How Dutch submarine Walrus ‘torpedoed’ a US aircraft carrier

16 - 02 - 2023 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

In 1999 HNLMS Walrus ‘torpedoed’ the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, plus seven escort ships, during an exercise in the Atlantic. Jan Hubert Hulsker, then commanding officer of HNLMS Walrus, talks about that successful exercise for the first time.

HMNLS Walrus in 2017. Walrus is the first boat of the Walrus class, which consists of four diesel electric submarines. These boats were built in Rotterdam and put into service in the early 1990s. They will be replaced around 2034. (Photo: Dutch MOD)

This article was first published on in 2016 and has now been updated and translated for an international audience.

One can find online stories about Swedish and French submarine successes during exercises against aircraft carriers. The story about the Walrus is lesser known.

The book In Deepest Secrecy; Dutch submarine espionage operations from 1968 to 1991 describes sixteen submarine operations, based on secret information about these patrols (that more or less accidentally ended up in the Dutch National Archives).

A part of the story on the successful exercise had been published on the website earlier, but even after 17 years, the story had not been told in full. So to find out more, Jaime Karremann (editor-in-chief of Dutch naval website interviewed the man who looked through the periscope, received all the information, and made the decision to attack in 1999: the then 35-year-old Lieutenant Commander (LTZ1) Jan Hubert Hulsker.

In addition to the interview, the author has used the logbook of HNLMS Walrus for this article.

USS Theodore Roosevelt, commissioned in 1986, is one of the ten Nimitz class carriers. Picture taken in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alex Corona)

Largest concentration of power since 1990
Back in February 1999, LTZ1 Jan Huber Hulsker had been commander of the submarine HNLMS Walrus for a year and a half. This submarine, designed and built in the Netherlands, participated in the Joint Task Force Exercise/ Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Initiative 1999 (JTFEX/ TMDI99), known as JTFEX 99-1 for short.

A Belgian-Dutch taskforce also participated, consisting of frigate HNLMS De Ruyter, oiler HNLMS Zuiderkruis, frigate HNLMS Van Nes, and the Belgian frigate BNS Wandelaar, plus two Royal Netherlands Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

JTFEX 99-1, involving 24,000 men and women, 15,000 of them at sea, was the largest concentration of power since the 1990 Gulf War. The training area stretched from Norfolk, Virginia, to Puerto Rico.

The main event was the amphibious landing of 2,100 marines from the Amphibious Ready Group consisting of the USS Kearsage, USS Ponce, and USS Gunston Hall, protected by warships from the U.S., France and the BE-NL taskforce.
The Carrier Battle Group led by the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, including F-14 Tomcats, was responsible for air defense and attacks on land, and enjoyed the protection of U.S., Canadian and German naval vessels.

Jan Hubert (Huub) Hulsker sailed on various Dutch submarines from 1985 to 2001, and was commander of HNLMS Walrus and later HNLMS. Bruinvis. After various jobs on shore, including at NATO, Hulsker took command of the oiler HNLMS Amsterdam and then LPD HNLMS Rotterdam. Hulsker left the Royal Netherlands Navy in 2022, when he was Deputy Commander in the rank of Rear Admiral. (Photo: John van Helvert/ Dutch MOD)

Bad guys
All units gathered in the naval port of Norfolk on the east coast of the U.S. at the end of February. “We had a very nice reception on an American submarine,” Hulsker recalls. “But we hadn’t been given any information about the exercise at that point. I thought that was a bit strange, because if you do such a large exercise in Europe, you get a thick book of instructions and information.”

“On the day of departure, we were provided with a few sheets of information. That was it – no briefing or presentation. But everything I wanted to know was on there: it was just a free exercise. We were in a large area, we were the bad guys and the carrier was the good guy.”

“The man who handed me the package – I will never forget it – added: ‘You are going to lose. Don’t be disappointed, but now you already know. Because of course the carrier has to win.'”

A bit surprised, Hulsker took the papers, but was glad that there were no detailed instructions.

Searching for the enemy in a large pool of water
The exercise began and the Walrus headed out to sea in search of prey.

The Walrus operated alone, but Hulsker did hear after a while that many of his allies were being eliminated. The ‘good guys’ formed a formidable opponent. The Nimitz class carriers are unmatched by any surface vessel in the world.

The loss of a carrier plus thousands of crew members could mean the end of a war, because if one is sunk, seemingly no ship is safe.
These carriers are therefore surrounded by ships, submarines, and aircraft for defense.

A Carrier Battle Group boasts a tremendous amount of power. But it is the submarine (including the relatively cheap and small diesel-electric ones) that can be a nightmare for a carrier.

However, not everyone was convinced. Confident of victory, the Carrier Battle Group sailed through the waters of the Atlantic in February 1999 with the USS Theodore Roosevelt as its main body.

The consequences of a successful attack with a heavyweight torpedo like the Mk 48 are disastrous, because it does not hit its target but explodes under the ship. Ships the size of a frigate will break into two and sink in a few minutes. Moreover, a torpedo can attack again after a miss, and to date no working defense against a torpedo is operational. How many torpedoes are needed to sink a Roosevelt-sized aircraft carrier is not publicly known. Public, but unconfirmed, sources speak of 1 to 6 Mk 48 torpedoes. (Photo: Royal Australian Navy)

In that same Atlantic Ocean, HNLMS Walrus was hidden in an almost endless sea. Sailing slowly, at a speed of a few knots, the 68-meter-long submarine remained close to the surface.

Hulsker repeatedly raised the periscope to scan the horizon, hoping to see a mast. He knew there was a chance he wouldn’t discover anything at all, because the periscope’s range is limited. The lenses and prisms are of the highest quality, but the periscope sticks out just above the waves. A ship only 30 km away can therefore pass unseen and that chance is very high in a designated sea area of ​​​​hundreds of square kilometers.

That is why the sonar is a submarine’s most important sensor. In the control room, the sonar operators listened to propeller noise and ship engines. A submarine can use its passive sonar to detect surface vessels at a very great distance, but the sonar conditions during the exercise prevented this.

Temperature layers and salinity have a major influence on how sound propagates underwater. Temperature layers always vary due to, for example, currents and the time of year. Hulsker had those layers measured regularly, so on board the Walrus people knew exactly what the situation was.

Sound waves are strongly influenced underwater. Here is an example of the effect of a temperature layer on the sound waves of an active sonar. The submarine therefore remains undetected. (Source: Introduction to Naval Weapons Engineering course syllabus, 1998, U.S. Navy)

“The range of our passive sonars was very limited due to temperature layers,” says Hulsker. But the ranges of the sonars of the surface ships were also minimal.

Partly for this reason, the surface ships did not use their active sonar (which emits a loud ping that must bounce off an object). A disadvantage of the active sonar is that submarines hear the ‘ping’ at enormous distances. By keeping quiet, the Carrier Battle Group hoped to slip through the submarine net undetected.

Almost all American ships, as well as the Canadian frigate, also had passive sonar in the form of an almost 2 km-long cable with hydrophones. With this towed array it is possible to listen under temperature layers. It is not known whether they used them, but they probably did. The ships were therefore not completely deaf.

However, Hulsker had another trump card: Electronic Warfare (EW). That turned out to be vital, because the ships constantly searched the airspace with their radars, so the Walrus received the transmitted signals with the raised EW mast, without the onrushing opponents knowing.

The exercise area. In addition to the layers, the seabed also plays a role. On the U.S. East Coast, this is a disadvantage for surface vessels with active sonar. The seabed is at a depth of about 100 meters on the continental shelf and suddenly drops to 3 kilometers. The Gulf Stream that passes by also causes a lot of noise and false contacts. (Source: Google Maps)

Hulsker and his team did not have to wait very long for contact. One day after departure, the Walrus torpedoed an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The following day, according to the ship’s log, the submarine even launched torpedoes at three of these types of destroyers.

It didn’t stop there. The next day, the EW operator suddenly detected multiple radars from one direction. “So there must be something interesting there and I decided to go for it,” says the then commander. HNLMS Walrus went deep and headed in the direction of the source of the electromagnetic signals.

After several hours Hulsker gave the order to return to periscope depth and the thin attack periscope was raised.
“I looked through the periscope and immediately saw masts of an aircraft carrier. You have to be careful, because when you look for a carrier everything looks like a carrier. But this time it could not be anything else, so I decided – and that is a classic maneuver, because you also learn that during submarine command training – to go deep and do an interception on the carrier.”

After estimating the aircraft carrier’s course and speed, Walrus’ team quickly calculated where the submarine should intercept the carrier. The sub picked up speed and slid into the depths. It headed as quietly as possible toward the group of ships.

At the predetermined time, Hulsker ordered it to rise again to periscope depth, about 60 feet (19 m) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. “As we approached periscope depth, we also got contacts on the sonar. The screens filled with information, but the adversary still hadn’t figured it out. They had their active sonar off and their passive sonars couldn’t hear us as the Walrus class is extremely quiet.”

Back at periscope depth, Hulsker decided to raise the periscope again. That is not without risks, because there is always a chance that the periscope will be seen by a lookout, an aircraft or a radar. But Hulsker was willing to take that risk: “It was an exercise, so I thought: ‘I’m going to take a good look at that carrier too.'”

The periscope slid up, and Hulsker quickly flipped down the levers and watched. What he saw was even better than he had expected: “I saw the escorts of the Roosevelt in the distance to our port and starboard sides, while the carrier was right in front of me, at a distance of 4,000 yards, heading toward me. I thought: ‘This is my day!'”

Hulsker was not afraid of the ships that the Walrus had passed, because “on frigates they mainly look forward.” So he took another good look at the Theodore Roosevelt: “I saw the F-14s taking off in front of me. You just don’t get a better picture than that,” Hulsker vividly remembers.

That image must be recorded, decided Hulsker, and ordered the navigation officer to take pictures of the Roosevelt through the periscope. “At that time we still had analog cameras on board and the navigation officer, a Canadian officer, took a series of photos.”

That was enough. It was time for the Walrus to attack. The control room and torpedo room were ready. “Shoot!” said Hulsker and water shot out of the empty torpedo tubes – a simulated shot. Hulsker then ordered a green smoke grenade to be fired – the signal during an exercise for a successful submarine attack.

The Walrus braced itself for the counter-attack.

But it remained silent.

“Apparently no one had seen that green grenade.”

Hulsker didn’t hesitate for a moment: “In a real war situation I would never do it, but I decided to go even closer.”
Quietly Walrus crept closer. “At about 1,500 yards we fired another green grenade.”

