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Canadian Military Procurement – Canadian Surface Combatant Project – March 2014

Over The Horizon  –  Next Generation Multi-role Absalon Destroyers

A Modest Proposal  by  Jim Dorschner

A well-earned retirement looms for the three remaining Royal Canadian Navy Iroquois class destroyers built in the 1970s. The search is on for a suitable replacement under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).  In January of  2012, the Government of  Canada reached agreement with Irving Shipbuilding Inc of  Halifax to build the $26.2B combat vessel work package of  the NSPS, covering "up to" 15 Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC). While not yet defined, this will likely produce a mix of 12 frigates and three destroyers that reflects the current Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) fleet.

Given the increasingly urgent need to replace the Iroquois class air defence destroyers, the new class of  ships must  be built and brought into service expeditiously and economically. This translates into a proven design that is in service with an allied navy and can be built in Canada with minimal modifications to satisfy Canadian requirements, which already exceed current Iroquois class capabilities.

Multi-Purpose Destroyers

The next class of  RCN destroyers will serve into the 2050s. Given the current and emerging operational requirements, this new destroyer class will need the built-in flexibility to perform multiple missions on short notice with little special preparation or modifications.  Missions will include those of the current Iroquois class – serving as area air defence destroyers and Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I) platforms for national and multi- national maritime task forces. Additional missions the ships must be capable of are: support to Special Operations Forces (SOF); acting as afloat C3I headquarters and support platforms for Joint and Combined littoral operations that may include forces ashore and some distance inland; conduct of and support to Arctic sovereignty or larger-scale Arctic SAR operations; support to multi- national training and engagement missions; and international humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

While there are a number of  destroyer-type designs out there today that could adequately meet these challenges, the optimum solution for the RCN is a  'Made in Canada' version of the proven Absalon class, originally built in Denmark by the Odense Steel Shipyard for the Royal Danish Navy (RDN). Canada should take the basic Absalon design and incorporate lessons learned  by the RDN over the past decade to produce a  'Multi-Purpose Destroyer' incorporating common Canadian Surface Combatant systems and weapons. [1]

HDMS Absalon  (L16) and Esbern Snare  (L17) have operated successfully in Arctic waters off Greenland, in the Mediterranean, in the Arabian Sea and off the Somali coast; and as part of  Standing NATO Maritime Groups. Not only can Absalon provide the range of  firepower options required by the RCN, they are excellent C3I 'flagship' platforms for naval task forces or for joint/combined expeditionary task forces.

The Absalon design captures many of the requirements laid out in the original Joint Support Ship (JSS) concept under NSPS that were lost when a more conventional replenishment ship (AOR) design – in the form of a Type 702 Berlin class derivative – was selected for the RCN.

The Absalons make superb SOF platforms.  They can operate two  CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters (or CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopters). The flight deck can accommodate the RCAF's new CH-147F Chinook heavy lift helicopter. The ship carries two exceptional CB-90 fast assault craft internally (which are launched from a stern hatch) [3] plus two RHIBs in davits. With a crew of 100, the Absalons have comfortable berthing for 100 additional personnel, or up to 200 if  necessary.

With the added ability to Roll-On/Roll-off up to 55 vehicles in the ship' flex deck, including Leopard 2 tanks and LAVs, Absalons can rapidly transport the heavy equipment of an Army battlegroup to 'marry up' with troops delivered by air. That 'flex deck' can also accommodate a full hospital. Combined with its transport capability, this makes an Absalon ideal for humanitarian and disaster relief missions. The same transport capabilities suit Absalons for other roles.

Other tasks suiting Absalons would include serving as a mother ship for Arctic sovereignty operations, or as a  regional engagement and  training  platform in places like the Caribbean, Central America, or West Africa. The Danes have proven Absalon as a support ship. Some modification would be required to adapt the Absalon hull to full combat role of a destroyer.

To successfully function in the role of an area air defence destroyer, the Absalon will need more propulsive power and a heavier, more specialized armament. To achieve combat vessel acceleration, Absalon needs the power of  the RDN's new frigates, the related Ivar Huitfeldt class. By way of comparison, an Ivar Huitfeldt frigate has four  MTU 20V 8000 M70 diesels. Absalon has only two such engines. [2]  The solution is to create room with a hull stretch.

