OSLO, Norway — Are you a navy looking to spend less when buying and operating warships? Norwegian defense company Kongsberg reckons it may have the answer.
Kongsberg has taken the wraps off a new multirole warship design that the company says extensively uses commercial systems and can be built in commercial yards for substantially less money and in less time than traditional warships.
With warship procurement becoming eye-wateringly expensive, Kongsberg’s defense and aerospace arm is pitching its Vanguard design as a way to save money via a 50 percent life-cycle cost reduction.
Vanguard will have what is effectively a plug-and-play capability, enabling the multipurpose vessel to pack containers — that meet this International Organization for Standardization’s guidelines — with equipment to swap missions as diverse as hydrographic survey to anti-submarine, area-denial and other roles in a matter of hours.
Kongsberg doesn’t traditionally build or design warships. The Norweigian company is better known in the defense sector for pioneering the use of remote weapons for land vehicles and development of the surface-to-surface Joint Strike Missile for use on the F-35 fighter jet.
Design work on the platform was led by Norwegian maritime consultancy Salt Ship Design. It’s the company’s first major military program, having previously focused on complex commercial ship design work in the offshore energy sector, among other markets.
Kongsberg and Salt have been collaborating on the project for more than two years. Salt executives said conceptual work was more or less finished, and they are now engaged in initial design work.
Vanguard has been fitted out with Kongsberg equipment like a commercial bridge system overlaid with military specifications. But company officials said the flexibility to install other systems to meet customer requirements is a key element of the program.
Baseline ship equipment is predominantly supplied by Kongsberg Defence Systems. Its sister operation, Kongsberg Maritime, is a major player in the commercial maritime sector and earlier this year acquired Britain’s Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine.
Frank Tveiten , Kongsberg’s vice president of naval integrated defense systems, said Vanguard has sparked the interest of potential customers and shipyards.
“We have tested it in the market with very positive reactions. The baseline warship fitted with Kongsberg systems and sensors is substantially cheaper than other warships. It’s going to rock the market a little bit,“ he said.
Tveiten said the economies stretched beyond procurement with manning levels as low as 16-20 people, and a speed requirement that results in very low fuel consumption.
Build time for a Vanguard in a commercial yard could be as little as two years, according to the Salt executives.
Kongsberg executives said Vanguard would suit emerging navies as well as interest some larger navies looking to increase offshore patrol, corvette and frigate numbers without breaking the bank.
Senior Norwegian naval officers at a Kongsberg briefing in Oslo on Sept. 26 said they are interested in the concept but were guarded about whether Vanguard could be a contender to replace the Navy’s Helge Ingstad frigate, which was written off after a collision with an oil tanker last year.
Chief of the Navy Rear Adm. Nils-Andreas Stensones said there is a gradual move to the use of commercial systems onboard warships, and that Norway’s experience with Coast Guard vessels and other ships using similar systems had been positive.
“We have had a very good experience when it comes to the Coast Guard over the last 30 years. Also, our new supply ship is built to civilian standards with some military adaptions, and the experience so far is good,” Stensones said. “We see that in many areas we can use civilian technology to great benefit. We see [the use of] commercial equipment sliding gradually to the more high-end applications, but how far [one[ can go with that we don’t know yet."
“The cost of building military-specified platforms today is becoming prohibitively expensive. If you can reduce the cost of the platform, you can invest more in weapons and sensors. It’s finding the best balance,” he added. “Whether we will end up with this concept [Vanguard], I don’t know. The hardest part is the training. If you have a mission module onboard, you also need a trained crew — that may be the biggest challenge.”