This time no one missed it: “All hell broke loose. Suddenly all the sonars in the northern hemisphere turned on – that’s how it felt – and helicopters took off. Everything that could ping turned on its sonar. It was a big panic, because having a green grenade fired 1500 yards from the carrier was really not part of their plan.”

The Walrus fits almost 40 times into a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. A submarine is therefore also called an asymmetric weapon. (Image: Jaime Karremann/

On the surface there was complete chaos, but Hulsker was not done with his prey. Instead of sailing away, he decided to head straight for the gigantic nuclear carrier with four almost 8-metre-large propellers, and sail underneath it: “For each ship, there is a calculation of how deep you have to go if you’re sailing underneath it. That was 30 meters for the Nimitz class. But then I looked at the Roosevelt again, and I thought: ‘You know what? I’m going a little deeper, because it’s really big.'”

“Then we literally passed underneath an 88,000-ton aircraft carrier. Our boat started to shake. There were crew members who jumped out of their beds and came to the control room to see what was going on.”

Once underneath the carrier, the search by the escort ships really got underway. That only provided more targets for the Walrus: “Anyone who turned on their sonar got a torpedo fired at them.” According to the ship’s log, three more frigates received a (simulated) torpedo within half an hour.
At the same time, the Walrus tried to escape: “There was so much noise at the time. We took advantage of that to get away.”

Halifax class frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec was one of Roosevelt’s escort ships. (Picture: Royal Canadian Navy)

According to, HNLMS Walrus sneaked away undetected. But Hulsker is not sure: “There were attacks on us, but it is impossible to say whether they were successful.”

Surface ships reported that they simulated an attack by throwing a submarine grenade. However, that does not mean that the ship knew the correct position of the submarine and whether the torpedo had been fired in the right direction.

“I find it very difficult to say whether we escaped,” Hulsker looks back. “We snuck away after the attack, but this was never going to be entirely realistic. Because if that carrier really had sunk, there would haven been an incredible amount of noise in the water, making it even harder to detect and attack a submarine. Moreover, if I had really torpedoed the carrier, I would not have tried to sail underneath it. I didn’t even get that close before firing torpedoes. But after such an attack I don’t think the chances of survival are big. On the other hand, the escorts weren’t really on top of us.”

Submarine sunk or not, the good guys had lost a large number of vessels, including a carrier.

Also FGS Schleswig Holstein, a German Navy Brandenburg class frigate, was ‘torpedoed’ as well. (Picture: German Navy)

Morale boost
It didn’t matter to the crew whether the Walrus had escaped or not. Hulsker: “Everyone was thrilled to bits. You could sense it throughout the boat. The crew was extremely proud; they loved it!”

On the surface, however, not everyone was so happy. After the counter-attack by the Carrier Battle Group, the exercise became completely silent. Hulsker: “I received no messages, nothing at all. Nobody said anything. I had reported the attacks according to my orders. It wasn’t until the end of the exercise that I received a message from an admiral. He thanked us very much for the impressive attack. But that was it; it was hushed up.”

On board the submarine it was not. “We had a ship’s newspaper and the headline was ‘Theodore Roosevelt Torpedoed’. That was really funny. And the skipper drew a picture of a Walrus with a carrier in his mouth. It was painted on the sail.”

After the exercise, the Walrus headed for Charleston. “There the U.S. Navy had a nuclear submarine school and they had already heard the news. ‘Oh, that was you,’ they said.”

It was a nice port visit for the crew of the Walrus.

Not everything had gone perfectly, as it turned out later. During the torpedo attack the Canadian navigation officer who was ordered to take pictures of the USS Theodore Roosevelt had had no roll of film in his camera. Hulsker: “People got really angry. That Canadian guy was cursed by the whole boat.”

USS Theodore Roosevelt between the teeth of a walrus, painted on the sail of the submarine after the exercise. (Photo: private collection J.H. Hulsker)

Eight ships torpedoed
According to the ship’s logbook, Hulsker did all the attacks, but he cannot remember all the ships individually. The former commanding officer does confirm there were quite a number.
The ship’s log also confirms this. Below are the ships at which torpedoes were launched, according to the ship’s log:

• USS Theodore Roosevelt [aircraft carrier]
• 4 x Arleigh Burke class destroyer
• HMCS Ville de Quebec [frigate, Halifax class, Canada]
• OH Perry class frigate
• FGS Schleswig-Holstein [frigate, Brandenburg class, Germany]

Before 2005, the now inactive website published some information about this exercise as well. According to that website, the Walrus sank no less than nine enemy ships. Whether that is true, however, is not certain, as the website does not mention the source of that information.

Instead of four destroyers, says it was two destroyers, one Ticonderoga class, and the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney. Additionally, a torpedo attack on the Los Angeles class submarine USS Boise was mentioned.

Attacks on Mount Whitney and submarine Boise are not mentioned in the ship’s log, but Close Quarter Drill Submarine is mentioned several times.

Four times Walrus’ target was an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. USS Hopper was one of Roosevelt’s escorts at the time. Hopper is pictured here in 2018, arriving in the the 7th Fleet area of operations. (Picture: U.S. Navy)

It is interesting that the majority of the attacked ships were still fairly new in 1999. In addition, almost every ship had a passive towed array sonar, which was an important tool in anti-submarine warfare at the time.

Were operational restrictions imposed on the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group? That doesn’t seem to have been the case. These exercises are meant for the units to learn and to improve. A U.S. Navy news report right before the start of JTFEX 99-1 stated that the exercise must be realistic:

“Featuring the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Carrier Battle Group and the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), JTFEX 99-1 replicates emerging threats and operational challenges our military forces may encounter around the world. It is designed to meet the requirement for quality, realistic training to fully prepare our forces for joint operations when forward deployed. Participating forces will train using equipment and systems which incorporate the latest advances in technology, and which support the full range of capabilities that may be needed in various geographic areas where forces serve during their deployment.”

The performance of the Walrus during the exercise had also been noticed by then Vice Admiral Fallon, commander of the American Second Fleet. He wrote in the above message on March 1, 1999 to HNLMS Walrus: “It was a great pleasure to have HNLMS Walrus participate in Joint Task Force Exercise 99-1. Congratulations on your stealthy, undetected and highly effective attacks on multiple battle group and ARG [Amphibious Ready Group, JK] ships, including USS Theodore Roosevelt. The professional skills demonstrated by the crew were most impressive and provided a valuable dimension to the exercise. I look forward to the opportunity of working with Walrus again in future exercises and operations. Best wishes and godspeed as you return home. With respect and admiration, Vice Admiral Fallon” (Source: private collection J.H. Hulsker)

Everything went well
Despite the success, Hulsker remains down to earth. HNLMS Walrus had made excellent use of the conditions favoring a submarine. But, he says, “luck played a big part. It’s really hard to get that close to a carrier, because those aircraft carriers go so fast. [A diesel-electric submarine’s top speed is 20 knots but for a short time, a carrier can sail 30 kts for a long time, JK].”

“This was just one of those days when everything went well. Bad sonar conditions, a big ocean and yet we just picked them up; it was an interception that went just right. If they had changed course by 15 degrees and sailed at 30 knots, it would have been impossible for us to intercept. It’s really difficult to get into position. But we succeeded on that occasion.”

Hulsker wouldn’t have pushed it that far in a real combat situation. “I was way too close, but it was an exercise. So we went for the challenge of sneaking in through the screen undetected and then getting in front of the carrier – a classic attack. Normally we would have launched torpedoes from further away, especially if the sonar conditions were good, because those frigates would form a ring of steel around the carrier. On the high seas a submarine will be sunk if it gets too close.”

“A year later, a different Dutch submarine conducting the same exercise had no chance,” Hulsker adds.

Still, the 1999 success of HNLMS Walrus is not an isolated case. Research for the book In Deepest Secrecy revealed that Dutch submarines had more often torpedoed one (1989) or even several carriers (1983) during exercises. In 1983, three aircraft carriers (one American, one British, and one French) were ‘torpedoed’. You can find more information about this in the book. 

Nine years later, the Roosevelt was hit by a simulated Italian torpedo from the Todaro, according to this photo that was taken during a similar exercise.  The Todaro fired at a greater distance than the Walrus had: 8,000 yards (7.3 km). However, this was still well within range of her torpedoes.  (Picture: Italian Navy)

To this day, Hulsker looks back on the exercise with satisfaction. When he meets former crew members, that 1999 exercise is always mentioned.

Was this the pinnacle of his career? No. “Of all the exercises, this was certainly one of the highlights. But after JTFEX, we did a submarine against submarine exercise near the Bahamas. Walrus against a U.S. nuclear submarine: that’s what I liked best.”

“The motivation of the crew was fantastic. If someone coughed loudly when we were in ultra quiet state, someone else would have scolded him – because you really have to be completely silent. And on that [AUTEC] range the staff could follow the torpedoes and report to us immediately whether it hit. That is incredibly motivating.”

The Walrus did not come off badly in that encounter either.

“Yes, that was a good time,” Hulsker smiles.


• Boat Walrus (2),

• Deutermann, P.T., The Scorpion Hunt; De Boekerij, Amsterdam, 1996

• Interview with CDR J.H. Hulsker, Den Helder, June 2015

• Yearbook of the Royal Netherlands Navy 1999, pp. 195-196 and pp. 229-230

• Margés, J.M., Klaver troef in Amerikaans eindexamen; Alle Hens, April 1999

• NAVY WIRE SERVICE, USS Theodore Roosevelt CVBG, USS Kearsarge ARG to conduct Joint Task Force Exercise;, originally communicated January 21, 1999

• Panhuis, B., Nederlandse marine kijkt jaloers naar Amerikanen, Trouw, March 11, 1999

• Ship’s log HNLMS Walrus, May 7, 1998 – March 2, 1999; Semi-static Information Management, Ministry of Defense-DMO-JIVC-Information Management

• Ship’s log HNLMS Walrus, March 2, 1999 – June 3, 1999; Semi-static Information Management, Ministry of Defense-DMO-JIVC-Information Management

• Woodward, S.; One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander; Naval Institute Press, 1997

Ebook ‘In Deepest Secrecy’ now available

10 - 01 - 2023 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

Only a few copies of the paperback version of ‘In Deepest Secrecy’ are left, but don’t worry. Amazon, Kobo and many other webshops have unlimited stock of the ebook edition. From Japan to the US, you can read about secret Dutch submarine patrols.

