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Turkey’s STM Showcases New MILGEM Ada Corvette Variant

In June, Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik unveiled its proposal for the Brazilian Navy’s corvette program, i.e. the Tamandaré Class Corvette (CCT). In partnership with the Brazilian companies Estaleiro BrasFELS Ltda., Fundação Ezute, Omnisys Engenharia Ltda as well as Western Europe’s Thales, STM is now offering a modified variant of the MILGEM Ada corvette.

STM is competing with a wide range of vendors, including BAE Systems, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), Damen Shipyards, Naval Group and others, all of whom have partnered with Brazilian suppliers to bring the CCT to fruition.[1] Brazil will spend $1.6 billion US on four new ships, the first is due from 2021.[2]

In contrast to the standard MILGEM Ada, STM’s CCT proposal incorporates a vertical launch system (VLS) in the bow. The Brazilian Navy required a VLS system in the bid, one that can deploy the MBDA Sea-Ceptor (i.e. Common Anti-Air Modular Missile) short-to-medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.[3] The principal anti-air warfare (AAW) element of the standard Ada centers on one aft-mounted RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) point defence missile system (PDMS), which offers a range of 9 km.[4]

STM’s CCT proposal also includes other design changes, namely halving the Ada’s anti-ship missile (AShM) load from a two quad-cell (2×4) load-out to two dual-cell (2×2) cannisters. In addition, STM swapped-out the RAM PDMS with an aft-mounted close-in-weapon-systems (CIWS), possibly the Rheinmetall Oerlikon Millennium Gun. Interestingly, the STM has essentially supplanted the Ada’s US-origin munitions with an assortment of commercially-available Western European and/or Brazilian alternatives.

Finally, STM has also altered the Ada’s superstructure. The most noticeable changes include a composite frame in front of the bridge area (behind the VLS) as well as a shortened mid-section. The CCT also has a heavier displacement (2,970 tons vs. 2,300 tons) and longer hull (103.4 m vs. 99.5 m) than the Ada.[5] [6] With Thales as the principal electronics partner, the STM CCT’s main air and surface surveillance radar, combat management system (CMS) and other onboard sensors and electronics are likely from Thales.

The CCT is the second MILGEM variant STM has offered to the Latin American market. In December 2017, STM offered the CF3500 to the Colombian Navy for the Plataforma Estratégica de Superficie (PES) bid. In addition to a displacement of 3,500 tons, STM retained the Ada’s superstructure aesthetics in the CF3500, but the CF3500 was the largest of the MILGEM designs. Interestingly, STM did not load as many munitions to the CF3500 as it had for the I-Class, another MILGEM frigate variant (i.e. the I-Class is slated to carry as many as 16 subsonic AShM while the CF3500 kept the Ada’s 2×4 configuration). The CF3500 was also the largest (in terms of displacement) in the MILGEM family.

Despite the clear aesthetic similarities, the CF3500 was likely a major redesign (akin to the I-Class) than a scaled-up or modified Ada. However, STM’s CCT proposal appears to be a ‘horizontal’ modification of the Ada than a major redesign. This idea is important because if the CCT’s changes primarily affect the Ada’s superstructure and non-hull or keel foundations, then it could negate the need for as many structural and design tests and certifications (to determine the center-of-gravity, floatation, etc).

In other words, the STM CCT could be a relatively affordable or cost-effective change from the standard-fare Ada. If so, the Pakistan Navy (PN), which is (or at least was with the Turkish Undersecretary of Defence Industries claiming in May 2018 that a deal will be reached) negotiating for the MILGEM Ada could possess an alternative VLS-equipped corvette option based on the same platform.[7] Despite its limitations, the VLS-equipped MILGEM Ada could be an effective workhorse platform for the PN.

MILGEM: Design Modification vs. New Design

Simply, a modified Ada design would be less costly than a new MILGEM variant (such as the CF3500 or the I-Class frigates). The clearest sign of a design modification in the CCT (instead of a new design) is that the CCT has evident signs of trade-offs compared to the Ada. For example, while the CCT has VLS-based AAW capabilities, STM had halved the AShM load from eight missiles to four. This is a capability reduction, albeit from a payload standpoint – the CCT still has anti-ship warfare (AShW) capabilities, just less than the Ada.

Granted, it is not clear if the trade-off was out-of-necessity. In fact, the Brazilian Navy’s generic mock-ups of the CCT also show an allotment for only four AShMs. On the other hand, the CCT’s mid-ship section (i.e. where the AShMs are located) does seem to be smaller than the Ada. If this is the case, it would not be at all surprising: the bow-mounted VLS has added weight to the front, so STM would have had to shift more of the ship (e.g. bridge, mess, etc) to the center in order to retain the center-of-gravity (COG).

In terms of the VLS, the CCT likely has space for the MBDA SYLVER, i.e. the deployment system of MBDA’s SeaCeptor SAM. It appears that the CCT can sustain an eight-cell VLS, but as the SeaCeptor can be ‘quad-packed’ the CCT should maintain a respectable short-to-medium AAW coverage via 32 deployable SAMs.

