small threats of a high magnitude in the littoral waters. The booming economy of the 2020s and 2030s, when the full benefits of the expanded European Union finally came into effect, increased the wealth of the countries in the EU itself. The economic trend was less favorable however in the surrounding continents, where relative poverty even further increased. However, considerable amounts of money did creep to those living outside the EU who believe that the citizens of the EU should share their wealth more fairly with their poor countries. They also contest the way the European nations (and the USA as well for that matter) keep their borders as closed as they do. Still using the power that can be raised from the hate in Islamic countries, radical groups made the world far less safe and less stable than it used to be. In countries like Nigeria, in which vicinity you are patrolling right now, small organizations have developed long range warfare capabilities that pose a threat to anyone in the area, on land, but also in the air and at sea. European Army troops are now on the ground in Nigeria to enforce the peace and remove the threatening long range missiles from its territory. Your ship is part of a long endurance task force that supports these troops with high capacity attack weapons from your relatively safe position at the Ocean.

For this purpose your ship is equipped with the new Battleaxe block 2 cruise missiles for long range attack. The Battleaxe cruise missile is the successor of the outdated Tomahawk cruise missile that used to be developed and manufactured by the United States. Each Battleaxe cruise missile can fly for hours and loiter independently until the weapon is tasked remotely to attack. The weapon system is a co-development of European and United States’ industries. The decline of public support for military expenses in the Western economies has forced Europe and the United States to gradually overcome their economical disputes and mistrust that emerged in the beginning of the century. Now cooperation is conducted with a positive attitude and the combination of technological excellence on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean turned out to be very successful. Who would have thought that Raytheon and Rafale are working together on highly effective weapon systems?

The nature of cooperation has changed significantly over the past few decades. Huge projects like NH-90 and APAR could not come to fruition any more since the beginning of the century. The focus is now on modular systems and subsystems that can be built together into a variety of systems and ships that meet specific operational requirements.

Not in all cases though. Some areas of competitiveness remain. The aircraft and jet fighter industries in both Europe and the US are still fighting for superiority in the world, rather than seeking cooperation. The Joint Strike Fighter program was the last program where European nations participated in a US dominated development in this area. The huge cost overruns and delays within this program resulted in a very strong determination by European Governments to control the risks and cost associated with international cooperation very tight.

Apart from the Battleaxe cruise missile, the ENS Duisenberg is equipped with a Directed Energy weapon against air threats and small surface threats. A smaller surface-to- surface version of the Battleaxe cruise missile will provide defense against bigger surface threats. All missiles are launched from a modularized vertical launching system that is able to host an array of missile types. Various nations contributed a part of the development of the system. Your ship is equipped with an integrated topside that houses a mix of phased array antenna’s for various radar- and communication applications. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV’s) accompany the ship like dolphins. They cover the subsurface threat and provide additional reconnaissance data. Once a AUV has detected a subsurface threat, the job will be finished by a rocket propelled supersonic torpedo, launched directly from your ship.

A very high degree of automation and artificial intelligence, combined with extended netcentric warfare capabilities brought the need for operators to an end. Netcentric capabilities play a crucial role in picture compilation. Tactical data from your ship’s sensors and other sea-based, air-based or space-based sensors is transmitted via advanced Link systems (using Super Internet Protocols) to one of the land based joint command centers that are spread over Europe. Each of the joint command centers is capable to maintain the tactical picture fully automatically and to control the sensors and weapons on your ship.

imageFigure 2: Netcentric Warfare is supported by multiple, interconnected sensors (Courtesy Thales Corporation)

The joint command centers are a legacy from early in the century. Each member of the EU still had its own national Defense Force, and most nations in Europe built these centers for their own joint forces. The operation in which you and your ship are participating does not have such a high profile that 100% coverage by the EU ministers in Brussels is needed. Therefore the actions are coordinated from the now remote center in Berlin.

As a Commanding Officer you do not have any authority to use the weapons and sensor systems. The main task a Commanding Officer and his small crew now have is to perform seaman functions that could not be automated yet.

Back to Today’s Reality

So far a picture that could have been painted by most of you in almost the same manner.

To reach this situation our navies will have to go through a lot of changes. Stepwise changes that are a win-win solution for all participants are hard to achieve. However only through such positive steps we will be able to move forward in stead of continuing the unilateral developments of ships and naval systems, only seizing the opportunity for international cooperation when partner nations have identical requirements during the same period of time.

The question discussed in the remainder of this article is how to achieve effective cooperation between European Countries in general, and especially between the Netherlands and Germany, as that is one of the goals of this conference.

Cooperation in the Future

Successful cooperation can be achieved when at least one of two conditions is met: standardization of requirements, or modularization of systems.