HNLMS Zwaardvis (Photo: Royal Netherlands Navy)

In deepest secrecy is about secret Dutch submarine operations during the Cold War. The book describes sixteen submarine operations, based on secret information about these patrols (that more or less accidentally ended up in the Dutch National Archives) and numerous interviews. Even before publication the Dutch edition was on prime time tv in the Netherlands.

In total (Dutch and international edition combined) more than 12.000 copies have been sold.

Larry Bond

The paperback found its way to former submariners and naval authors. For example to Larry Bond (he co-authored Red Storm Rising with Tom Clancy) purchased a copy. Bond wrote a favorable review for his newsletter and gave the book as a gift to various naval and intelligence friends, he e-mailed the author in 2019. Aaron Amick (YouTube channel Sub Brief) also praised the book in a video about the Walrus class submarines, while magazines such as Warships International Fleet Review also expressed their positive opinion about In deepest secrecy.

A former submariner from a friendly country who received a copy as a gift in 2022, reported to the author that he had had “sleepless nights” because of the book. He found it fascinating and surprising that “such a small navy could carry out such covert operations with its submarines far from it’s homeport”. He also said he now better understands the Dutch Navy’s attitude in the replacement of the Walrus class.

In Deepest Secrecy
In Deepest Secrecy: Dutch Submarine Espionage Operations from 1968 to 1991

Amazon, Kobo

The ebook is available in several shops worldwide. Amazon offers In Deepest Secrecy to their customers in Japan, Australia, Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and India. Also Kobo offers the e-book to several markets worldwide (for example in Canada). Just as

Working together in combat 2.0

13 - 09 - 2022 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

The basis in a conflict situation is working together, so that together you can achieve more than all separate on their own. Thanks to new technologies,  there are many new opportunities in the field of cooperation and Thales is thinking about these new possibilities under the heading of ‘collaborative combat’.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), back, sails alongside the Italian navy Orizzonte-class destroyer ITS Caio Duilio (D 554) during combined operations in the Adriatic Sea, Sept. 8, 2022. (Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Novalee Manzella/ US Navy)

Paul Rouffaer has worked in the Royal Netherlands Navy from 1977 to 2015 as an officer in the Electrotechnical Service (now merged into the Technical Service) and sailed on numerous ships. Rouffaer worked in the US on the integration of ESSM and APAR, and later became the head of the APAR, Sirius and Theater Ballistic Missile Defense project teams in the Navy’s Materiel Directorate, and was later responsible for the SMART-L testing in 2006 at Hawaii.

Rouffaer has now been working at Thales for some time now and talked with him about ‘collaborative combat’, a concept that is one of Thales’ focus areas.

“As long as warfare has taken place, we have always been engaged in collaborative combat,” says Rouffaer. “Technological developments have now given it a different turn and you can speak of a breakthrough.”

What exactly is it? “Collaborative combat is a fully integrated combat command architecture, or network, that consists of: people, i.e. sailors on board and soldiers in the field, of platforms, i.e. ships, tanks, aircraft, and of weapons and sensors. All this works together in real time, all these elements are connected in full synergy. Strategically, operationally, tactically and in all domains: sea, land, air and space. This is the ultimate network, where everything involved in warfare is interconnected. That’s the concept.”

A concept, because in practice this is far from the case. Although movies and games suggest otherwise, in reality many steps still need to be taken before that ultimate integration has taken place. There are still plenty of naval ships in the world where even the systems on board don’t work together, let alone one ship with other ships or with units in the air or on land.
Thanks to new technologies such as better and more secure connections, big data and artificial intelligence, according to Rouffaer, a new era is dawning in the field of collaboration.

Italian FREMM frigate ITS Antonio Marceglia, Dutch frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën and Arleigh Burke class desproyer USS Roosevelt during Formidable Shield in May 2021. (Photo: US Navy)

Information-focussed action

As stated in Defensievisie 2035, a Dutch MOD publication that describes how the Dutch armed forces are preparing for the future, information is crucial for success in a future conflict. Rouffaer: “Information dominance is essential in order not not escalate a conflict and, if it escalates, to make sure that you win the battle. Collaborative combat means that countries and armed forces have a complete and accurate picture of the tactical situation. The image that is shared between all relevant actors in the network. As a result, by sharing information, you get high-quality information and you can also make better decisions, based on the right information. This in turn leads to more effective and efficient operations. You can act faster and more robustly. You have more options and can react better when plans don’t go as planned and that is almost by definition the case.”

“This allows you to speed up your processes and eliminate the opponent more efficiently and effectively. This is also much faster, with our own resources. Combat capacity is increased and there are  fewer misunderstandings, for instance concerning friendly fire. You also have a greater effectiveness of your weapons. Because you have information dominance, you can also react proportionally , so that a situation gets unnecessarily out of hand. You ensure a more manageable performance, which in turn is related to more efficient use of the resources you have.”

The opsroom onboard a Dutch Air Warfare and Command Frigate. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/

Classic example

Rouffaer cites the exercise Formidable Shield as “a very simple, clear and classic example” of collaborative combat. During the most recent edition of that exercise, a ballistic target was launched from Scotland to return to earth via space towards the Atlantic Ocean. The Dutch Air Defence and Command Frigate (LCF) HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën had to detect the target with the new SMART-L MM/N from Thales. “Absolutely a classic example”, continues Rouffaer. “The LCF detected the target, the American ship USS Paul Ignatius did not see the target, but had already launched a missile based on the information from the De Zeven Provinciën. That information had already passed through all parties involved before the launch decision was taken. Of course it has been a technological tour de force, but this was still a relatively simple scenario.”

Another example. Rouffaer: “There are also discussions in Thales about the possibilities of having one ship within a maritime task group take over the control of the radar systems on other ships. This ship can then concentrate the detection capacity of radars from other ships on certain sectors. A step further is that radars outside the context can also be adopted. In a number of countries, this is being considered.”

“The next step is for one ship in a squadron to use the radar and weapons of another ship. You can do the entire engagement planning with collaborative combat in such a way that multiple ships do not fight the same target, or they do, but according to one plan.”

“This is not only at sea, it also works on land. Two Marines are somewhere in the field, with a camera on their helmets. They look at the same target from different positions. With a kind of cross bearing you immediately have a position and then a tank that is a bit further away can put a grenade on that spot at once, completely automatically without the tank itself having seen the target.”

“With the introduction of unmanned autonomous systems, flying, sailing or underwater, there will be a lot more information that can be shared with other units.”


The benefits are clear and a concept based on connections sounds very feasible in our current society that relies more and more on the internet Yet the challenges are enormous. When the Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad was hit by a large ship in 2018 and water poured in, the crew in the Technical Centre received 564 different alarm messages on their screens in no time. The system gave no priority. In the end, wrong decisions were made and the ship sank.

“The physical world and reality are always more unruly than the most beautiful laboratory,” says Rouffaer. “Processing the enormous amount of data is a challenge. If you give everyone everything, people quickly become overloaded. That’s where big data and Artificial Intelligence come in. Your systems must help to determine which information is relevant, and must filter to avoid overload. There are also methods where you can subscribe to some kind of information, rather than getting an unlimited amount and having to figure it out for yourself.”

“The question is also what information are you going to exchange, because the more information you exchange, the larger the bandwidth you need. The larger the bandwidth, the higher the frequency, the higher the frequency, the shorter the range. Those are things that come into play. Do we want to use satellites? Yes of course. But if satellites are being shot out of space, especially communications satellites, and it’s not unlikely that this will happen in a serious conflict, then you’ll have to do it another way. You will have to build in a kind of robustness and redundancy, even if satellites fail.”

“The user-friendliness of the systems is important. How do you ensure that people can deal with it in a good way? Then there are of course the ethical and legal aspects that you have to consider. Which decisions do you make with humans and which with an algorithm? There are quite a few.”

And then there are even more challenges. “Network latency is also a very important one. You need to get information in a timely manner. If you receive information from 10 minutes ago, it may be too late. Or even counterproductive; sometimes it is better not to get information at all than information that is too late.”

More connections means greater vulnerability. Not only the flagship wants to control the radars and weapons of other ships, the opponent wants to do the same. “That is precisely the vulnerability of collaborative combat, because there are countless connections. We will have to come up with solutions for that so that they cannot be hacked. And if there is a hacking attempt, that it is detected in time and alternative connections can be established.”

Some navies actually work less with GPS, navigating more with resources that cannot be hacked. “There are more examples,” says Rouffaer. “You can also solve some issues by applying new technologies. But you can hardly escape collaborative combat. It is a fact that with a radar with a certain frequency you can only see up to a certain distance. No matter how much power you put into a radar, you can’t see below the radar horizon. Then, in view of the threat of faster and faster missiles, you will really do something about it in a collaborative concept, where you get the information from outside. You will have to communicate with other units that operate at a great distance. That is inevitable. That you do things like navigation differently, for example based on seabed contours, and keep it local, that’s great. But if you strive for synergy between different units, they will have to talk to each other and that doesn’t happen by cable.”

Command structure

If data is going to be shared in a different way, this may mean that other units or other people will also have or want to have control over actions or operations. What are the changes in the command structure? “That’s still a bit too early,” replies Rouffaer. “It is one of those things that will have to be arranged particularly well in the coming period. But that’s not up to Thales of course. Politicians and the military must decide on this.”

Nevertheless, Rouffaer is willing to give his vision: “You can certainly make decisions at a lower level. The choice that may be made, may then deviate from a decision taken centrally. Because of the amount of data, it could be more centralized. That depends on the philosophy of the user; we, the industry, cannot answer that. For instance one navy may have a more centralized orientation and another may have opted for a federal approach, because that gives you more resilience. You can be disturbed less and it is more robust in a way. If you arrange it centrally and things go wrong there, everything will go wrong.”

“Of course, Artificial Intelligence also plays an important role here and the pace of the battle. To what extent will AI take over the decisions? Do humans make the decision with the support of AI? Or do we go so far as to have those decisions taken fully by AI? That is not an easy discussion. But the pace of the battle picks up. At a certain point you can ask the question, do you even have the time to involve people in decision-making processes?”

Next steps

What is needed to be able to take the next steps? “What we need is that we develop the broadest possible standards that enable the phased introduction of this architecture. You can realize it without technical breakthroughs. Those technical developments will come or are already there.”

