France Joins Belgium And The Netherlands For Mine Warfare Motherships

By :Xavier Vavasseur

France, Belgium and the Netherlands originally inked a letter of intent to cooperate in the mine warfare domain during Euronaval 2022. The mothership design of the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program will be used as a basic design for the French Navy’s “Bâtiments de guerre des mines” (BGDM) program.

On August 30, 2023, the three defense ministers commented the agreement in the following way: “With the Netherlands and Belgium, we are signing a partnership for the development and construction of future mine warfare vessels for the French Navy. To renew our anti-mine capability and strengthen our European strategic autonomy.”

VLISSINGEN(M 840) the first mothership of the rMCM program for the Royal Netherlands Navy is seen here in Concarneau.
To shed more light on what exactly was agreed, Naval News contacted the French defense procurement agency (DGA).

According to the DGA, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in the field of mine-counter measure (MCM) capabilities and vessels. “This cooperation aims to promote synergies and mutual benefits relating to national MCM capabilities, to improve the effectiveness of the respective programs and to strengthen interoperability between the different systems and reaffirms the desire of the three nations to continue their cooperation history in the field of mine warfare”. Asked by Naval News if the French Navy’s BGDM vessels will be identical to the Belgian and Dutch ships of the rMCM program, the DGA explained:
“The Memorandum of Understanding will allow France to benefit from the design of ships produced within the framework of the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program. The future French mine warfare vessels (BGDM) will be based on this design in order to maximize commonality between the vessels of the 3 nations, will integrate the adaptations necessary for the reception and the implementation of specific French systems, in particular the MLCM, mine countermeasure module produced as part of the Franco-British cooperation MMCM (set of surface drones and underwater drones, the prototype of which has been the subject of experiments by the French navy since 2022)”.

The DGA added that French BGDMs will be ordered as part of stage 2 of the SLAM-F/MMCM program, the launch of which is planned for production in 2024, for first deliveries from 2028. Naval News previously reported that the first BGDM vessel was expected to be ordered by the DGA by the end of the year. It now appears that the vessel will be ordered in 2024, according to the recently released draft finance bill.

France ‘s BGDM Motherships to feature some minor differences

Naval News understands that the main difference between the vessels will be the “toolbox handling system”: While the rMCM program relies systems mostly designed and produced (in Belgium) by French company Exail (formerly ECA Group), the French vessels will deploy unmanned systems designed and produced by French company Thales as part of the SLAMF program. The USVs are different, the UUVs are different and the ROV are different. One of the focus area is the launch and recovery system (LARS):
While the mast of Exail’s Inspector 125 USV can fold down, the Halcyon USV by Thales and L3Harris (formerly known as ASV Ltd) feature a fixed mast. Thales is currently working adapting the mast to that the USV may fit in both the LARS and mothership. Naval Group confirmed to Naval News that they have already adapted the LARS so that it may accommodate the Halcyon USV.

Seabed warfare missions

In addition, the French BGDMs will likely feature a lengthened hull compared to the rMCM motherships. The extra 3.60 meters required by the French Navy would be to accommodate a decompression chamber as well as Seabed Warfare mission modules. Unlike the Belgian and Dutch vessels, the French motherships will also be tasked with conducting seabed warfare missions. Incidentally, we recently reported about NATO’s idea of a “Mission Module” approach to deliver Seabed Warfare capability.

 Which 40mm main gun?

In addition, some other systems may differ such as weapon and sensor systems. Naval News previously reported on the fact that the DGA was comparing two 40mm naval gun systems: The Nexter/Thales RapidFire and the Bofors 40 Mk4. We asked if a decision has already been made. DGA told us that “the France-specific BGDM architecture choices will be made during the launch of the project planned for 2024”. We followed-up with a question about which (if any) radar system is being sonsidered. DGA said “the NS54 radar selected in the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program remains the reference option for the French BGDM”. Belgium and the Netherlands became the launch customers of the new Thales NS50 radar by in January 2021.

Naval News also contacted the Belgian DGMR (Directorate General Material Resources) for comments. Here is what Johan Levens, DGMR spokesman said: “Belgium welcomes the cooperation between BEL/NLD and FRA.
The MoU confirms the long-standing cooperation between NLD and FRA in the field of MCM (CMT), with the rMCM programme giving a new impetus to this cooperation.” Asked if France joining the program will change anything for Beligum as rMCM program lead, Lievens said: “Given that France is setting up its own programme with Naval Group, the impact on our contract is limited.”

We also contacted the Dutch Command Materiel and IT agency (COMMIT formerly known as DMO) but they didn’t get back to us.

Contacted by Naval News for comments, Naval Group reffered to their communication on social media at the time of the MoU announcement: “Naval Group welcomes the signing of the tripartite agreement between France, Belgium and the Netherlands giving concrete expression to their cooperation in the field of mine warfare. The signing of this agreement allows France to use the design of the rMCM ships developed by Naval Group within the framework of the Belgian-Dutch program.”

Regarding the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program, HNLNS VLISSINGEN (M 840). The keel laying for this ship took place on 14 June 2023 at the Kership shipyard in Lanester near Lorient. The vessel was technically launched there in September 2023 and towed to the Piriou shipyard in Concarneau for outfitting. HNLNS VLISSINGEN is set to join the Dutch fleet in the first half of 2025. The first ship of the rMCM program (and the first ship of the class for Belgium), BNS OOSTENDE (M 940) was launched in March this year. It is currently outfitting in Concarneau. Next it will go to the Naval Group shipyard in Lorient for combat systems outfitting and then it will be commissioned with the Belgian Navy in 2024.

France’s Mine Warfare capabilities
French Navy's SLAMF
Halcyon C-Sweep USV with TSAM sonar, during a demonstration in June 2019
France’s Mine Warfare Force today consists in
17 vessels
10 tripartite-class mine hunters (known as CMT),
3 sonar towing ships (known as BRS),
3 diving support vessels (known as BBPD)
1 mine warfare experimental vessel (known as BEGM)
3 groups of EOD divers,
1 command staff (FRMARFOR/MW)
1 mine warfare operations planning and analysis center (CPAOGM) .
The UK-France Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM/SLAMF) program will bring autonomous mine hunting capability to the two respective Fleets. It will renew most of the equipment of the French Navy and bring next generation mine warfare capabilities. A first prototype was delivered in November 2021 by Thales.

The SLAMF program includes:
8x Unmanned systems (details below) including 4 to be delivered by 2024
6x motherships for UAV/USV/UUV known as “bâtiments de guerre des mines” (BGDM)
5x EOD divers support vessels known as “bâtiments base plongeurs démineurs nouvelle generation” (BBPD NG)
1x Mine Warfare Data Operating System (SEDGM)
Each of the “unmanned systems” mentioned above represents a mine warfare module consisting of:
1x Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), to identify and neutralize sea mines.
3x Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV),
2x Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), to detect, classify and locate (DCL functions) the mines. They are fitted with TSAM (Towed Synthetic Aperture Modular).
A first operational capacity, consisting of 4 mine countermeasure modules, will be delivered from 2023-2024. It will be implemented from land for coastal deterrence support. Full operational capacity should be reached by 2026-2031, including the delivery of the BGDMs (expected from 2028) which will allow the implementation of the modules from the sea and in external operations.

Source : NavalNews




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