A modest hull stretch amidships would make extra space for the larger engine rooms a fully combat-capable Absalon class would need  (and the improved hull form would also bestow hydrodynamic benefits). A hull stretch also has the potential to improve stability. Were the stretch of  the Absalon's upper superstructure located  forward of  the main mast, that mast would be situated closer to the centre of the stretched hull than it is on an RDN Absalon.[3]

As a support ship, the Absalon is very well armed – the RDN Absalons can be armed with a variety of weapons, many of them in 'Standard Flex' modules that can be quickly installed or removed as needed. But an area air defence destroyer needs rather more. Again the solution comes from the Ivar Huitfeldt class frigate. [4]  By adopting the Ivar Huitfeldt's sensor suite and armament, our proposed  'Canadianized' Absalon will combine the best of  both designs.

The hull stretch is of benefit here as well. A vertical launch system for RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) can be incorporated in the upper superstructure. [5] The Absalon already has great flexibility in gun armament thanks to its 'Standard Flex' modules. The RDN Absalon are armed with the 127mm Mk 45 lightweight gun with a conventional range of over 24 kms. The accuracy and range of this main gun can be boosted significantly with Extended Range Guided Munitions (Mk 171 ERGM). Directly behind and above the main gun is one of two defensive Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS). The Danes use the 35mm Millenium Gun as a CIWS. But Canada has been using 20mm Phalanx Block 1B in this role. Another CIWS option for Canada would be using the Bofors 57mm Mk 3 gun [6] in that forward position.

Besides the ESSM, other Absalon armament options familiar to the RCN are Harpoon SSMs and Mk 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes. RDN Absalons also have Lv M/93 Stinger SAMs for point defence SAMs and pintle-mounted 12.7 heavy machine guns. But DND is desirous of a Naval Remote Weapon Station (NRWS) to fill the HMG role aboard its surface warships.

There are an array of options being considered here. But, it's important to remember, that the people behind all of  these Danish naval projects – Odense Maritime Technology – are now sub-contractors on the Canadian Surface Combatant project. Absalon drawings are available directly from OMT as is access to details of the on-going Ivar Huitfeldt class frigate project.

RCN homeports would remain the same for 'Canadianized' Absalons – CFB Halifax and CFB Esquimalt. Given the likelihood of  replicating current  RCN destroyer force levels with three Absalons, a decision would have to be reached about  the future balance of  that destroyer force between the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast. Regardless of basing, RCN Absalons could deploy independently or as Leader of  a Naval Task Group with an AOR and  frigates.

Developing a 'Canadianized' Absalon would expand the scope of the CSC project, giving the RCN both a direct replacement for the area air defence destroyer as requested  plus some of the combat support capabilities lost when JSS became a more conventional AOR design. If the degree of transport provided by Absalon is modest compared to the original JSS, this is compensated for by having a fully combat-capable support ship. Absalon would be capable of not only defending itself  but directly providing fire support for troops landing or ashore. With Absalon as a destroyer replacement design, the RCN would gain capabilities it doesn't currently possess and the risks associated with the Canadian Surface Combatant project are thanks to a result of a proven design acting as the starting point for the RCN's next warship.

* NB: This Absalon image was heavily modified from an original produced for Billing Boats.

[1] A stand-alone Destroyer Replacement Program (DRP) was first mentioned as a branch of the Single-Class Surface Combatant project. SCSC became the Canadian Surface Combatant project and replacement of  Iroquois class destroyers was re-absorbed into the CSC project.

[2] Better known as fast ferry powerplants, 4 x MTU 20V 8000 M70 would produce totalling 44,000 hp (32,800 kW) at 1,150 rpm. That's probably more power than our stretched Absalon destroyer would really need but allows for possibile options such as greater hull protection.

[3] In the forward position, the Ivar Huitfeldt class have a Thales i-Mast with multi-function X-band APAR (which could not be accommodated for the Halifax Class Modernization) and, on the aft mast, the Smart-L long-range search radar. Although not shown on the image of our hypothetical Absalon, Thales offers the i-Mast 500 with a SHF satcom antenna on top

[4] Like the Absalon, Ivar Huitfeldt class frigates employ 'Standard Flex' armament modules.

[5] In the artwork at the top of the page, Mk 41 VLS of the type now used on Iroquois class destroyers is shown. This would allow SM-2 missiles to be fired. However, the RCN states a preference to standardize on the ESSMs. In that case, the Mk 48 VLS from the Ivar Huitfeldt class. As it happens, that is the same vertical launch system used on Halifax class frigates.

[6] The Bofors 57mm Mk 3 acts as the main gun in the Halifax Class Modernization upgrade.

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