Standardization of requirements allows for ‘synchronous international cooperation’ as nations did during the last decades. Synchronous international cooperation means that nations cooperate to fulfill more or less identical operational requirements that exist parallel in time, as was the case with the Trilateral Frigate Cooperation. Germany and The Netherlands required a common AAW system at the same point in time. Standardization of systems, infrastructures and interfaces allowed for an close cooperation.

Modularization of (sub)systems allows for ‘asynchronous international cooperation’. In this form of cooperation nations build from developments within partner nations that took place earlier in time. A nation can combine these existing developments or products with new developments and integrate these into systems that suits its particular requirement.

An important benefit of asynchronous international cooperation is that the developments of various naval systems and the construction of new ships classes can be decoupled in time. This is less of a concern when different shipbuilding programs are staggered in such a way that a more or less uninterrupted development of naval systems can be maintained. This used to be the common situation during the Cold War years. However, when a nation launches a major new ship class less often than every 10 years, extended periods of relative inactivity occur in their dockyards and combat system industry. Modularization and asynchronous international cooperation allow to spread dockyard and industrial activities in time.


Figure 3: The Royal Danish Navy applies a modular concept in its Stanflex units

Modularization also offers the opportunity to equip an older platform, nearing the end of its lifetime, with new combat system elements. These new systems can be taken off the platform after a few years, and be fielded on a new platform. In this fashion, there is no longer a need to artificially synchronize the lifecycles of combat systems and platforms. The Royal Danish Navy has set an interesting example: NATO SEASPARROW modules on the old STANFLEX class are modernized for the Evolved SEASPARROW Missile (ESSM). In the near future these same modules will be moved from older units to the brand new Flexible Support Ships and Flexible Patrol Ships.

In the discussion to get international agreement on design standards and an international modular approach, it is interesting to cast a shadow ahead and see what a future ship equipped with cooperatively developed modules could look like, taking technological developments into account.

Technology Developments

There will be an enormous cost-drive to reduce the complement of ships. This will be made possible by increased automation of many processes. On future ships, vast amounts of computing power in a generic form will be available at low cost. This provides a wealth of redundancy.

Not only the operator can be taken out of the loop; also the declined need for maintenance engineers will result in significant cost-savings. This is only possible when the systems have a very high level of reliability, which can be achieved by a combination of three approaches: redundancy, automatic reconfiguration and remote engineering.

Traditional, mechanically driven deck structures like rotating radars or infrared sensors, or directional communication and fire control radar antennas, or directional launchers that require a relatively high maintenance effort will be succeeded by non-rotating or non-mechanically driven elements like fixed planar arrays, staring Infrared arrays, or vertical launchers that require no maintenance at sea, and are extremely reliable.

Development of RF-systems will continue along the path that has been set by APAR. Transmit/Receive (T/R) modules will become smaller and cheaper, allowing for an enormous versatility. T/R modules can be used for both radar-oriented and communication-oriented applications, but also for hybrid solutions. Sufficient static hardware will be available at relatively low cost and with a low failure rate. It will be the algorithms and the software applications that drive the functionality, and also significantly improve the performance relative to the current systems. The development of software for new advanced systems will become relatively more expensive; the development of new hardware for these systems will become relatively less expensive. Since software developments basically consist of non-recurring engineering only, production of additional systems is relatively inexpensive.

Since many systems are very complex, it takes a long time to train maintenance engineers. Redundant systems and redundant functionalities reduce the need for on- board maintenance engineers that are part of the crew. Any remaining need for human engineering activities that can not be performed by on-board crew will be fulfilled from ashore using a data link that enables remote diagnosis of systems. By remote engineering via data link, ship systems can be reconfigured manually, when automatic reconfiguration has failed.

In this concept, a minimal crew will be required for each ship. As cost for on board personnel will only increase it is important to keep the fleet small. It is therefore the most cost effective to provide each ship with a wide array of capabilities. This makes each

ship capable of performing a multitude of operational tasks. In other words: in general terms it will be more cost effective to have less ships with many capabilities each, than to have more ships with a limited capability each. More ships need more personnel fleet wide which lead to significant costs.

As side effect, larger ships will have a large endurance and sustainability, and can be deployed virtually anywhere on earth.

Asynchronous Cooperation

Requirements harmonization is often seen as the basis for international cooperation. This goal however is often hard to achieve, as the NFR-90 and NAAWS programs have proven. Even in bilateral programs differences in opinion exist on intended capabilities of a system, timelines and budget. In multinational programs these difficulties increase exponentially with the number of participants. Only where a dominant leadership exists, such multinational programs can come to fruition. Good example of the latter is the development of the ESSM by 10 nations.


