On October 19, 2023, the launching ceremony for the Vlissingen, the second of twelve mine counter-ships under the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program designated for the Royal Netherlands Navy, occurred in Concarneau, France. The event was attended by high-ranking officials from the Royal Dutch Navy, the Belgian Navy, and a representative from the French Navy’s Chief of the General Staff. The launch was executed by Kership, which constructed the vessels in Concarneau on behalf of Naval Group, the general contractor.

This program was awarded to Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium comprising Naval Group and Exail, following an international competition in 2019. The program aims to provide twelve anti-mine countermeasure ships and a hundred integrated drones for both the Belgian and Royal Dutch Navies.

As the lead architect and prime contractor, Naval Group is responsible for ship design, overall integration, and testing and commissioning of the mission systems, including combat and mine countermeasures systems.

Kership, a collaboration between Naval Group and Piriou, oversees the production of the twelve vessels, with assembly taking place in Concarneau and Lanester.

Exail, as a co-contractor, is responsible for the unmanned drone system, with a significant portion of the drones being manufactured in Ostend, Belgium. Ship maintenance will be conducted in Belgium through close cooperation between the Belgian Navy and Naval Group Belgium, supported by their partner, Flanders Ship Repair.

The Vlissingen, the second ship in the program and the first one intended for the Royal Netherlands Navy is scheduled for delivery in 2025.

The first ship, the Oostende, intended for the Belgian Navy, was launched on March 29, 2023, while the keel of the third ship, the M941 Tournai, also meant for the Belgian Navy, was laid. The keel of the fourth ship, the Scheveningen, the second designated for the Royal Netherlands Navy, was laid on July 19, 2023.

Delivery of the Oostende is expected by the end of 2024 in Zeebrugge, Belgium, with deliveries of the other ships staggered until 2030.

The rMCM program is a significant component of European defense, showcasing the ability of European nations to collaborate in defining their needs and sharing solutions, which are expected to set new standards in anti-mine countermeasures, not only for Belgian and Dutch vessels but also for other European and global naval fleets.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in September 2023 between France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, enabling France to utilize the design of the rMCM ships for the French Navy. Under this agreement, a total of 12+6 ships will be delivered. Thales, which has been developing the Franco-British MMCM unmanned anti-mine countermeasures program since 2015, is responsible for the integrated drone solution for France, further solidifying the cooperation among these three nations in the realm of mine warfare.

These specialized mine countermeasure (MCM) vessels are designed with a strong focus on cybersecurity and are the first to be capable of launching various surface, underwater, and aerial drones. They employ a primarily autonomous system for mine detection, classification, and neutralization, with the ability to withstand underwater explosions and maintain very low acoustic, electrical, and magnetic signatures in line with their mission requirements.

The key characteristics of these mine countermeasure vessels include:

  • Length: 82.6 meters
  • Beam: 17 meters
  • Displacement: 2800 tons
  • Maximum Speed: 15.3 knots
  • Range: Over 3500 nautical miles
  • Crew: 63 people (base crew 33 people)
  • Drone Capabilities:
    • UMISOFT Exail system, 2 unmanned surface vehicles (Exail Inspector 125)
    • 3 autonomous underwater vehicles (A-18 equipped with Exail UMISAS 120 sonar)
    • 2 towed sonars (T-18 equipped with Exail UMISAS 240 sonar)
    • 2 Mine Identification and Disposal Systems (MIDS) (Exail Seascan and K-Ster C)
    • 2 unmanned aerial craft (UMS Skeldar’s V200)
    • 1 Exail influence mine sweeping system that integrates 5 CTM magnetic modules and 1 PATRIA acoustic module
  • Landing Capacity: 2 SOLAS 7-meter rigid hull inflatable boats
  • Handling: 2 lateral launch and recovery systems for surface drones or command boats, a dedicated 15-ton rear crane, and a 3-ton bridge crane.

This program not only signifies a significant advancement in mine countermeasures but also demonstrates the potential for international collaboration in addressing common defense challenges.