The launch of the NAVDEX naval defence exhibition in 2011 was emblematic of the increasing importance attached to maritime security and coastal defence throughout the Gulf region, and very much reflected the aspirations of regional navies and maritime security arms to modernise and grow their capabilities.
It is easy to understand why. The waters of the Arabian Gulf lap up to the shores of some of the richest oil and gas producing nations in the world, are host to valuable offshore resources in their own right, and provide an essential ‘superhighway’ for seaborne trade throughout the region and to global markets beyond.
Accordingly, this enriched yet often vulnerable maritime arena must be policed and protected in order to deny the use of the seas and coastal areas to illicit activities, malign influences and threats to national security. These include piracy, illegal fishing of territorial waters, incursion of mineral exploitation across legal boundaries, maritime terrorism, narcotics smuggling, pollution as a result of shipping accidents or malpractice, trafficking of illegal immigrants, and avoidance of tax duties through smuggling.
This imperative has been recognised by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and extra-regional naval forces contributing to maritime security in the region. And the growing importance attached to maritime security across the region has given rise to significant new naval and coastguard acquisition programmes among several GCC states.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Naval Forces has been leading the way, with an ambitious programme to modernise its surface fleet. This recapitalisation has been delivered by a combination of local build – leveraging overseas design knowledge and transfer of technology to grow local industrial capability – and judicious ‘off-the-shelf’ procurements.
It is the Baynunah corvette programme, for which Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB) is prime contractor, which stands out as the UAE’s flagship project. Hailed as the single largest naval shipbuilding project in the Middle East, the AED 4 billion ($1.1 billion) Baynunah programme has covered the design, build and integration of six 72m multimission corvettes intended to provide the UAE Naval Forces with a capability to conduct sustained operations throughout the Gulf region.
ADSB is leading the Baynunah programme under a December 2003 contract award. Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie (CMN), as strategic partner, design agent and principal subcontractor, designed and built the first of class at Cherbourg, and also delivered a technology transfer package for the five follow-on vessels subsequently constructed by ADSB.
The first-of-class corvette commenced initial sea trials from CMN’s Cherbourg shipyard in January 2010. The five follow-on ships have been built at ADSB’s Abu Dhabi Mussafah industrial zone; the sixth and final corvette, named Al-Hili, was launched in February 2014.
Selex ES has taken responsibility for the Baynunah class combat system as integration authority. It is supplying a six-console IPN-S combat management system, and the NA-25XM weapon control system.
In terms of weapon fit, the Baynunah class ships carry eight MBDA MM40 Block 3 Exocet anti-ship missiles, four Raytheon Mk 56 dualpack vertical launchers for RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles, a 21-cell Mk 49 Mod 3 Rolling Airframe Missile guided missile launching system, a single OTO Melara 76/62mm Super Rapid gun and two Rheinmetall 27mm MLG27 guns. Main sensors comprise the Saab Sea Giraffe AMB G-band radar, Elettronica Seal electronic support measures (ESM) and a Sagem VIGY-EOMS electro-optical (EO) director.
Another key platform for the UAE Naval Forces is the 88m corvette Abu Dhabi, for which Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri was contracted in July 2009. Delivered in early 2013, the 1,700-ton displacement design is derived from that of the Italian Navy’s Comandante Cigala Fulgosi class offshore patrol vessels, but modified to suit the specific requirements of the UAE Naval Forces; for example, the superstructure has been remodelled to reduce radar cross-section and a more comprehensive combat system configuration adopted. Abu Dhabi is primarily tasked to perform patrol and surveillance missions, but it has an organic antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capability (being equipped with a CAPTAS-2 variable depth sonar system) and facilities for the operation and support of an embarked AS.332B Super Puma helicopter equipped with the FLASH active dipping sonar. As part of the Abu Dhabi class programme, three Finmeccanica subsidiaries – Selex ES, Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei (WASS) and OTO Melara – have supplied weapon, sensor and command systems, as well as integration services for the Abu Dhabi class corvette programme.
The full combat system incorporates an OTO Melara 76/62 Super Rapid gun, two OTO Melara MARLIN (Modular Advanced Remotely Controlled Lightweight Weapon Station) 30mm single gun mounts, a Selex ES NA-30S radar/EO fire-control system (FCS) and a Medusa Mk 4B EO FCS. Also fitted are launchers for four MBDA MM40 Exocet Block 3 surfaceto- surface missiles and two torpedo launching systems.
Other key equipment includes a Selex ES IPN-S/R combat management system and Aeromaritime integrated communication suite, Selex ES KRONOS 3D NV G-band multifunction radar, WASS/Thales Underwater Systems ASW package, Elettronica Seal-H ESM, Rheinmetall MASS multispectral decoy launchers and WASS torpedo decoy launchers.
Fincantieri achieved further success in the UAE naval marketplace in January 2010 when it was awarded a contract to construct two new Project ‘Falaj 2’ fast strike craft, with an option for two further ships to be built in the UAE under a transfer of technology agreement. Developed from the pedigree of the earlier Saetta class fast attack craft, the 55m ‘Falaj 2’ design reflects an accent on mission endurance and payload together with increased survivability through signature reduction.
