New destroyers enhance European navies

In recent years, many European navies have undergone quiet but nonetheless impressive enhancements. A number of imposing new aircraft carriers, landing platforms, warships and submarines have been introduced, particularly in the Royal Navy, the French Marine Nationale, Italy’s Marina Militare, the Deutsche Marine, the Armada Española, and the Koninklijke Marine of the Netherlands. These vessels of war hold some of the most lethal and advanced naval weaponry and radar equipment in the world—on par or exceeding that of even the United States Navy; some ships have even left American observers ‘shaken and shocked’. In fact, so many new classes have been recently completed, laid down, and ordered, that it would be inappropriate to deal with all of them all at once. In this entry, therefore, we shall deal with what are perhaps the most stunning two classes of warship, the Type 45 ‘Daring’ class and the Horizon class—both potent destroyers—which will enter service with the British, French and Italian navies in the next few years.

Destroyers are one of the most important types of warship in any modern fleet, particularly those equipped with far larger vessels whose role is to project force over extensive distances. As a class of vessel in its own right, the first destroyer was developed by Fernando Villaamil, a Spanish naval officer and engineer, as a defence against the newly emerging threat from torpedo boats to pre-Dreadnought battleships in the early 1880s. His design was laid down in 1886, and commissioned into the Spanish fleet a year later. Called Destructor, the new gunboat had a displacement of a mere 315 tonnes, was armed with a just a handful of cannon and five torpedo tubes, but had a speed of approximately twenty-two knots, which gave it sufficient thrust to hunt down the new torpedo boats. Built in British shipyards, the vessel’s design was studied closely by the Admiralty in London, and later influenced the first generations of British destroyers—like HMS Havock, entering service in 1894. Against the role of these early destroyers, the modern destroyer’s role is to provide an aerial umbrella to defend larger ships against enemy attack by warplanes and anti-ship missiles. The Falklands War, the first naval conflict of the missile age, showed just how advanced anti-ship missiles had become by the early 1980s, and the French-designed Exocet missile proved to be a lethal threat to even the most advanced British vessels. HMS Sheffield, then a modern Type 42 destroyer, was struck by such a warhead with a considerable loss of life. Some of the lessons learned were implemented in the second half of the 1980s, although many countries already had large fleets of destroyers designed and built in the 1970s.

The Type 45 and Horizon destroyers were conceived in the late 1980s under the pretext of the NFR-90 (New Frigate for the 1990s) programme. This project included seven countries, and aimed to develop a new generation of air-defence warship; however, differing needs led the United States and United Kingdom to pull out of the programme, which subsequently faltered. Britain, France and Italy then went ahead to begin the Horizon Common Generation Frigate project in 1992, but London eventually withdrew—again citing different requirements—and went its own way. While Britain wanted ‘go-anywhere’ vessels, capable of producing a defensive ‘bubble’ over entire fleets, France did not need such a requirement due to the projected capacity of its new aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. Further, Italy’s navy, still operating primarily under air cover provided by the Italian airforce in the Mediterranean Sea, did not want such expensive and powerful ships either. Britain went ahead on its own, and began developing the Type 45 in 1999.

Both classes of ship, however, would eventually come to use similar or identical radar and weapons systems, centred around the ‘phenomenal’ Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS), which utilises SAMPSON radar in the Type 45’s case, and EMPAR in the case of the Horizon. PAAMS also uses the ASTER surface-to-air missiles, which when combined with SAMPSON or EMPAR, provides an almost impervious aerial defence system, capable of protecting large fleets of vessels. Indeed, so advanced is PAAMS that it can detect and track almost every single flying object the size of a grapefruit over a radius of several-hundred kilometres. At any moment, it can fire multiple salvoes of missiles to knock numerous targets out of the sky within a radius of one hundred kilometres from the ship. So capable will the new ships be that just one of the new vessels will be more powerful than the entire current fleet of the Royal Navy’s Type 42 destroyers. Revealingly, as one of the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant-Commanders, Phil Harper, says, referring to each ship’s forty-eight ASTER missiles: ‘It doesn’t sound much, but by the time you have used them up most air forces are dead.’

