SKJOLD Class Fast Attack Craft [FAC] Part II

The Skjold class are equipped with primary and secondary machinery control rooms, which also act as the ship’s damage control stations. They provide access to the highly automated L-3 MAPPS integrated platform management system, which features a number of multi-function consoles and high-resolution colour screens, both pictured here. These allow the small crew to operate and monitor all the ship’s equipment.

PROPULSION

The Skjold class was originally designed for a combined diesel or gas (CODOG) propulsion system. However, the RNN decided to change this to a combined gas and gas (COGAG) turbine configuration with two Pratt & Whitney ST18M and two Pratt & Whitney ST40M gas turbines driving two Kamewa 80S2 water-jets. Each hull has one propulsion train incorporating two gas turbines, a water-jet and a reduction gearbox. Adapting the ST18 and ST40 aircraft engines for use in a marine environment and the complexities of the associated COGAG layout proved to be a difficult process but was justified by the higher performance and better fuel economy offered across the full spectrum of different speeds and operating profiles. The ships have a range of 800 nautical miles at 40 knots and an endurance of around eight days. The reason for selecting water-jets as the main propulsion system was due to the combination of their favourable acoustic properties, low draught requirements and excellent manoeuvring capabilities.

Operation of the surface-effect air cushion is in the hands of a stabilisation system provided by VT Maritime Dynamics. This includes a ride control system that regulates the pressure of the air cushion between the two hulls that is created by a pair of 800kW lift fans driven by two MTU 12V 183 TE92 diesels in the bow. Flexible rubber ‘finger’ type seals in the bow and a ‘bag’ seal in the stern prevent air from leaking out of the cushion formed between the two side hulls. Vent valves and a seal management system in the stern, combined with a variable geometry inlet to the lift fans, control air flow and cushion pressure, improving the ship’s sea-keeping by minimising pitch and heave accelerations. The ability to manipulate the air cushion, combined with the water-jet propulsion, make the Skjolds both easy to handle and seaworthy. There is the option of choosing between speed and comfort, or a compromise. The class can maintain excellent sea-keeping qualities at 45 knots in Sea State 3 as well as achieving 60 knots in Sea State 1. The installation of a replenishment at sea (RAS) rig was approved following conclusion of a design review in mid-2012, offering the prospect of longer endurance.

COMBAT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

The Skjold class is equipped with a SENIT 2000 combat management system (CMS) and associated KD2000 multi-function consoles. It is a derivative of the SENIT 8 system installed onboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The SENIT 2000 CMS is, however, tailored specifically for coastal warfare, with emphasis on anti-surface weapons, passive detection, tactical data-links and fast response to ‘pop-up’ air threats.

Jointly developed by DCNS and Kongsberg, SENIT 2000 migrates existing functionality to a new open architecture that is based on PowerPC processors and the Linux operating system. It provides the ships with a processing capability comparable to that of a frigate. The CMS incorporates five consoles that feature a new generation of fully multi-functional LCD flat screen displays. This is claimed to be the first such application of this technology in a warship’s combat information centre.

SENIT 2000 performs all usual combat management functions, including the operation of weapons, sensors, data links and navigational equipment. It makes use of an extensive decision support system, capable of mission planning and execution, and of holding intelligence, cartography, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Electro-Optical (EO) databases. The system also includes extensive realtime recording and debriefing facilities, and provides comprehensive, on-board simulation and functionality for single operator, multi-operator, command and squadron level training. There is also, a sixth, additional console that has been provided for installation of a specific Norwegian command and control system.

EFFECTORS

Although originally classified as fast attack craft the Skjolds are now often referred to as ‘littoral combat corvettes’, due to their powerful combat suite. This reflects their primary purpose as fast anti-surface warfare platforms. For long-range engagement, the units rely on KDA’s Nytt Sjømals Missil (NSM) anti-ship cruise missile.6 The system consists of two quadruple launchers aft of the deck house, which elevate to fire and then retract to maintain the low RCS. The missile efflux is vented through an opening in the vessel’s stern. The missiles are equipped with a programmable intelligent multi-purpose fuze (PIMF) semi-armour piercing warhead of 120kg, GPS-aided mid-course guidance with an advanced dual-band imaging infrared (IIR) seeker for automatic target recognition. Range is c. 185km (100 nautical miles). Their digital flight control computer allows the missile to follow the complex contours of fjords before seeking its target. Their IIR-seeker detects, classifies and selects targets and, in its terminal approach, manoeuvres the missile randomly to defeat close-in defences. The NSM test firing and evaluation programme included a first firing at sea in October 2012 and a successful test against the target vessel Trondheim in June 2013.

COMMUNICATIONS

The Skjolds mount a state-of-the-art communications system integrated by the German Aeromaritime group. Engineered to give an optimal solution in terms of communication performance and compactness, it includes HF, VHF and UHF radio links, as well as satellite communications, and supports NATO Link 11 and 16 connectivity. From mid-2014 onwards, the class is being equipped with the Thales’ SURFSAT-S satellite communication system, which includes connections with the Inmarsat and Iridium civilian networks as well as military satellites. The overall communications system allows class members to have a secure means of sharing an overall operational picture, thereby supporting closely entwined operations.

