Fremont calls the shipboard use of unmanned vehicles a revolution, since they can deploy from multimission ships to find and destroy mines.
Angelo Fusco, executive senior vice president for Italy of Fincantieri, also believes the future of surface ships will “include on-board UAVs.” One reason is downsizing of crews. He says navies are going to downgrade the type and number of ships in their fleets since “there is no tension between countries with big navies.” As a result, force projection will involve ships that are smaller than conventional surface warships and simpler to run, versatile in mission capabilities and seaworthy enough to operate in remote waters.
The Royal Netherlands Navy's new Holland-class oceangoing offshore patrol vessel (OPV) meets these needs. Designed to be a small, flexible patrol ship for missions such as counter-piracy, narcotics interdiction and coast guard missions, the OPV has a crew of just 50.
Similar to this OPV, the German navy's K130 Braunschweig-class corvette, built by Lurssen, is suited for littoral operations with its reduced radar and infrared (IR) signatures and specially adapted weapons, sensors and communication systems, but is also capable of long-range missions. The navy says the K130 represents a major leap in technology, notably in its high level of computer-supported automation. The corvettes can operate for 21 days out of port. Their computers and sensors simplify navigation, data and target acquisition, and allow the ships to be operated with a reduced crew.
Closer to home, the Belgian navy's three aging ready-duty ships (RDS) are being replaced by two new vessels for coast guard duties such as pollution control, guarding fish stocks, countering smuggling, monitoring maritime traffic, search and rescue, and disaster response. Built by French shipyard Socarenam, the new RDS will each have a fixed crew of 12, which can be augmented by 18 personnel from other public services such as the police or customs.
Belgian and Dutch multipurpose M-class frigates, launched in the 1990s for blue-water air defense and antisubmarine warfare, are now used mainly in littorals to monitor borders, pollution, drug trafficking and piracy. But they are being upgraded with combat management systems and new masts and sensors that will broaden their area of operations.
Thales Netherlands' Seastar and Gatekeeper sensors will provide the frigates with the capability to detect small targets as well as border violations, pollution, drug trafficking and piracy. Seastar—comprising four fixed active, electronically scanned array antennas—automatically detects and tracks small objects such as swimmers and periscopes in all weather, and guides helicopters. Gatekeeper is a 360-deg. electro-optical surveillance and alert system that uses IR and TV imagery to detect threats such as small boats and swimmers. The sensors will be matched with the M-frigates' Smart-S surveillance radar and the Thales STIR medium-to-long-range tracking and illumination weapon-control radar.
Under NATO's Smart Defense initiative, the Netherlands is proposing that the early-warning upgrade of Smart-L D-band volume-search radars on LCF air-defense and command frigates for ballistic missile defense (BMD) be extended to include Germany and Denmark. In June 2012, the Dutch government awarded Thales Netherlands a full-scale development and production contract for a BMD upgrade of the Smart-L radars on all four of its LCF frigates, whose current missions include counter-piracy patrols off Somalia.
Smart-L radar is also in service with Germany's three F124 Sachsen-class air-defense frigates, and is a major component of the anti-air-warfare suite of the Royal Danish Navy's three new Iver Huitfeld-class frigates. Thales Netherlands also sees opportunities for the derivative S1850M radar, which uses the same technology as Smart-L and is installed on the two French and two Italian Horizon air-defense frigates and the six Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers, under the designation Radar Type 1046.