“Collaborative combat will make use of clouds that already exist. But how do you ensure that the information in those clouds is safe? This is mainly a matter of making agreements and building and continuing in a structured manner. And of course you should test it. Start small, test, implement and expand. Step by step.”

Starting small is important, says Rouffaer. “As the number of actors in a network increases, the number of combinations explodes. It can become incredibly complex in a short period of time. Presumably you cannot handle that complexity in one go, and therefore you cannot set up a system in one go. What is therefore important is that good interface definitions are agreed in advance, and we move to an open architecture, so that you can start on a smaller scale and continue to expand.”

This process has already started, says Rouffaer. “But defining all these standards  is definitely something that should be given more priority and urgency.”


Many different companies, organizations and governments will be involved in this concept. According to Rouffaer, NATO has an important role to play. “NATO is in any case the big driver and is very much aware of the enormous military acceleration that both Russia and China are going through. We will have to force a breakthrough in our capabilities to face that threat. NATO is made up of nations and generally does not buy or develop systems itself.”

“What NATO can do is define standards. That is a very important role. There is even a special department for standardization in NATO. They manage it, but that standardization must be driven from the operational angle. NATO is also working on it and trying to get countries and industries to establish standards. The area leading the way is underwater systems. That’s where a huge effort is now made on communication standards in order to be able to task, give orders and control under water. NATO is keeping the pressure on here.”


Despite all the challenges and obstacles that have to be overcome, Rouffaer sees no other way forward. Naturally, this concept is also being worked on in less friendly countries. Rouffaer: “Recently it has become very clear that there is a need to react faster and more intelligently than the potential opponents. We will really all have to move towards a collaborative combat-like architecture in the West. You may call it collaborative combat, or use the US name: advanced battle management system. It doesn’t matter what you call it, but the idea is the same. And Thales can of course make a substantial contribution.”

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Thales paid to write this article on this topic, but Thales had no influence on the journalistic content.

The CIC of the future

15 - 06 - 2022 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

On a daily basis there is news about new weapons, new unmanned systems, new sensors and new platforms. Threats are constantly evolving. But how can a Combat Information Center (CIC), the heart of a warship during operations, handle these new threats in the future?

Image: Thales

Combat Information Centers (CIC) are slightly different in every navy and in different types of warships, but they are broadly the same. This is where information comes in from the radars, sonars, cameras, electronic warfare systems, etc. Operators see information presented on their screen, process the information and share this information with their colleagues in the CIC and with other air, surface or submarine units . The CIC staff get this information from different sources so they have a tactical overview and they can make their decisions. If they decide to engage a target, the use of weapons will be coordinated from the CIC as well.

The CICs as we know them today often do not differ much from those from the 1970s. Obviously the computing power has much been improved, the displays and sensors are much better, but the concept is still the same: display, keyboard, headset, information to gather and share, and a human.

But the threats have changed more rapidly in recent years. Thales is therefore looking at the CIC of the future and interviewed Didier Flottes, former French Navy captain. Didier Flottes spent twentyseven years in the French Marine Nationale. Didier Flottes was Commanding Officer of two ships and many times as staff officer in the CIC aboard various frigates and an American destroyer.

“At Thales, we are continuously exploring the possibilities of the CIC of the future,” says Flottes. “It’s an outline of the possibilities in the future and we look at what technologies we can use to face the threats of the future.”

This US Navy glider is an example of one of the many new unmanned systems. (Photo: US Navy)

Faster, smaller, more

The threats that naval vessels may face in the future are as follows: “We are seeing very fast missiles, especially hypersonic missiles that are already in use by the Russian and Chinese armed forces,” Flottes says. “You can also expect missiles from all directions, sea skimming missiles, but also missiles coming straight from above. And relatively new are the small UAVs that can be used in swarm attacks. One UAV is not a big threat, but a swarm can be.”

“Also the operational tempo is much higher. This can become a problem if you have to take decisions so quickly that human brain is not capable to do it. In addition, there is much more information to manage. The elements you gather are a mix of real time and older information.”

“Another point to take in account is that ships will no longer be alone at sea in the future. They will always operate with unmanned systems, which implies very good communications and capacity of control.”

You must also face a globalisation of the warfare domains.

“In the past, there was a distinction between antisurface warfare (ASuW) and anti-air warfare (AAW), but now they are increasingly intertwined because the battle rhythms acceleration and the mixing of conventional and asymmetric threat.” Flottes says. “The threats act in a coordinated way which implies to mix all above and underwater domains, including also Electronic and Cyber warfare.”

Threats evolve faster and faster, but ships are not designed for quick adjustments. “It takes years for a ship to be built and then it has to last 20, 30 years or even longer. Adapting to the threat is in that case not very easy.”

Look further

“In order to challenge these evolutions, you need sensors with a longer range, because you want a bigger picture of your tactical environment,” Flottes says. “At the same time, your systems and sensors have to be very precise. You also have to share a greater amount of information with other units. All this has to be done quickly.”

Isn’t this possible within the current CICs? “To a certain extent yes,” Flottes replies. “You can adjust the scale on your screen so that you can see further, if your sensors allow it. But many things can be improved thanks to new technologies.”

CIC of the future

What could the CIC of the future look like? The first adjustment would be the presentation of the information coming from the sensors. “The way you visualize the threat,” Flottes says. “Now that just happens on computer screens, but that may change for some people in the CIC. Not for everyone, if you are only responsible for one weapon system, it is not important to have the total picture and then you can focus on the information about the system on your screen.”

“But for the people who work at a higher level in the CIC, and ultimately the Commanding Officer or the Flag Officer,” Flottes says, “they need to have a global view of the tactical situation around the ship. So it is about displaying sub-surface, surface and air contacts that have been detected. This can be done, for example, with a much larger screen on the wall, or by placing transparent screens with information all around. Or by presenting the surrounding situation in goggles. Every person will see the information that is relevant for him or her. On the other hand, it is also not a good idea to present everything in 3D goggles. So methods should be sought for 3D visualizations without the use of glasses.”

“Since the threat can come straight from above, or from below, you need a full view of the bubble around your ship. Your sensors must be able to do that, but this information must also be visualized.”

This does not mean that Flottes thinks replacing the bridge with a closed room with screens is a good idea. “If you can see it with your own eyes, it’s faster and you always have a better field of view than through a camera,” he explains.

Man as a delaying factor

During the conflict of the future there will be less time. Not only because missiles fly faster, but also because targets are more difficult to detect. “People become the weakest point,” says Flottes. “For very fast incoming threats you have to have some kind of automatic defense mode. But that is very complex to manage to avoid fatal mistakes such as firing on friendly assets.”

“There are many companies that claim to use artificial intelligence in their systems,” says Flottes. “From a marketing point of view, that sounds good. Thales is also working on it. And civilian companies also use it a lot, but if transfer that to a military environment, you have to be very careful. Because even if it is technically possible, what do you put in that AI? Are you also able to qualify it on a legal basis? If it’s just to detect and classify a contact faster, then a lot is possible. But more is needed for the automatic use of your weapon systems.”

NATO warships share information, but there is room for improvement. (Image: Dutch MoD)

More units and more information to share

More information will be needed in the future to get a better picture. Merging information may then be necessary. “Maybe some radar plots are not of enough quality to see a target that is difficult to detect. By merging information from other units and other sensors, you may be able to detect a contact that would otherwise go undetected. We call it data fusion. But that requires powerful computers and the help of artificial intelligence will be most welcomed.”

These more powerful computers will not be the main problem in the future, Flottes thinks. “We are moving towards a situation in which we are going to share a lot of sensor data with each other. The challenge is how units can share information quickly and securely. You need wide bandwidths. This is partly possible via satellites, but they will be the firsts to be destroyed in a high intensity war situation. Other solutions will therefore have to be found, but the limitation will be in the means of communication.”

This is also a challenge due to the increased use of unmanned systems. A frigate that now only has an helicopter and a RHIB can be equipped with numerous unmanned systems in the future.

This also requires a legal common approach. “For example, if you’re working with an unmanned system, which originally came from a ship in the task force from another country, and something happens during an operation, it’s today legally complex to determine what are the responsibilities.”


Another feature of the CIC of the future, if it is up to Flottes, is flexibility. “Perhaps at one point you are operating with a NATO task force close to an enemy coast, but you know that the adversary has no submarines. Then you can decide not to use four or five consoles for anti-submarine warfare, but just use one console and the other for surface or air threats.”

“The consoles in the CIC have to be multifunctional, so that the focus in the CIC can be adjusted to the threat from one moment to the next.”

An extension of the flexibility is also the possibility to adjust the Combat Management System (CMS). “If you are operating thousands of miles from home and there is intel that the opponent has a new type of missile, you may want to adjust your sensors or your CMS so that this threat can be detected earlier. In such a situation, you want to be able to download a patch via a secure connection to adjust the algorithm.”

“In addition, it is important to schedule regular updates, for example annually, to keep the CIC up to date.”


Despite the technologic improvements, humans will still play a role in the CIC. “Although there will be more use of unmanned systems, data will be shared faster and more work will be done by algorithms, the people in the CIC remain the most important. And they will have to continue to work together as a team, that will not change.”

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Thales paid to write this article on this topic, but Thales had no influence on the journalistic content.

Deployments that last several years, what does that mean for crews and onboard systems?

28 - 12 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

Warships years away from home, that sounds like something from the past. It is however also a future possibility. More and more navies are looking at very long deployments, with rotating crews. Some navies have already started doing this. But what does that mean for the ships and the systems?

River class OPV HMS Tamar left Portsmouth in September together with HMS Spey for a five-year long deployment in the Indo Pacific. (Photo: Royal Navy)

Deployments such as those of the UK Carrier Strike Group and the deployment of the German and French navies in the Indo Pacific have the classic form: ship and crew depart together and return together. A few years ago, the Dutch OPV HNLMS Groningen left for the Caribbean for three years, with rotating crews. COVID-19 and damage to the propeller shafts caused the ship to return early, but sailing back and forth to the West every four months by ship and crew seems to be a thing of the past. That concept was also applied to the Dutch Alkmaar-class minehunters when they were operating in the Persian Gulf in the eighties, but that was a shorter period.

However, both classes of the ships mentioned were not designed for the rotating crew concept. The new German F126 frigates (MKS 180) are.

But if a ship stays thousands of nautical miles from its home port for two years, what does that mean for the support of the ships and systems, for example? Or for countries with a coastline that is more than thousands of kilometers and they want their navies to operate a ship from a small port far from the maintenance base, how does that work?