CREW

Operating the Skjolds is personnel-intensive. Although the IMPS and IBS provide a very high level of automation and make the performance of onboard tasks both accurate and easy, the carefully organised employment of every member of the crew is imperative in order to supervise and control the class’s systems effectively. Initially the ships were designed for a crew of sixteen but, after the lessons learned from Skjold’s deployment to the United States, it was decided to increase this to twenty-one.

As far as the accommodation is concerned there is one single cabin for the commanding officer; four double cabins for the other officers; and four-berth cabins for the petty officers and the ratings. Officers and petty officers share a wardroom while ratings have their own mess. There is a modern galley, two showers and two toilets. As no spare bunks are available, any additional personnel must sleep on improvised bunks in the wardroom or ratings’ mess. The RNN is studying possibilities to augment the number of crew because long-lasting high-intensity operations have proved to be very challenging. Commander sg Ståle Kasin – Commander Corvette Squadron Norwegian Navy – said that possible solutions could either be the introduction of ‘hot bunking’ or an increase the number of bunks: ‘Some of the cabins now have two bunks, so we’re looking into possibilities to install a third.’ During operations the crew can remain inside a nuclear-biological-chemical ‘citadel’ which encompasses the critical interior spaces, i.e. the crew’s quarters, the operations room and the bridge.

Upon the return from the United States, Commander Rune Andersen – Skjold’s commanding officer – confirmed that the living and accommodation standards were quite comfortable: ‘The interiors are spacious and comfortable. She has been our home for thirteen months now without problems. The staterooms provide comfort and privacy. We produce enough fresh water to shower and do laundry, the noise level is low and the temperature inside is nice no matter what temperature you find outside. She was just as comfortable in the Arctic waters as she was in the Caribbean.’

OPERATIONAL EXPERIENCE

The Skjold class vessels have participated in a variety of exercises and activities. Each year they take part in Exercise Flotex: a Norwegian exercise conducted each November; in Exercise Northern Coasts: an exercise which takes place in Danish, Finnish, German or Swedish waters during September; in the Joint Warrior series off the west coast of Scotland and, every second year, in the NATO Exercise Cold Response. In addition to these manoeuvres the vessels have been taking part in a variety of smaller national exercises and operations, varying from support to the police and customs, to live missile firings and air exercises.

Skjold (P960): Launched on 22 September 1998, Skjold first commissioned into the RNN on 17 April 1999. She immediately started an intensive test period focussing on electromagnetic compatibility, signature reduction, speed and sea-keeping, as well as general arrangement and layout functionality. Just three days after her handover, she joined Exercise Blue Game 1999 alongside other fast attack craft from Denmark, Germany and Norway. Although not yet fitted with her weapons and weapon control system, it was essential for the RNN to try to operate the ship just like any other fast patrol boat. During the exercise Skjold crossed the Skagerrak six times, achieving a best average speed of over 50 knots. Upon completion of the exercise, she sailed to Oslo for demonstrations to the Chief of Defence, Minister of Defence and a number of politicians. After this, she sailed to her home base at Haakonsvern for the first time. Although experiencing conditions up to Sea State 5, she was still able to maintain speeds of 40–50 knots.

In August, KDA mounted two SENIT CMS multifunction consoles, after which Skjold sailed to Stavanger where an Oto Melara 76mm/62 Super Rapid gun was installed. In this configuration the ship attended to the DSEi-99 Exhibition in London. This was followed by test firings with the gun towards the end of September. The Millennium-year started with cold weather trials in the Tromsø and Skjervøy area (Finnmark) until end-February. This was followed by further firing tests with the main gun to measure strains on the hull and further extensive trials of all the ship’s systems and equipment. During one of these exercises Skjold pushed her top speed to 59.8 knots. The gun was removed upon completion of this trial period.

In March 2000 the US Navy Special Warfare Command personnel visited the ship to assess whether the high-speed design had any relevance to developing network-centric warfare concepts, including the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme. This resulted in signature of an agreement between the US and Norwegian governments for the lease of Skjold for a twelve-month demonstration and evaluation program with the US Navy research establishments.

Prior to her departure to the United States, Skjold received a number of adjustments to her systems, including new navigation, radar, antenna and satellite equipment, as well as a device to handle US Navy type rigid inflatable boats (RIBs). The most obvious change, however, was a new colour scheme. The ship was repainted into lighter shades to reduce the surface temperature on the hull while operating in a warmer climate. Under the command of Commander Rune Andersen, Skjold departed Bergen on 4 September 2001. Calling at the Faeroe Islands and Reykjavik, she proceeded along Greenland’s eastern coast to the Eskimo village of Ammassalik. She then transited through Prince Christian Sound and called at Nanortalik and Cartwright, prior to reaching Corner Brook at the East Coast of Newfoundland. From here she sailed to Halifax, Newport, Rhode Island, and New York before arriving at the US Navy’s Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Virginia – her homeport for the next year – on 25 September. Here she became a fully integrated unit of Special Boat Squadron Two.