Figure 4: Example of a modular and integrated mast, accommodating various sensor systems (Courtesy Thales Corporation)

Asynchronous cooperation serves as an alternative for requirements harmonization pertaining to capabilities, time and money. Modularity is the keyword for asynchronous cooperation. Modular development provides for building blocks, small or large, that can be built together into different variants of systems and ships. Modularity can be achieved in the physical domain (dimensions, form, shape, size) and/or in the functional domain. One can think of modular mast elements, that can be assembled like building blocks. Each element provides a certain radar capability, or more in general, a certain electromagnetic or RF capability within the spectrum “from DC to daylight” like Radar, ESM, Infrared or communication. The main basis for modularity is the effective development of standard interface definitions.

Asynchronous cooperation by means of modular development allows a cost effective co- development of systems and subsystems, even (or better: especially) when the requirements for certain capabilities of each nation are out-of-phase. Modularity also allows cost effective upgrades. For example, in case one nation has developed a certain (modular) capability, that capability can also be (temporarily) incorporated on an older ship to upgrade its capabilities. A few years later, that same capability or system can be transferred to a new ship class.

On component and subsystem level the same advantages can be achieved. When nations, for instance, invest in the development of radar T/R modules, and agree on a modular design, one T/R module, or group or tile of integrated T/R modules, can serve as a building block. Dependent of the requirement of a nation, it can identify the number of Tiles required to serve the purpose of the phased array radar. One standard Tile could serve as the principle building block for large Multi-Function Radars (MFRs), or small sea-warning radars. In certain cases, where a Transmit-only module would suffice for a certain application, it might be more economical due to the economies of scale to use a ‘standard’ T/R module in the transmit mode only and do not use the Receive functionality.

Integrating all these ideas can result in a standard modular mast element that contains a small X-band radar or a larger variant. Such mast element could be built and used on an older ship even relatively close to its decommissioning, as the element can be easily transferred to another vessel.

Modularization is not to be limited to hardware developments. The Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) Centre for Automation of Mission-critical Systems (CAMS) / Force Vision, takes a modular approach for the development of the Combat Management System software for the RNLN ADCF. Functional models, and therefore the software modules, can be re-used in other projects. They are application independent and can be used wherever the same software architecture concept is used. Software components can be adapted to fit the specific requirements and choices. In this way a model library that will allow massive software reuse is rapidly evolving

Software modules, masts and radar elements are only three examples of the endless possibilities that can be pursued. Modularization could come at a price of course. In most cases, a modular design will not result in the optimal design for a specific purpose. A modular mast for example may be a little bit larger than actually required to serve a specific purpose on board of a specific ship. Consequently this will drive the size of future ships.

Summarizing, when two or more nations seek cooperation to reduce the costs of their naval shipbuilding programs, it is very fruitful to standardize and modularize. This concept allows for asynchronous international cooperation. This allows a constant development effort over time. It also allows a more constant expenditure rate over the years. Nations can agree on the development of ship systems, even if no imminent requirement exists for such a system within one of the nations. Modularization and standardization will guarantee that current efforts can be used on the short term or in the

future. Based on cost share and work share, contributions of each nation to international cooperation programs can be identified, and be balanced after certain periods. In this way, asynchronous cooperation allows an effective control of a nation’s investments.


Since the mid 1980's a number of cooperative projects have been executed. Several Nations participated in various management structures and shapes. Some of them were major programs with a dedicated organization, like the earlier mentioned NATO Frigate of the Nineties (NFR90) program. Others, like APAR, were smaller using a small Program Management Team (PMT) residing in an existing organization. In addition to these visible projects cooperation also occurred in small projects, often without formal arrangements, where two organizations in different countries synchronized developmental efforts to benefit from each others activities.

The major programs (€ 1Bn+) usually turned out to be hard to manage from an international perspective as the interests of the participants were not always 100% parallel. This sometimes led to unintended failures and loss of time and money. The NFR90 program failed and the NATO Helicopter of the Nineties (NH-90) is a success, although the program experienced some delays.

Medium sized programs (€ 10M - 1Bn) turned out to be more effective: cooperation within a ’coalition of the willing’ on areas where requirements of participants matched to a large extent, led to successful products. The PMTs and management structures leading these PMTs usually were of a relatively informal nature and could easily adapt to changing needs within the limitations of the formal agreements. The APAR radar, SIRIUS infra red search and track system and of course the Anti Air Warfare System for the LCF and F124 frigates are examples of such successes.

Small co-operative programs (< € 10M) could have occurred more often, as time, budget and requirement issues are of a much smaller magnitude. Legal / administrative overhead often do not outweigh the benefits of cooperation in such small programs and therefore often do not to come to fruition, certainly when security issues are involved. This type of cooperation therefore occurs usually only based on accidental knowledge and partnership of individuals rather than in a structured manner.