Brazil’s budget for the CCT – i.e. $1.6 billion US – would place the cost of each CCT at $400 million US. This is a markedly higher price-point than the estimated $250 million US Pakistan is to spend on its MILGEMs.[8] However, it is likely that a significant driver of the CCT’s price-point is the Brazil’s decision to source the MBDA SeaCeptor, which is not only a new AAW solution (i.e. with limited scale thus far) but also an import from the European Union and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the CCT appears to have a deeper level of transfer-of-technology (ToT) and Brazilian industrial engagement, which could involve various overhead costs in the form of infrastructure, training and related imports or local development.


Monthly Report: Why the MILGEM Ada? (Quwa Premium)

Quwa’s detailed analysis of why the Pakistan Navy is seeking the MILGEM Ada corvette in its anti-submarine warfare (ASW)-optimized form instead of an anti-air warfare (AAW)-capable multi-mission asset | Read More


 

Could Pakistan Get a MILGEM Ada with VLS?

Undoubtedly, the CCT is costlier than the Ada, but not necessarily by a margin of $150 m per ship. On the other hand, the Type 054A frigate (a larger design with immediately greater AShW and AAW capabilities as well as room for upgrades) could have cost the PN $350 to $400 m per ship. Thus, cost flexibility in the CCT is limited, i.e. if it crosses a certain amount (e.g. $300 m) it would be infeasible for the PN. However, the costs of the required radar and CMS to manage a VLS-based AAW capability should have already been absorbed into the PN’s program today, so the added price would be the cost of (1) incorporating the VLS and (2) acquiring, integrating and certifying a SAM system.

The PN need not acquire a SAM as costly as the SeaCeptor. In fact, South Africa’s Denel Dynamics sold the Umkhonto IR (20 km) to the Algerian Navy for $60-70 million US. Denel supplied, integrated and certified the Umkhonto IR onto two MEKO A-200AN frigates, each with 32 VLS cells.[9] Fitting each MEKO A-200AN cost Algeria $30-35 m US, but the cost also included Denel Group’s proprietary VLS and fire-control system (FCS). In other words, it was a complete package, though the missiles themselves were likely the leading drivers of the cost. Thus, the cost of fitting each VLS-equipped Ada could cost $15-20 m per ship.

South Africa is a relevant factor to discuss in this regard (and of Pakistani defence matters generally). This is because South Africa is among a handful of states willing to engage with Pakistan on defence as a matter of policy. In March 2017, the two countries had even signed a Memorandum-of-Understanding (MoU) to push the “acquisition of defence equipment as well as cooperation in Research and Development (R&D), Transfer of Technology, Co-production/Joint Ventures in public as well as private sector.”[10] In fact, Denel Group had even listed Pakistan as one of ten target markets to pursue (while also omitting India) in its financial report for 2016-2017.[11] South Africa is an accessible and cost-effective supply option.

Thus, the decisive constraint would not be the cost of the SAM or VLS, but the cost of making the MILGEM Ada compatible with a VLS in the first place. Ideally, one would prefer Brazil embracing the design so that STM can scale the overhead cost of modifying the design. However, Naval Group and Saab are the stronger suppliers in Brazil, with the two already engaged in supplying it with new submarines and combat aircraft, respectively. In other words, the chances of the PN leveraging Brazil to reduce its own outlay are unlikely.

It is difficult to imagine the PN skipping on a VLS-equipped Ada if it were feasible. Granted, the PN program had begun in earnest in 2016 when these design changes were not available, STM could have been making them at the time. Nonetheless, the variable of new design work (even at a modification level) along with the time it would take to construct, integrate and test the first-in-class could deter the PN.

However, with the Type 054As arriving by 2021 (replacing the Type 21s from frontline service), the PN could have space to extend the scope of the MILGEM in terms of the time and capability. For example, it will be costlier to shift to the CCT, but a longer turnaround period (e.g. 12 years instead of 10) could enable the PN to amortize the cost over more installments. In fact, with VLS, the design in question would have more longevity from a future capability standpoint, which makes an extended timeline tenable.

Why a VLS-Equipped MILGEM?

Quwa has consistently asserted that the PN’s objective with its surface fleet is not sea-control, but rather, to strengthen its anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) posture. Shifting to a VLS-equipped Ada would not change this perspective; rather, it would strengthen it. The perspective to examine the issue is from that of design longevity and optimizing expenditure. The longevity stems from having another ship capable of sustaining area-wide AAW coverage, potentially by adding density to the overall umbrella.

For example, a Type 054A can provide 40 km in coverage, while the Ada with VLS could (via the Umkhonto IR) provide 20 km. If the two ships are upgraded mid-way into their lives, their respective coverages could increase. But with a ship unable to handle VLS, the PN would risk being left with a static capability (at least in terms of AAW) set that does not improve. In this case, spending $250 m per ship would not be prudent, especially as Pakistan could be left amortizing through much of the new ships’ lives.