“Far from home you lack the support that you have in your own naval base,” says Berend Jongebloed, who works at Thales’ support branch, which deals with these kinds of issues. “There are precautionary maintenance that have to be performed at set times. Those tasks can be planned. That has become less and less of a problem with modern systems, they require less precautionary maintenance.”

“It mainly concerns emergencies far from the homeport,” Jongebloed continues. “Do you have the knowledge and skills to solve this on board? And do you have the spare parts on board? So the support of the systems takes on a completely different dynamic. A support hub in or near the mission area offers a solution.”

Of course, part of the problem would also be solved by having more technicians on board. Dutch submarines that operated around the North Cape or in the eastern part of the Mediterranean in the 1970s also had to solve many of the technical problems by themselves. There was not much contact with the homeport and it was sometimes necessary to solve problems underwater near Soviet ships. They had to make do with what was available on board, but the submarines of the time had 67 crew members.

Navies are faced with a staff shortage, especially among technicians, and are looking for solutions with fewer crew members. New ships will sail with fewer technicians than their predecessors.

HNLMS Evertsen (De Zeven Provinciën class) in Japan (Photo: SGT Petronilla/ Royal Netherlands Navy)

A different approach: more data

“For long-term missions far from home”, Jongebloed says, “you need a support system that can also be deployed worldwide. In the Netherlands, a ship is supervised by the Maritime Operating Center of the Royal Netherlands Navy in Den Helder. That is where the issues come in and then specialists from the homeport provide support. If they can’t figure it out, the industry will be called in.”

Providing remote support is becoming easier thanks to modern means of communication. The future Dutch and Belgian ASW frigates will share much more information with Den Helder. “Provided you have sufficient internet bandwidth, you can help remotely, just like an IT department can. Of course there are risks when you send data. You have to be very careful and very selective with it. Cybersecurity is essential.”

What also helps is using data that the sensors on board record about the systems. This has been used for some time for propeller shaft vibrations, for example, but Thales is now also working on applying additional sensors in its systems. Jongebloed: “You can analyze that data and distil deviations from it. If you can identify those deviations early, you can tell a crew ‘this particular element will malfunction in the future. Just go ahead and replace it.”

“Besides sending data, you can also let the crew perform some technical tasks by using Augmented Reality.”

“So there are various technological options that can offer remote assistance. It depends on how we set it up for each customer. If you want to make this happen, you have to forge an entire chain from a ship to the maintenance department and the industry. That’s not easily done.”

Other requirements

For the industry, this concept means that the systems must be available for a longer period of time. “Reliability requirements will be higher,” says Jongebloed. “Designers must know how users will use the system, to adapt the system for long term operations. Also graceful degradation and reconfigurability are important. The first means that a system does not immediately fail completely if certain parts fail, but that a system continues to work with a reduced performance. This has already been achieved to a large extent by the scalability of technology. Reconfigurability means that a system also reacts when there is an error, by changing its settings so that the loss of performance is minimal.”

Modern systems already require less maintenance because of their digital nature. If there are malfunctions, it is more often in high-end electronics. With a good design, plug and play is possible very quickly: when a unit is designated as defective, exchange it and designate the defective unit for repair.”

The SMART-L MM radar for land applications, for example, already has a high operational availability, says Jongebloed: “The availability requirement is already very high for land applications: 24/7 and 365 days of use. For maritime applications, a different operational profile applies. Navies can probably use it continuously for three weeks, get to a port and then carry out maintenance there. On the other hand, the complexity of systems has also increased and if there is a problem, it can sometimes take a lot of knowledge to find the cause. This should also be taken into account when setting up maintenance.”

Copy at home

It also helps if you have exactly the same systems in the home base as on board. “I know that Germany always has a copy of the ship’s installation ashore. They use it for testing new software releases, for example, but also for double-checking systems on board if something is wrong with it.”

“Also the Royal Canadian Navy “, Jongebloed continues, “is buying two extra systems from us for testing, but also for training personnel.”

A so-called Total Ship Trainer is one of the options for educating and training crews in the rotating crew concept. Such a trainer consists of, for example, simulators of a bridge, command center and technical center, just like on board the ship that is thousands of miles away. Real sensors can also be added to such a trainer, says Jongebloed.

Perfect packaging

Of course, this is also a logistical issue. “How do you get the spare parts on site?”, Jongebloed asks. “Countries that have short missions will order a different package of spare parts in advance than countries that sail longer missions. They need a more extensive package to be able to cope with emergencies at sea. So-called mission packages are also possible.”

“Of course, a naval vessel comes back periodically for maintenance and the opportunity to combine this with a thorough modernization. Technology and the threats are developing faster and faster, which can create threats that did not exist at all when the ship was built.”

System life-cycle approach

Jongebloed thinks that an approach is needed to design tailor-made solutions. “This approach must answer the question: ‘How can you best fulfill this increasing importance of support?'”

“This requires an integrated approach and preparation,” says Jongebloed. “This is not limited to the individual systems, but relates to the entire ship. It starts with the operational objectives. These can be translated into a desired usage profile, such as “operate longer in the mission area”. The technical design of the systems is based on that usage profile. Subsequently, training, maintenance and supplies are also set up accordingly. The period of major maintenance offers the opportunity to assess these topics and possibly introduce new methods.”

“This integrated approach is supported by ILS. This is currently developing, with an increasing emphasis on an approach in which the entire lifespan of a system is central. To give substance to the question of how maintenance concepts should be adapted to changing ways of deploying ships, new technologies and developments in the service and logistics world, it is important that industry and customer jointly implement these new standards.”

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Thales paid to write this article on this topic, but Thales had no influence on the journalistic content.

How to keep warships relevant during their operational life?

28 - 06 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

Naval vessels undergo maintenance at regular intervals and are often modernised once during their operational lifetime. But technology and threats are evolving faster and faster, creating threats that didn’t even exist when the ship was built. Thales is thinking about how ships can keep up with this.

KRI Usman-Harun, the Indonesian corvette is currently being modernised. (Photo: Indonesian Navy)

In collaboration with Thales, publishes a monthly article on a topic that is relevant to many navies now or in the future. From cyber to autonomous systems. In part 2: how can naval ships remain relevant? More info at the bottom of this page.

“The small UAV [drone] is such an example,” says Adriaan Smits, head of Services at Thales. “They didn’t exist when for example the LW-08 radar for the S-frigates and M-frigates was developed and was not designed to detect UAVs. You might think that would require some small changes, but it is in fact quite complex. In terms of movement characteristics small UAVs are very similar to birds, with similar dimensions and fly at approximately the same speed. Old radars can detect them, but birds and UAVs are seen by the system as clutter and are not shown.”

“In order to be able to recognise and distinguish small UAVs, such as the average commercial drone, from birds, adjustments are needed. This requires special wave forms, special viewing frequency, search patterns, etc. That is very difficult. To do that you have to need a new radar.” 

In the past, the only solution was to wait for the next ship or replace the radar with a new one during a midlife upgrade. But as with the previous radar, chances are that the new radar was not suitable for the next threat. In that case the user has to wait for another 15 years.

Incidentally, this does not only apply to radars, but to many more software based systems. For example combat management systems and cybersecurity systems.

Smits: “What is different now is that the operational needs change faster than before. It is not a question of whether your system will continue to work for thirty years, but whether the system does not suddenly become useless ten years after it has been put into operation due to new developments.”

“Of course a ship is maintained regularly and modernised once or twice”, says Smits, “but that maintenance is mainly intended so that ships can continue to do what they were once designed for. If parts can no longer be supplied, then a solution is found so that the system can continue to work.”

“We are now talking about functional obsolescence. We didn’t have a solution for functional obsolescence in the past. Apart from decommissioning old vessels and developing new ones.”

HNLMS Van Speijk, one of the two Dutch M-frigates, with LW-08 radar. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/

HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën, an Air Defense and Command Frigate. The SMART-L MM/N is the black radar, the APAR is located on the forward mast and can be seen exactly to the left of the SMART-L in this photo. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/

The solution to the problem sounds simple: software updates. Smits: “What is new is that much more systems are software based than in the past. This means that you can change the function of devices to a very large extent by changing the software. As a result, you can change the function during the life of the product. So apart from the traditional maintenance after fifteen years, removing on-board systems, painting over and replacing rotating parts, you can do an annual evaluation: does the system still do what you want? And if not, can we adjust it in such a way that it will do that?”

“It actually started with APAR,” says Smits, who has been working with that radar for years. “But with our latest radars, the hardware is mainly a way to send and and receive energy, but that hardware is controlled by software. There is a lot of room for adjustments in software.”

According to Smits, radars can for example be adapted to see UAVs. “Modern radars are flexible, but how that is implemented depends on the system. An adjustment goes further than only changes in software.”

“Technology has also become more scalable in terms of hardware. The NS-100 radar can also be expanded with more reception or transmission tiles for more power or other processing hardware. The interaction between hardware and software offers enormous flexibility. Due to the rapid technology development, you have to replace the processing power on a regular bases anyway. Because it can do more, there is more room to program new functionalities: faster computers, more possibilities.”

Design for change
According to Smits, these new possibilities are not limited to radars alone, but apply to the entire ship. That starts with the requirements and the design phase. Smits: “We call this design for change; you have to take adjustments into account in your product design. Try to keep parameters as broad as possible, so that you build in flexibility. You can also physically free up more space for upgrades.”

Can operators in operations rooms of navies around the world using Thales radars count on pop-ups, informing them that they can download radar software updates? Not for the time being.

Smits: “This is very common for civilian software, but does not fit well in the defense world. App updates on your phone can often be done because developers continuously receive data from those apps and can also send data to them. For military products this is not possible because that data has strategic value and is of course not freely shared.”

“Furthermore, in the defense world we cannot simply share all upgrades developed for a product with all users. A dialogue is also important here. Forming user groups could be a suitable approach here.”

“So we know the advantages, but there are blockages and we have to discuss that with each other,” says Smits.

Smits sees starting a dialogue as the first step in tackling other challenges of the new modernisation as well. Because although technically there are a lot of possibilities thanks to software, many navies are not equipped for it. “Everything, including Thales, is geared towards innovation and creating new generation systems and then doing maintenance. Existing processes at many organisations are often not designed for regular adjustments of systems.”