The two ‘Falaj 2’ vessels, named Gantoot and Salahah, were handed over in January 2013 and April 2013 respectively. The craft mount a comprehensive combat system including an OTO Melara 76/62 Super Rapid gun (in stealth housing), two twin launchers for MM40 Block 3 Exocet missiles, two triple launchers for MBDA VL Mica point-defence missiles, and two MASS decoy launchers. Selex ES is responsible for the IPN-S command and control system, KRONOS 3D NV radar, NA-30S radar/EO FCS and a Medusa Mk 4B EO FCS. Elettronica has delivered its Seal-L ESM system.
In a separate development, ADSB has partnered with Damen Shipyards to deliver two 6711 offshore patrol vessels for the UAE’s Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority under a contract signed in December 2013 (Project Arialah).
These ships will each be armed with an OTO Melara 76/62 gun, and a Raytheon Mk 49 Mod 2 11-cell Rolling Airframe Missile launcher. They will also feature a Thales combat system and sensor suite, including the TACTICOS combat management system, SMART-S Mk 2 E/F-band surveillance radar, Mirador EO system and STIR 1.2 EO Mk 2 radar/EO tracking system, and Vigile ESM. The vessel platforms themselves will be built by Damen. Work began in 2014, with the programme due to complete by 2018.
Elsewhere in the region, Saudi Arabia harbours ambitious plans to recapitalise large parts of its naval and coastal constabulary capability.
In particular, the modernisation of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces’ (RSNF) Eastern Fleet, based at Al Jubail, is focused on the acquisition, under a US Foreign Military Sales case, of an as yet undefined number of new surface combatants and shipborne helicopters, together with supporting shore infrastructures. The new ships will replace existing US-built Badr class corvettes and Al Siddiq class fast attack craft.
The RSNF has been studying various options for this potentially massive programme, known as the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II), for a number of years, and has considered ship options ranging from a multimission variant of the Littoral Combat Ship up to the DDG-51 Flight IIA Aegis destroyer. Current indications are that, with the RSNF’s ambitions for SNEP II tempered by reduction in approved budget, the focus is very firmly back on smaller combatants plus MH-60R helicopters. The preferred option is thought to be a multimission variant of the Lockheed Martin monohull LCS design incorporating a Mk 41 vertical launcher system and a hullmounted sonar.
In parallel, the Royal Saudi Coast Guard has launched a multi-tiered programme to replace a large portion of its existing patrol craft fleet, with more than 100 new hulls of varying sizes required in total. Germany’s Fr Lürssen Werft was selected in 2013; it is reported that manufacture work began in early 2015.
Oman has a long and proud history as a maritime trading nation and, while relatively small, the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) is acknowledged within the region to be a highly proficient force. The most recent additions to the RNO are three 99m ocean patrol vessels built by BAE Systems under Project Khareef.
The helicopter-capable vessels are designed to perform a number of missions throughout the EEZ, including protection of territorial waters, extended surveillance patrols, maritime presence and interdiction, special forces operations, search and rescue, and maritime disaster relief.
At 2,700 tonnes displacement, the Khareef vessels are the largest and most complex surface combatants ever to serve with the RNO. Their combat suite is based on the Thales TACTICOS combat management system, and a Thales-supplied sensor suite; armament includes OTO Melara’s 76/62 Super Rapid gun, two MSI-Defence Systems DS 30M Mk 2 30mm guns and MBDA MM40 Block 3 Exocet surface-to-surface missiles, plus two six-cell launchers for MBDA’s VL Mica short-range air defence missile system forward of the bridge.
The RNO officially received RNOV Al-Rasikh, the third and final Project Khareef corvette, in May 2014.
The vessel’s two sister ships, RNOV Al-Shamikh and RNOV Al-Rahmani, were handed over in June 2013 and October 2013 respectively. All three ships achieved ‘interim acceptance’ at handover; the first two ships achieved full acceptance in 2014 having demonstrated their ability to operate in the high temperatures of the Gulf summer, with the third unit due to follow in 2015.
Separately, under Project Al- Ofouq, the RNO is to receive four new 75m aviation-capable patrol ships built by Singapore Technologies Marine under a contract awarded in April 2012. Displacing approximately 1,100 tonnes, the Al-Ofouq ships are armed with one OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid gun forward, two OTO Melara 30mm guns located on either beam, and a Lacroix Sylena soft-kill decoy system. Thales is supplying its TACTICOS combat management system, Variant surveillance radar, STIR 1.2 EO Mk 2 radar/EO tracking system and Vigile ESM system; it is also taking responsibility for all combat system integration activities.
The RNO held a naming ceremony for first-of-class RNOV Al-Seeb at ST Marine’s yard in Singapore in October 2014. Al-Seeb is currently scheduled for delivery to the RNO in the second quarter of 2015; the fourth and final vessel is due to be accepted by the RNO in the third quarter of 2016.