The rationale for adding another AAW layer is to increase the PN’s defensibility against supersonic-cruising AShM, namely the BrahMos. Ultimately, the goal should be to maintain as many threatening platforms as possible, thus removing the burden on any single type to be the only credible threat. For example, if the PN’s surface fleet is a non-factor, then the burden would be placed on the submarines, which frees India’s navy and air force to focus on those after neutralizing the surface fleet. In a way, the PN could use its FACs to deploy a diverse set of AShM (e.g. subsonic short-range, subsonic long-range and possibly supersonic-cruising), while using larger ships – i.e. the Type 054A and MILGEM – to shield them from aerial and sub-surface threats (though the large ships would have their own AShMs for surface threats as well).

The more complex it becomes with neutralizing any one PN composite fleet (i.e. a Type 054A, two F-22P and/or MILGEM, and variable Azmat FAC numbers), the more the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force would have to commit in the way of resources to address it (and other composite fleets). The Azmat FAC can be particularly concerning if the ability to deploy a surface-based nuclear asset – i.e. placing a miniaturized warhead in the Harba dual-AShM and land-attack cruise missile (LACM) – is tenable.

That tactical complexity can be had by installing analogous capability to the BrahMos (e.g. the CM-302 or CX-1) while also having at least a partially capable method of countering it. In terms of the latter, a layered AAW umbrella helps through redundancy in sensors and SAMs to track and engage incoming objects. The composite fleet cannot control the sea-lane, but it can target other ships (using AShM) at long-range. But stopping it would require neutralizing it in its comfort-zone, in which it would have its own early-warning and air, surface and sub-surface intercept capabilities as well as high-altitude coverage from the PAF.

As it stands with the standard-fare Ada, the PN would have an effective AShW and ASW asset to help the Azmat FACs, but the AAW would be confined to PDMS or CIWS. Interestingly, it may be possible to equip the Azmat FACs with PDMS, so the Ada as-is would not add AAW value. However, at a relatively low added-cost, the Ada could (with VLS) provide an entire AAW layer along with AShW and ASW. In fact, SAMs will advance in the coming decades, which means the PN could simply leverage an existing asset (i.e. the Ada with VLS) to take advantage of wider technology advancements instead of acquiring a new platform.

STM – or Turkey’s – underlying design work for the MILGEM was aimed at fulfilling long-term objectives, but through iteration. The Ada is the first in that family, and though nothing stops the PN (bar perennial fiscal constraints) from procuring new versions, it would be a fiscally prudent choice to start from a higher plane from the onset. First, relative obsolescence can be pushed to a later period, potentially with a next-generation design three to four decades from the first ship. Second, a fully capable platform from the start will let the PN leverage scale infrastructure/logistics and training expenditure through more ships of the same type instead of having to expand the fleet with a different model (due to the first being limited).

[1] “Brazilian Navy Receives Nine Commercial Proposals for its Tamandaré Class Corvette Project.” DefPost. 19 June 2018. URL: https://defpost.com/brazilian-navy-receives-nine-commercial-proposals-tamandare-class-corvette-project/ (Last Accessed: 22 June 2018).

[2] “Brazil issues request for proposals for Tamandaré-class corvettes.” Naval Today. 21 December 2017. URL: https://navaltoday.com/2017/12/21/brazil-issues-request-for-proposals-for-tamandare-class-corvettes/ (Last Accessed: 22 June 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Promotional Material. “MILGEM Corvette.” Delta Marine. URL: http://www.deltamarine.com.tr/pdf/products/Naval%20Ships/Naval_Ships_Portfolio_Delta_Web.pdf (Last Accessed: 22 June 2018).

[5] Delta Marine

[6] DefPost. June 2018.

[7] Interview with Dr. İsmail Demir, Undersecretary of Defence Industries (SSM). 09 May 2018. Statements are in Turkish. URL: https://youtu.be/oAYODDYJJGA?t=6m30s (Last Accessed: 13 May 2018).

[8] Göksel Yıldırım. “MILGEM’s $1 billion export journey”. Anadolu Agency. 11 May 2017. URL: https://aa.com.tr/tr/ekonomi/milgemin-1-milyar-dolarlik-ihracat-yolculugu/815910 (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[9] Denel Financial Report 2016-2017. p.117 URL: http://admin.denel.co.za/uploads/562929802b924b923510bbcc59267a71.pdf (Last Accessed: 18 February 2018).

[10]  Joy Nonzukiso Peter. “A memorandum of understanding on Defence and Defence Industrial Cooperation with Pakistan”. 29 March 2017. Department of Defence of the Republic of South Africa. URL: http://www.dod.mil.za/news/2017/03/mou_pakistan.htm (Last Accessed: 18 February 2018).

[11] Denel Financial Report 2016-2017. p.10 URL: http://admin.denel.co.za/uploads/562929802b924b923510bbcc59267a71.pdf (Last Accessed: 18 February 2018).

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