Of course, the industry itself can decide to offer updates for forty years, but that is financially unfeasible in this market without a suitable contract. When engineers retire, start working elsewhere or focus on a new generation of radars, knowledge of specific systems evaporates quickly. “If after fifteen years a customer suddenly says: I want to do an update, then we are both disappointed. We have to say that we no longer have the people with that knowledge and the customer does not get the desired update,” explains Smits. “Because in order to retain knowledge, you have to keep working with the product.”

“What I think is very important is that there is a continuous dialogue between navies, knowledge institutes and industry in order to come to solutions together. There is already a particularly effective collaboration in the Netherlands, called Nederland Radarland. That model could be extended to the entire asset life cycle management, which therefore not focuses at how we develop a new platform, but also at how we deal with it once it is up and running.”

“Another thing is: what agreements do you make? If a navy says: I want to buy that flexibility for 20 years, that means for us that we have to keep that knowledge available. We then have to be able to offer software updates during that period, but we still have no idea what needs to be reprogrammed, so it has organisational, contractual, and implementation aspects that challenge the status quo on a number of points.”

Other countries
In the Netherlands there is the so-called Golden Helix, consisting of the Defense/Navy, knowledge institutes and industry. As a result, there is often contact, so a dialogue about this new topic is relatively easy to set up. But what about this idea in other countries?

Not all navies handle their equipment in the same way, there are navies that only do maintenance when something breaks. Other navies have highly professional maintenance organisations. But also the navies that now work with limited resources will sooner or later have to deal with the software possibilities that now come with, for example, the Thales NS-100 radar.

Thales already mention technological flexibility in tenders. Smits: “We describe the possibilities, but until now using them has been a separate transaction. To use the full flexibility, you want to move towards a relational model, in which we set up a basic technical capacity and you use an organised discussion platform together with the user decides what the correct updates will be.”

“Because,” Smits continues, “that is the way to achieve this. If you do not enter into a partnership, customers may still benefit, but much more from the traditional model. For example, if a new function is developed, then the navies which entered the partnership benefit first. They, however, also to help determine who we can sell that update to. So it could very well be that if you don’t participate in such a discussion platform, you can’t benefit from the updates or that you have to pay the entire development costs.”

“You could organise this through a user group, in which multiple users of a product, together with industry, coordinate the upgrade roadmap of the product. You could see the international cooperation towards the development of the APAR as a precursor of such a user group.
Within the group, agreements were also made at the time, if another party were to be added.”

Does Smits already see concrete opportunities for this model in the future? Certainly: “For the new SMART-L MM/N, the technology is ready.”

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Thales paid to write this article on this topic, but Thales had no influence on the journalistic content.

Cyber security at sea, defending against digital attacks on ships

30 - 04 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

Cyber-attacks happen every day. Large commercial organizations are often targeted, but governments have also faced attacks. The mentioned targets have one thing in common: they are targets on land. Are ships invulnerable? No, and fortunately more and more attention is being paid to cyber security at sea.

(Photo: Jaime Karremann/

In collaboration with Thales, publishes a monthly article on a topic that is relevant to many navies now or in the future. From cyber to autonomous systems. In part 1: cyber security at sea. More info at the bottom of this page.

René van Buuren is cybersecurity authority  Naval at Thales Netherlands. spoke to him about digital defence at sea: “Information security has been around for a long time. But with the advent of the internet it has exploded and we call it cybersecurity. Partly thanks to office automation, everything in companies was suddenly connected to the internet and therefore vulnerable. And in my world, a naval ship is similar to a land based organization, with potential vulnerabilities, which are often interconnected. “

Cyber ​​security is not limited to the digital domain. “A cyber-attack can also have effects on things that we can see and feel in the physical world. That is important for naval and commercial ships. The cyber-physical consequences of an attack can be enormous. Stuxnet [a computer worm believed to have damaged a nuclear power plant in Iran, JK] is one of the best-known examples, but imagine if a potential next blockade in the Suez Canal were the result of a cyber-attack on the steering gear, which is not inconceivable. “

Ships are often far from home and the internet connection is not always that fast, is a cyber threat realistic? “That is the most frequently asked question,” answers Van Buuren. “Nuclear power plants are hacked and they are not connected to the Internet. Cybersecurity goes much further than the Internet. A ship is an enormously complex system consisting of all kinds of military and commercial systems that are linked together. That automatically implies that there are a lot of potential vulnerabilities and a large attack surface [many possibilities for attacks, JK]. In addition, ships are in service for 30 years, during which time a lot of people and equipment come on board. “

“You can get supply chain attacks such as Solarwinds”, Van Buuren continues. “This kind of attacks are common more and more. A supply chain attack is an attack on a supplier of your company. The infected software enters your company via that supplier.”

“Cyber ​​threats at sea are also realistic because cyber-attacks have become part of hybrid warfare, in addition to military, economic, political and propaganda means. This means that opponents will use cyber-attacks to disrupt your operations. This does not have to be via the Internet and can be done via various attack paths. For example, it is widely known that some state actors equip maritime vessels with 4G masts and sail in the vicinity of naval ships in order to hack the phones of crew members. “

Future: cyber positions in the command center?

Navies are increasingly interested in adding protection against cyber-attacks. Cyber ​​security is an intrinsic part of the total solution for many new naval ships. According to Van Buuren, the German F126 frigates (MKS180) are an example where cybersecurity is a large and important part of the contract.

“That’s the design side,” says Van Buuren. “You try to deliver it as well as possible, with all lines of defence. And that applies not only to the software in the CIC, but to the entire ship. All software, the sensors and the weapon systems must meet high cyber requirements.”

Thoughts are now moving towards the next step. Van Buuren: “The modern side of cyber is about detection and response. The design must be in order; a fence around your house. But you also have to actively monitor and intervene. Naval ships have all kinds of resources on board to combat damage and fire. There will also be a cyber variant of this in the future. “

That is not easy at sea, says Van Buuren: “On shore you have all the means at your disposal. How do you translate the ordinary cyber defence on land in a civilian company to a naval vessel in conflict? Then it becomes difficult. It depends on, for example, the available knowledge on board, the permitted connectivity and the mission conditions. Do you want to fix something quickly in order to keep fighting? That is something completely different from doing a recovery and update your systems when you’re in your homeport. “

There is no one solution; it is a continuous process. according to Van Buuren. “We are talking about that at Thales and with our clients.”

Systems on board future German F126 frigates. (Source: Thales)

Not easy

Thales focuses on cyber defence. “Cyber-offensive capabilities are capabilities for governments and not necessarily for the industry,” says Van Buuren when asked. “Besides, if you have ten missiles on board, you can achieve the same impact ten times. But a cyber weapon can generally only be deployed once. The moment that it is noticed, you cannot use it the second time.”

Conversely, this also means that the threat posed to naval ships comes almost exclusively from a government; a state actor, and to a lesser extent from criminals. And not from someone who is bored and hacks a navy ship in a few hours. The major threats come from maritime cyber-attacks at the highest level by attackers with almost unlimited resources, i.e. state actors.

Van Buuren: “The Solar Wind attack was preceded by many months of preparation by a huge team of experts. You have to have that kind of capacities in mind: the attacker must have to be eager, a lot of money and time.”

For the defenders it is important to keep up with the developments. “It’s a cyber race,” says Van Buuren. “You are always one step behind and developments are going very fast.”

“Cyber ​​security on ships is also difficult because a complex system of all kinds of information systems and operational systems are linked together, all of which have a completely different history and background.”

Entire lifespan

And such a complex system must remain protected for thirty years. “That’s another trend in cybersecurity thinking,” says Van Buuren. “We need to discuss this. Agreements must be made about updates: who is responsible for the updates? Do you also have to qualify again or do sea acceptance trials?”

“Mid-life modernization of a naval ship is now the standard. But that is a different way of thinking than a regular cyber update. Many navies are also geared towards purchasing equipment and not the maintenance and releases that follows and often they have different organizations for purchase and maintenance.”

These agreements about cybersecurity during its entire lifespan are important, because when the cyber security part of a ship is not properly maintained, means that the ship is a risk for friendly warships. “In the future it cannot be ruled out that certain warships will no longer have access to certain information during a combined mission because they do not have their security in order,” says Van Buuren.

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Thales paid to write this article on this topic, but Thales had no influence on the journalistic content.

Overhauled Dutch frigate prepares for major test

15 - 04 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

A lot of work has been done on Dutch frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën to modernize the ship. visited the frigate that is working hard towards an important milestone in the participation of the ‘missile shield’ against ballistic missiles: At Sea Demonstration 2021 later this year. That is the focus, but much more has been renewed and changed inside the nearly 20-year-old ship. was on board modernized frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

The Air Defence and Command Frigate (LCF) HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën is still as gray as when the ship was put into service in 2002.  Like then a large black radar is rotating on the hangar and the 127mm gun, eagerly looked at by museum directors, is still on the forecastle. So nothing has changed.

“For us it is really a new ship, so much has changed”, an employee of the Dutch MoD software department Maritime IT tells to your reporter in the gangway, while stewards take large containers of food from the elevator to the officers’ mess.

It sounds a bit strange, ‘new ship’, because the LCF does not seem to have changed much on the outside, nor on the inside. But appearances can be deceiving. The LCF Upkeep Program (IP LCF) is a major modernisation project that is most visible on a technical and operational level. IP LCF consists of 41 subprojects that will ultimately deliver a new bridge, new Command and Information Centre (CIC), new ballast water treatment system, the new Thales SMART-L MM / N radar, 24 km of new cables and more than 1,000 new devices.

“I think it is easier to build a new ship than to strip a ship completely empty and fill it with new equipment,” said Commanding Officer of De Zeven Provinciën, captain Bob van Hoof a little later in his cabin. “For example, all computers in the CIC have been replaced”, Van Hoof continues. “The tricky part is that very old equipment, such as the old Harpoon installation with the bakelite buttons, must be connected to the new systems. Such a network must then ‘speak’ various old and new languages, which must also be synchronized. That is a challenge to integrate.”

“That is why we are doing tests at sea for weeks,” adds Head of Operational Branch lieutenant Kevin Stolk. “Maritime IT is in our CIC and is constantly updating the CMS to do that integration as well as possible, so that the system will soon work as well as possible.” And what the system has to do is, for the first time all by itself, detect and track ballistic missiles in space. That is the goal for everyone who is involved in Dutch BMD-programme. But first about the new stuff of the ship.

Technology on the bridge

There is lots of new stuff on the bridge. This will strike anyone who has been on a bridge of the LCF before. The most visible changes: the chart table has disappeared and has made way for a large renewed console for the signallers. Here the signallers set up digital and voice connections thanks to new systems.