In one of the previous chapters of this article it is stipulated that it becomes less and less likely that major cooperative programs like the NFR90 and NH90 can be set into motion in the future. The changes in mission types of Navies have led to less agreement on requirements for ships and their systems. Limited funding and decreasing certainty of funding make international cooperative planning hard and often impossible. As an example: in 2001 and 2002 The Netherlands intended to start a shipbuilding program of four corvettes while Germany had no intentions for new programs at all. In 2004 the situation is just the opposite.

Also the mid-size programs suffer from these uncertainties. In general, it makes little

sense for a Navy to participate in the development of a new system, like the SEAPAR radar, as long as there is no expectation that this Navy will ever use this system on one of their ships.

As explained before, the emphasis in the future will most likely be on cooperation on modules at building block level. Small programs between Navies still seem to be possible and also the industry adopts this type of small cooperation rather than the major programs. The Thales Corporation is currently implementing this in a structural manner in their Thales Joint Radar Systems (JRS) joint venture.

Management of these programs can take various forms and shapes. Small international PMTs would be the most complex form. Co-leadership from two organizations in Working Group form seems more likely for such co operations, but also unilateral control over a small module development could be a possible way to reach the goal. Dogmatic ideas over management structures should be avoided and for each little program a new assessment on the most effective management solution should be made.

The biggest challenge to such small modular cooperation is to find partners in development, both in governments and industry, and to schedule these asynchronous developments in such a way that sufficient relevant building blocks are available to fulfill the need of a particular Navy for a system at a certain point in time. Currently we see several global players working on identical developments where other areas remain void. Example is the ongoing development of Force Threat Evaluation and Weapon Assignment functions in several countries, while future sonar system developments are massively neglected, or are being delayed.

To facilitate planning and avoid duplication we propose to administer all the current ongoing and planned studies and developments in a particular technology area into a roadmap, each activity at the smallest necessary level of detail. The building blocks are categorized on four separate entities: resources, technology, products and complete combat systems or ships. Various blocks on resource level build to a (new) technology. Technologies build to products and a number of products can be built together to a combat system or ship. At each level the combination of modules should be configurable in various fashions to suit the requirements of the participating Navies.

When the participating Navies decide that one or more of the required building blocks are missing this clearly demonstrates the need for a further development activity. Such need could then be taken up by one or more nations or industries to enable future users to build the system they need.


Figure 5: Roadmaps may be used to harmonize international activities and developments (Courtesy Netherlands Navy)

In The Netherlands such a roadmap has been generated by a group of representatives from government, laboratories and industry. This roadmap for radar development activities now contains over 1000 elements of studies, developmental activities and production plans. While building the roadmap the group discovered that some existing small development programs had no final purpose at all and other important elements were lacking. Entering all elements into the roadmap turned out to be very effective in all thinkable aspects. It enabled the group to reach agreement on a grand plan in order to capitalize on the existing technology and develop new capabilities.


Ongoing technological developments will allow an increasing level of automation of naval systems. One of the driving factors for this effect is the desire to reduce the complement of navy ships. Apart from automation, reduced manning of ships requires highly reliable systems with a relatively high level of redundancy. In case of defects, systems shall automatically reconfigure themselves, or shall be remotely reconfigured via data link from ashore.

Future cooperation in major programs will be harder to accomplish than in the past. Requirements harmonization is getting harder and harder while securing funding over a number of years is becoming more and more difficult. We therefore need to move away from ’requirements and budget harmonization’ as a first mandatory step in international cooperation. Other ways to cooperate need to be found that can cope with diverting and changing requirements, funding and timelines.

An answer can be found in asynchronously international cooperation that focuses on modularization. Cooperation is easier in smaller programs with limited budgets, shorter development times and less participants. Modules developed can be shared between

Navies and other users when an effective legal framework is in place. They can be built into various configurations of systems, fulfilling the specific requirements a certain Navy has at a certain point in time. In asynchronous cooperation nations can contribute to a grand plan individually or in small groups while benefiting to the maximum extent possible from the developments of other Navies and industries.

To manage these asynchronous developments in a sensible and beneficial manner a multinational roadmap needs to be generated. This roadmap should combine all the various needs of the participants and their current and intended research and development activities. Based on such a roadmap it should be possible to reach agreement between participants on an effective and equitable distribution of future activities.


About the authors

Captain Jan Wind of the Royal Netherlands Navy currently is Director of Weapon and Communication Systems in the Netherlands Navy. He is responsible for all development, production and shipborne integration activities of combat systems for the Netherlands Navy. International cooperation is one of the major tools for the Netherlands Navy to realize its requirements.

Commander Paul S. Rouffaer of the Royal Netherlands Navy currently is Program Manager of three international programs: APAR, SIRIUS and the Netherlands/German TBMD program. In this position he acts on behalf of the participating nations and reports to the Management Groups of these programs.

Published in CPM Forum Magazine (Germany), November 2004 Marineblad (Netherlands), December 2004

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