Type 45 ‘Daring’ class: The Type 45 has a displacement of 7,350 tonnes, which makes it heavier than some types of World War II cruiser. Each vessel is 154.4 metres long, 21.2 metres wide and has a draught of 5 metres. Yet its stealth shielding means that its radar signature is comparable to a fishing boat. Powered by Integrated Electric Propulsion—the first system of its kind in the world—the vessels can ‘comfortably’ reach speeds of over thirty knots, and have a range of 13,000 kilometres. With PAAMS and armed with forty-eight ASTER missiles, a 114 millimetre long-range naval gun, and Phalanx close-in weapons systems, the ‘Daring class’, according to the former First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, will ‘be the Royal Navy’s most capable destroyer ever, and will enter service later this decade as the best air defence ship in the world.’ Indeed, these weapons systems will be further enhanced with heavy machine-guns, decoys, and a Lynx attack helicopter or Merlin support helicopter. While primarily designed to defend the two massive new British aircraft carriers, due to come into service in 2014 and 2016 respectively, the Type 45s are also capable of multi-purpose use and are deployable anywhere in the world. Eight Type 45s are planned for construction, with the first, HMS Daring, already under sea trials. The other five vessels of the first batch—costing £6 billion (€8.8 billion)—are to be named HMS Dauntless, HMS Diamond, HMS Dragon, HMS Defender and HMS Duncan.

As BAe Systems puts it, which designed and is building the vessels:

The Type 45 anti-air warfare destroyers will provide the backbone of the Royal Navy’s air defences for much of the first half of the twenty-first century. They will be able to engage a large number of targets simultaneously and defend aircraft carriers or groups of ships, such as an amphibious landing force, against the strongest future threats from the air. A versatile warship, the Type 45 will provide unprecedented detection and defensive capability and vastly improved living standards when the first of class, [HMS] Daring, enters service in 2009. They will be capable of contributing to worldwide maritime and joint operations in multi-threat environments, providing a specialist air-warfare capability.

Horizon class: Like the Type 45, the Horizon class of destroyer will also be a state-of-the-art naval platform. While its EMPAR radar system will have lesser range than SAMPSON, its effect within the covered area will be comparably lethal for any aerial object attempting hostile penetration of the warship’s defensive perimeter. Four ships—costing €3 billion (£2.3 billion)—of the Horizon class are due to be completed: France has named its two vessels Forbin and Chevalier Paul, while Italy’s are to be called Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio. Three ships have so far been launched, and are undergoing sea trials. Each ship will displace 5,600 tonnes; each has a length of 152.8 metres, a width of 20.3 metres and a draught of 5.4 metres. Equipped with two gas turbines, the Horizons will be able to cruise at a maximum speed of twenty-nine knots, while having a range of 13,000 kilometres if cruising at eighteen knots. French ships will be equipped with two 76 millimetre general purpose naval guns and eight Exocet missile launchers, while their Italian counterparts will be have one more naval gun and TESEO missile launchers. As with the Type 45s, the Italian and French variants will have decoys, close-in weapons systems and torpedo launchers. The Horizon class will also carry either a NH90 or EH101 attack helicopter for surface-to-air and anti-submarine warfare.

What is clear is that these two formidable new warship classes are a step-change in European naval capabilities. With a combined total of twelve destroyers, they provide more than sufficient and future-proof air defence for any European naval expeditionary force. Only the United States Navy’s future Zumwalt class of heavy destroyer will match them but these projected vessels are primed for land attack rather than aerial defence. This is one area where the European destroyers are less capable. The Type 45s may need to be re-calibrated if necessary so that they can fire cruise missiles, thereby enhancing their land attack capacity. This should not, however, be a problem, for their vertical missile launchers are capable of this task with some adaptations. The Horizon class may also need similar adaptation, although the Marine Nationale is rumoured to have planned to equip its ships with modified Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

What, however, can be learnt from the Type 45 and Horizon projects? More than might at first be thought. First, instead of several projects, it would be more cost effective and efficient if European navies collaborated more closely in designing integrated naval platforms. The potential economies of scale and technological expertise obtainable may in some cases dramatically enhance the development times and costs of large naval programmes. Second, as European navies operate progressively more closely under the European Security and Defence Policy, it is essential that interoperability be enhanced. Standardised naval and military equipment, that is to say the same warships, fighter-bombers and missiles being used by all European Union Member States, instead of numerous national projects, is clearly the way forward. Third, the larger the project—and naval programmes are often the most extensive in terms of research and development—the more effective and potent the European defence-industrial base will be. Finally, the lower the cost and the greater the efficiency means, at least potentially, that more warships can be acquired and maintained. With Russia, China and many other Asian navies arming themselves quite rapidly with growing fleets of frigates and corvettes, strong European naval forces are necessary to sustain the West’s aura of power, while also keeping the sealanes open and our trade routes secure.

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