January 28, 2013
Credit: Credit: Christina Mackenzie/AWST
“Three things are important for a navy today: flexibility, flexibility and flexibility,” Rear Adm. (ret.) Kurt Birger Jensen, formerly of the Danish navy, tells Aviation Week. His analysis was borne out by discussions with shipyard managers and by new ship designs at the recent Euronaval exhibition here.
Tighter defense budgets, and the likelihood that battles on the high seas are things of the past, mean navies must understand that the ships they procure now will have service lives of 30-40 years. “We have an idea of what is ahead in the next 12 months, we can estimate what may happen in the next three years, but in 30 years? We haven't a clue,” Jensen says.
So ships are becoming smaller, faster and capable of multiple missions.
Angelo Fusco, executive senior vice president for Italy of shipbuilder Fincantieri, says there is a “struggle between two conceptions [among navies]: maintaining the same number of ships but with lower capability or reducing the number but making each more sophisticated.” He puts the Italian navy in the second category, “although industry would prefer the first.” The general result, Fusco adds, is a tendency to simplification “but with modules to upgrade.” Nevertheless, he finds modules “more philosophical than practical because current plug-and-play capabilities are not very developed in the naval sector and it takes one or two months to replace modules.”
Fusco remarks that this is the first year the economic crisis has been felt in naval defense. Programs are limited and reconsidered. “The market is shrinking but the number of players is the same, so competition is tough.” How tough? “The reduction in orders for merchant ships means shipyards that have never been interested in the military sector are turning to it, and we've been fighting them over the past couple of years.” At the top of the list are South Korean shipyards, though he claims they “are not pro-active in design.”
Ha-Yeon Jang, an associate in the ship business division of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, does not disagree. Rather than design a ship and offer it to the market, she explains that the group prefers to provide designs to customers' specifications, which tend to be for “not-so-big and fast” vessels.
French shipyard CMN—whose specialty has been small, fast, heavily armed vessels—was showing arguably the most unusual and innovative design of the show. It was so unusual that the design, which only exists on paper, was patented—the Combattante SWAO 53. This small-waterplane-area outrigger (SWAO) combines the speed of a slender boat with a large platform, on a starboard outrigger, for 5-ton helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).