On the other side of the bridge, there is now a position for the Marine Engineering Officer, which has the new platform management software with all the information and options available. If a naval vessel is in narrow waters or if it is foggy, more people will come on the bridge, including the Marine Engineering Officer. He or she provides technical knowledge on the bridge, acts as an intermediary in communication between the Ship Control Centre and the bridge, and can advise the officer in the event of, for example, technical problems (which are very inconvenient in such a situation). of the guard or the commanding officer.

The renewed bridge. The positions on the left are for the commanding officer and the officer of the watch, and of course for the helmsman. The helmsman’s seat is higher than in the past and the front row is also positioned further forward. This was possible thanks to the smaller equipment. The two rear ‘islands’ are in front of the Head of Technical Branch  (right), the signalers have the other position. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

In the past, the Marine Engineering Officer only had a seat on the bridge and could talk to the Ship Control Centre. Van Hoof is pleased with the innovation: “The Marine Engineering Officer had to get all the information from the Ship Control Centre. That had a delaying effect and, moreover, you never had the total overview. Now the Marine Engineering Officer can see on his screen what the Ship Control Centre sees. For example, we had a problem with a certain propulsion system that shut down as soon as we turned hard. Thanks to the console, the crew on the bridge could keep an eye on the system and prevent the machine from shutting down. We can extract much more information from the system, so that in emergency situations we ask fewer questions to the Ship Control Centre who is then dealing with the calamity. We can also better anticipate possible problems, so that they occur less often. “

Standby, fix, click

The removal of the chart table has everything to do with the introduction of the digital chart, ECDIS. But the digital chart was already there, right? Van Hoof: “Yes, but because that chart was integrated in the CMS we were not allowed to use it, so we had to have a paper chart. We now have a system that is independent of the CMS.”

And the difference can be seen on the bridge. Of course because the chart table has been removed, but also because of the way in which the position of the ship is now determined on the basis of landmarks on the shore.

With a paper chart that is a very precise job that can take a while. Thanks to the electronic chart and the digital bearing compasses, which directly enter the bearing in ECDIS, it has become a quick bearing of three objects and some clicks of the mouse. This is so fast that nowadays the position can even be determined when the ship is turning.

Digital bearing compass. These are actually binoculars with a button. Instead of reading the bearing aloud, now only a button on the device has to be pressed and the bearing is transferred to the digital map. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

But wait a minute. Are we talking about positioning here? We’ve been using GPS for that since the late 1970s, right? Well, navies have indeed been using GPS for many years. However, it is also known that, for example, Russia has sometimes spoofed the GPS signal.

“Everyone nowadays sails and drives on GPS, the car industry is even completely switching to GPS,” says Van Hoof. “We turn off the GPS so that we also keep sailing safely by making visual fixes. We force our team to look outside. That is much more difficult than sailing on GPS, but you should always be aware that you can handle a situation in which you cannot use GPS. “

All screens have become larger, but this ‘super tablet’, which was made in collaboration with RH Marine, takes the cake. This is the chart room behind the bridge, where a chart table used to be. This screen, which works as a tablet, shows maps (which have been licensed) just like Google Maps. For example, the route to be sailed can be planned here and it can be used for briefings. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

Change in navigation

Sailing with an electronic chart is really different. “In recent incidents where commercial ships ran aground, errors were often made with the electronic chart,” says Van Hoof. “They thought they were in safe waters. Sailing safely with a computer system is different because you have to pay attention to other things. A paper chart does not change, you can see everything at once, for example depth lines. You can set these on an ECDIS. But you do have to adjust the settings of the hazard depth line and keep checking. An error in the settings can run the ship aground “, says Van Hoof.

Another risk is the amount of alarms and information that is sent to the bridge team in some situations. Especially alarms that are not relevant (for example for a shallow area that is not really dangerous), can ensure that crew members are no longer alert to an alarm if something is really important. Information on a screen also appears reliable and complete, while it is sometimes better to just look outside. Van Hoof. “The somewhat older young people are used to looking outside more to assess a situation and are used to making decisions based on the outside image. The new generation looks at screens more quickly, there is a risk that they are too involved in the AIS, ECDIS and radar images. ”

“Ultimately, an ECDIS is much safer, because you can see your position much faster. And before that it was only visible in the map, the officer of the watch who looked through the window did not see that. Now you almost have a head up display. “

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken in the new Ship Control Centre. This is the old situation. More screens have been added to the screens to the left of the photo, especially with images of engineering spaces. The console on the right has been shortened and reduced to a smaller position. A new large console is located almost in the middle of the room. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

Ship Control Centre

A long way down is the technical heart of the frigate, the Ship Control Centre. A major change can also be seen here. There are more and larger screens on which, thanks to a much larger number of cameras, the technical areas in the ship are shown much better. The most important improvement is not visible, that is the renewed Integrated Platform Management Software (IPMS) from RH Marine.

In this new version a lot of attention has been paid to user-friendliness and an automatic advisory function has again been included, which now plays a much larger role in the Ship Control Centre. The software can take over more tasks from the staff and an unmanned Ship Control Centre, just like on the Holland class OPVs, is not inconceivable in the future. How exactly everything will take shape is sometimes still to be figured out on board the De Zeven, as is also apparent from the words of Van Hoof: “A concept has been devised for how the Ship Control Centre should work, for example with an Marine Engineering Officer that is behind a large console and a personnel division that has been devised on paper. We now have to see whether it is as logical as expected in practice.”

The SMART-L MM / N, recognizable by the square pattern instead of the horizontal lines on the old SMART-L. This radar also features a new IFF with Mod 5, replacing Mod 4. In addition, the modernized Goalkeeper can be seen. De Zeven Provinciën is the first ship to fully integrate the new Goalkeeper into the CMS. It is also the first ship to work with the new Link 22. The Netherlands is one of the first countries to work with Link 22.. (Photo: Jaime Karremann /

Dot on the horizon: dot in space

On one important point, the LCF has made a huge step: Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD). A programme that began in the 1990s when these frigates only existed on paper. At the time, it was already understood by the designers that these ships could play a role in detecting and destroying ballistic missiles.

In 2006 LCF HNLMS Tromp demonstrated for the first time off Hawaii that, to the surprise of the Americans, it could detect ballistic missiles with the old SMART-L.

In 2019 the new Thales SMART-L MM / N was finally put on HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën and since then there has been one clear goal for the ship: At Sea Demonstration 2021 in May / June of this year. “That is the dot on the horizon for ship and crew,” says Van Hoof.

Old situation of the command centre, no photos were allowed of the new one. The interior has largely remained the same, but all hardware has been replaced. Instead of two screens, each position will have one large screen. (Photo: NL MoD)

New task, no extra people

Van Hoof is looking forward to ASD21. “Because this is the only radar in the world that can do BMD and air defence at the same time. In 2015 we also combined BMD and air defence with De Zeven, but that was thanks to a trick. The Americans have done the same in the past, but we will have this capability as a standard option on board.”  

The new radar can detect missiles up to a distance of 2,000 km. Van Hoof: “I already thought the old SMART-L radar for air defence was good, we now see that the new radar can do a lot more than the previous one.” A pitfall is that the personnel in the CIC receive too much information, because the radar not only detects more, it also looks much further.

Representation of the radar beam of the test model of the SMART-L MM / N from Hengelo in 2017. The white icons are satellites. The beam has a range of 2,000 km and can thus image missiles near Spain, Northern Greece, from the North Sea. (Image: Thales)

In addition to a new radar, more is needed to be able to do BMD. The CMS, the software in the CIC, has also been updated and adapted to the new radar. BMD is built into the CMS and now displays a 3D image of the ballistic missile instead of a flat radar image. Despite all the new possibilities, the commanding officers of the LCFs have not been given any additional personnel.

Van Hoof: “BMD is something we have to do next to our normal work in the CIC. So we have to be efficient with the crew. They also have to receive the training to be able to use the BMD planner, for example [used to determine the best position for optimal detection, JK]. The BMD planner is important when we’re in a mission area, suddenly new intel comes in and we can’t wait for support from shore. Then we use the planner ourselves to determine the best position. That means training, and that means a workload distribution in the CIC and a different operational management. “

“A few years ago we came up with a concept for the CIC,” adds Stolk. “Now it has to become clear in practice whether it works, we adapt what does not. Ultimately we will arrive at what is workable for all future BMD naval ships.” In addition to existing personnel, the CIC also has to make do with the same number of display cabinets; there will be no separate BMD console. “We would have preferred it,” says Stolk, “but it is more a nice to have than a need to have.”

This article was first published in Dutch on, March 2021.

Finally: drones can hunt submarines, ships can communicate with submerged submarines

29 - 03 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

Without water there would be no life, and worse, no ships. But water is not always our friend: even gigantic submarines are very difficult to find, and communication with submarines is almost impossible. The Canadian company Geospectrum Technologies has come up with a solution to these problems.

HNLMS Zeeleeuw, filephoto. (Photo: Dutch MoD)

A NATO anti-submarine warfare frigate in the Atlantic Ocean is ordered to hunt for a nuclear submarine that, based on observations by various sensors, is suspected to be approaching a position within range of the frigate rapidly. The frigate is designed to combat submarines: the latest sonar (hull mounted sonar) is mounted under the bow and the low-frequency sonar that can be towed behind the ship allows submarines to be detected from a great distance. In addition, the ship has an anti-submarine warfare helicopter and two unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). These USVs are equipped with the Towed Reelable Active / Passive Sonar (TRAPS): a system using passive and active sonar.

“A single ship is unlikely to survive a confrontation with a submarine,” says Sean Kelly, a former anti-submarine warfare officer in the Canadian Navy who is now working at Geospectrum. “But if a group of ships takes on a submarine, the submarine is at a disadvantage.”

“By having a helicopter and USVs search for that specific submarine, hereby supplementing the frigate’s on board capabilities, we are actually creating our own task group. A great tactical advantage, and useful in times when Western navies are confronted with a shrinking fleet.”

Both the USVs and the helicopter are deployed at a great distance from the ship. “A frigate’s own sonars should actually stay out of the submarine’s range,” says Kelly.