Skjold conducted an intensive trials programme whilst in the United States. She was used to assess the extent to which a high-speed platform of the type the ship represented could be used as a front-line ‘node’ in network-centric warfare and whether enhanced connectivity could enable such ships to undertake roles previously denied to them. The programme included simulated threats from air, surface and sub-surface sources; Special Forces and unmanned vehicle operations; and a range of instrumented tests encompassing sea-keeping, structural and signature performance. During this time, she was involved in a number of exercises. These included the mine-countermeasures focused GOMEX 02 in the Gulf of Mexico between 29 November and 14 December; and JTFEX 02-1 with the John F Kennedy (CV-67) Carrier Battle Group. Assigned to the opposition force, she reportedly managed to stay undetected and attack the aircraft carrier. Upon completion, she made several port calls in the Caribbean, conducting experimental training with the Naval Special Warfare Unit 4 SEALS Platoon at US Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Returning to Little Creek at the end of May 2002, she participated in the Fleet Battle Experiment (FBE-J) and ‘Millennium Challenge’ exercises, followed by signature testing from airborne sensors and trials with a rig for replenishment-at-sea.

By mid-August preparations were underway for Skjold’s return trip to Norway. The homeward voyage saw calls at New York, Halifax, Cape Breton in Newfoundland, Labrador in Greenland, Reykjavik, Vestmannaeyar and the Faeroes. She arrived at Haakonsvern on 27 September 2002. The US deployment demonstrated the ship’s ability to be reconfigured quickly for disparate missions, to defend herself in a littoral environment and her suitability for Special Operations. However, the ship’s limited 800 nautical mile range was a drawback, in the US Navy’s opinion.

The RNN view was more unequivocally positive. Commander Andersen – Skjold’s first commanding officer – said, ‘She is extremely manoeuvrable and capable of maintaining high speeds in rough weather. The ship has met all the requirements laid down by the Norwegian Navy prior to her design. Since her commissioning in April 1999 she has impressed us with her high performance and high availability.’

Having served as the pre-production platform test bed for more than four years, during which she sailed some 85,000 nautical miles with high technical availability, Skjold was temporarily decommissioned on 24 June 2003. She returned to Umoe Mandal to be upgraded to final production standards and to act as training platform for the other units’ crews. She was re-delivered on 29 April 2013 and one of her first foreign visits took her to Rouen, France for the ‘Armada de Liberté’ in June 2013. This voyage was followed in November by exercise Flotex 2013. Subsequently, in 2014, Skjold took part in the Cold Response series and NATO’s Exercise Unified Vision 2014.

THE WAY AHEAD

The Skjold class is capable of contributing substantially to a wide range of operations in both the littoral and in blue water. Although designed to patrol Norway’s littoral waters, the units have already proved to be amongst the most flexible assets in the RNN. In particular, thanks to state-of-the-art communications and sensor suites, they are able to make a significant contribution to international operations. As demonstrated by Skjold’s deployment to the United States, even lengthy out-of-area deployments can be sustained and their top speed of 60 knots could prove quite useful to the EU or NATO counter-piracy operations. In short, Skjold and her sisters are rapid, powerful and inter-operable general purpose combatants that will be useful for a wide range of tasks.

Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile is operational on land and at sea. It can climb and descend according to terrain when it travels over land.

Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM)

The Kongsberg NSM entered service with the Royal Norwegian Navy in 2012 and is employed by their SKJOLD class missile boats and FRIDTJOF NANSEN Class frigates. The first export order was received from Poland in 2008 for a coastal defence missile version of the system for the Polish Navy, with a second batch order being placed in late 2014. In 2015 it was announced that agreement over submarine acquisition between Germany and Norway, Kongsberg noted that: “Norwegian authorities announced that the strategic partnership for submarine acquisition expands to include Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM). The cooperation entails further development of the missile, and that the German navy intends to acquire a significant number of NSMs for its vessels. This also enables a close cooperation on joint maintenance and logistics between the German and the Norwegian navy.”

The NSM weighs 408 kg, travels at high subsonic speed, it uses a GPS/INS navigation system and has an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker with automatic target recognition, the warhead weighs 125 kg and its operational range is 185 km (range is dependent on flight profile). Emphasis has been put on signature reduction in the shaping of the missile and this is assisted by the IIR seeker being a passive system. There is also an air-launched version of the weapon known as the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), this has been designed to fit into the internal bays of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) that Norway is acquiring. Australia is said to be interested in the JSM for its future F-35 fleet.

Future developments of the NSM/JSM potentially include a version that can be launched from the MK 41 VLS and a submarine-launched variant. In terms of future export opportunities Kongsberg have been working to get involved in the US Navy OASuW programme. The NSM was fired from the USS Coronado (LCS-4) at Point Mugu, California, in July 2014. The ability to offer both NSM and JSM provides Kongsberg with tremendous export potential, in particular the ability to achieve internal carriage on the JSF could significantly expand the potential user base.

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