A Seagull USV with TRAPS. (Photo: Elbit)

Our frigate is advancing towards the position where the hunt for the hostile submarine can begin. The USVs and helicopter are prepared for deployment. “Let’s say that the sonar ranges that day are 30 nautical miles,” Kelly continues. The ship can therefore detect submarines up to a maximum range of 30 miles with its own sonar, but so can the USV. “So if you send your USV 30 miles forward and the helicopter too, you can search from a greater distance. Now you can increase your sonar range to 60 nautical miles or more in one go. ”

Operating as an ASW picket, the unmanned vessel lowers the low-frequency active sonar into the water and starts to ping loudly. The sound signal ripples through the cold Atlantic Ocean and bounces off objects, but not just back to the USV. Kelly: “You ping in one location, you receive in another location.” In this case the echoes reach the sonar that is towed behind the frigate and the received signals are processed by the software on board the frigate.

“In waters such as the Atlantic, the Pacific or the South China Sea, I want a sonar with the lowest possible frequency,” says Kelly, “because that gives you enormous range. But not all ASW-operations take place in such deep waters. ”

The position of the enemy submarine in our story turns out to be more towards coastal waters. Our frigate recovers the USVs and helicopter and sails to the newly specified position. On board a plan is made how the submarine can be located in shallow waters. “Low-frequency sonars are less effective in coastal waters,” says Kelly. “Here we need medium frequency sonar.”

Almost all naval sonars operate on one single frequency. This is not the case with TRAPS though. Kelly: “The USVs have been recovered and we only need to replace a small part so we can deploy a medium frequency sonar. Half an hour later the USV is back at sea and the USV can search for the submarine again. If you are not able to change that frequency, you will lose the submarine in no time. If you can adapt quickly, you have a huge tactical advantage. ”

TRAPS with passive and active sonars visable. The black transmitter part has to be swapped if an other frequency is needed. (Photo: Geospectrum)


The name of the TRAPS system has previously been mentioned in articles on and Specifically in the article about the Seagull unmanned surface vessel, which was developed by Elbit Systems and is being built in the Netherlands by De Haas Maassluis.

As we have just seen in the example, an important addition to that specific USV is TRAPS: a sonar set consisting of a long array fitted with hydrophones for listening, and the active part being formed by a transmitter.

TRAPS is the flagship product of Geospectrum, which focuses on underwater acoustics for naval and civilian applications. The system has been under development for some time, and has recently been installed on various ships of the Canadian Navy. TRAPS can also be used as an add-on sonar for patrol ships, for example. However, in this article we will focus on the version intended for USVs. The latter version is extraordinary, as currently there is, according to Geospectrum, no sonar for unmanned ships that is operational on this level.

What TRAPS exactly will look like in practice depends entirely on the requirements of the customer. “We have hundreds of options,” says Kelly. “Every navy operates in slightly different circumstances, so there is no sonar that works for all of them. And during operations conditions often change for naval vessels as well. Therefore, TRAPS is also highly modular and can therefore be adapted to the ongoing situation.”

Another advantage of the system being modular is the fact that you do not have to return to port when there is a malfunction, but can easily replace the broken part.

The active sonar can ping on frequencies between 2 kHz and 10 kHz, simply by changing the transmitting part. Hence TRAPS is suitable for bi-static operations (transmitting and receiving at different locations). Complex waveforms are also be accommodated, Kelly assures. With passive sonar, it is the length of the sonar array that determines the lowest frequency (and the lower the frequency, the greater the range that can be achieved).

Changes to the design of the Belgian and Dutch ASW frigates have affected the sizes of the USVs.

Integrating TRAPS with small USVs

This is nice and all but is it also useful for the navies of the Netherlands and Belgium? After all, about a year ago, a design change was approved which led to a reduction of the space for accommodating unmanned vessels on board the future Dutch and Belgian ASW frigates. Instead of 12m USVs, these future vessels will have a maximum length of 7 meters.

This means the standard version of the Seagull can no longer be facilitated on these ships. A smaller version will have reduced range and cannot be used in certain sea states. How does this affect TRAPS?

TRAPS is not made for one specific USV size. “When we are confronted with less space, we will make the passive part of TRAPS smaller. This means that if the vessel gets smaller, the passive capabilities will be reduced,” Kelly explains. However, “we consider the active part the most important, we will never change that.”

Does all this mean we can breathe a sigh of relief? No. “A 7 meter USV will be very difficult,” Kelly notes. “We will definitely look into it, but the weight is the problem. Not so much the vessel’s length. Coincidentally, an other navy recently decided to extend the length of their USVs in connection with TRAPS, ” Kelly adds hopefully.

Canadian Coastal Defense Vessel HMCS Shawinigan (Kingston class) operates with a containerized TRAPS version. (Photo: Geospectrum)


TRAPS has already been sold to the Canadian Navy. And recently a navy in “Asia” procured several TRAPS systems. “Unfortunately, we cannot say which navy it is,” Kelly says. “We are also negotiating with a navy in the Middle East, and we expect more sales in the near future.”

Communicating with submarines

While TRAPS is meant to detect submarines, LRAM has been developed by Geospectrum to communicate with submerged submarines.

Underwater communication is extremely difficult due to the difficult properties of seawater. How can a submarine receive messages from its headquarters when it is engaged in a covert operation thousands of miles away? Impossible if the boat is operating in very deep waters. More and more submarines do have satellite communication. However, to use this the boat has to go to periscope depth, and at that moment there is a higher chance of detection.

In the past submarines used a so-called postbox procedure: a maritime patrol aircraft flew from, for example, Keflavik (Iceland) to a predetermined position in the Norwegian Sea with the NATO-submarine setting up its antenna, after which both could transmit messages at short range. However as a result Russian units were able to track the aircraft and detect the submarine.

Yet another option was Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) communications. During the Cold War, a number of gigantic cell towers in the US, Great Britain and Norway were emitting at extremely low frequencies using tremendous power. Messages could thus be sent to submerged submarines operating far away from port, but the cost of maintaining such a huge broadcast station was enormous. Therefore, they are no longer in use.

Geospectrum has now developed a solution: the Long Range Acoustic Modem, or LRAM. Any transmitter can be linked to LRAM, for instance TRAPS for shorter ranges, or the Very Low Frequency C-BASS system, another Geospectrum product, in order to achieve long range communications.

With LRAM and C-BASS a ship can send a message to a submerged submarine operating 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km) away. (Photo: Google Maps, text added by

Long range

Talking about long range we mean really long range: 1,000 nautical miles. “But it can also be done at an extremely short distance: 10 yards,” Sean Kelly says. “LRAM enables communications with divers, unmanned underwater vehicles and submarines.”

Thanks to LRAM it is possible to send messages to submarines from shore, but also by ships. This means a commander of a task group which includes a submarine can also send messages. “If a submarine is part of a task group, that specific submarine still mainly operates on its own and receives messages perhaps once a day or every few days,” Kelly says. “However there can be significant change in a day or in a few hours.”

An LRAM broadcast using C-BASS will stand out, however the great distances being covered in all directions has the advantage that this is of little use to an opponent: the area with a radius of 1000 nautical miles is simply too large to search for a submarine.

C-BASS family. (Photo: Geospectrum)


To be able to communicate over such great distances, an underwater transducer is needed that works at very low frequency and has a lot of power. “When we started the project, there was one similar system,” Sean Kelly recalls. “However that system had the size of a large delivery van and weighed 3 tons. Totally unsuitable for naval ships.”

“We promised to build a small system that could transmit at 40 Hz, which is extremely low, with a power of 200 dB. Some experts said we couldn’t do it and said we could bring the system over once it was finished and they would explain why it didn’t work, ” Kelly says.

“So we started developing it and it became a device with a diameter of one meter, weighing 300 kg transmitting at 40 Hz. The power was more than 200 dB. We showed it to the  previously mentioned experts and they immediately bought two. It is a breakthrough in underwater acoustics. ”

Then there were the at sea trials. They were a success, the small device could send and receive messages over a distance of 1,000 nautical miles.

C-BASS transmitter in LRAM system put into the water by a ship. (Photo: Geospectrum)

Text messages

However, submarines still cannot stream videos; only very short text messages are possible. “It’s more like encoded Morse code,” Kelly explains. “We have 16,000 pre-programmed messages in the system, which the sender can choose from. There is also a method to create your own messages, but it is actually not designed for that. ”

So the bandwidth is limited, but still much more than that used during Cold War submarine broadcasting, Kelly says. “An ELF broadcast station costs billions of dollars, your radio frequency antennas have to be miles long. LRAM costs just a fraction, can be put on a ship, is highly mobile and has much more bandwidth.”

In addition, the system is designed to be reliable, because typically the sender does not get a return message from the submarine.

Unless the submarine is in distress. Kelly: “Some navies are also interested in LRAM from a safety perspective. A submarine that is in distress or lying on the seabed can then send a message about its status and its position. ”

The sea will remain a challenging environment for a long time. However, due to the latest advances in anti-submarine warfare using unmanned vessels and sub sea communication, things will really change under water.

This is a sponsored article. With a sponsored article, a client chooses the subject of the article. Geospectrum paid to write this article on this topic, but Geospectrum had no influence on the journalistic content.

HNLMS Evertsen to join UK taskgroup to Japan

22 - 03 - 2021 / Navy News / 0 comments

Author: Jaime Karremann

The Air Defense and Command Frigate HNLMS Evertsen will pay a port visit to Japan with the UK taskgroup, a spokesman for the navy said this morning after questions from Both the Dutch and British navy do not want to formally confirm whether they will sail through the South China Sea, but different route is very unlikely.

HNLMS Evertsen, filephoto. (Source: Dutch Ministry of Defence)

In 2018, then UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a Dutch warship is going to deploy alongside the 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth taskgroup. One year earlier, at the time, Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson had made public that the Royal Navy taskgroup would sail through the South China Sea.

Although the Royal Netherlands Navy didn’t comment on the South China Sea plans of the UK taskgroup, it was expected that the Dutch ship would follow HMS Queen Elizabeth through the contested waters. However, in September 2020, a Dutch navy spokesman said that ‘The Hague’ preferred a port visit in Indonesia, instead of a transit through the South-China Sea.

Today, after asked questions about the deployment, the Royal Netherlands Navy confirmed the plans to join the UK taskgroup to Japan. Although the spokesman did not confirm that the ships will sail through the South China Sea, he added that the taskgroup will act according to the Law of the Sea. Freedom of navigation is disputed in the South-China Sea.

A route from the Indian Ocean to Japan, other than through the South China Sea, could been seen as an approval to China’s claims in the South China Sea. expects that HNLMS Evertsen will sail through the South China Sea alongside HMS Queen Elizabeth and its UK and US escorts.