FREMM - The Perfect Fit for Canada

Designed and built by DCNS, the French navy’s new multi-mission frigate, FREMM, is a leader in its class. According to DCNS, the ship provides the right balance between stealth and lethality, and each component is integrated based on the principal that a warship is no longer an accumulation of sensors and weapons but a complex system to be designed as an optimized ensemble. (dcns)

Designed and built by DCNS, the French navy’s new multi-mission frigate, FREMM, is a leader in its class. According to DCNS, the ship provides the right balance between stealth and lethality, and each component is integrated based on the principal that a warship is no longer an accumulation of sensors and weapons but a complex system to be designed as an optimized ensemble. (dcns)

By: Megan Brush and Laurel Sallie

"Canada is the best-case scenario for DCNS,” said Patrick Boissier, the CEO and chairman of the French naval company, at a dinner party held at the Château Laurier in Ottawa on November 20. Likewise, he stressed in a speech that DCNS is the best option for Canada.

Right now, some of Canada’s best naval vessels are unable to enter international ports because the ships are unable to meet international environmental standards. Their age and deteriorating state are to blame. The vessels need serious repairs and upgrades; and in many cases, the ships are sporting parts that are now deemed obsolete.

“Your sovereignty depends on your ability to protect your borders,” said Boissier, stating the Arctic as a Canadian example. “The Canadian Armed Forces must have the equipment they need to protect their borders.” DCNS, according to Boissier, is the best partner for Canada to achieve success in this area.

DCNS, a French company and a leader in shipbuilding and naval combat systems integration in Europe, created an evening to discuss the benefits of a partnership. The room, decorated with blue accents, was filled with guests mingling and sipping wine. The first course was a sweet salad, a warm roast followed, and the dinner ended with a traditional French dessert, crème brûlée. The invited guests — members of the Royal Canadian Navy, the media, and industry — listened while Boissier explained his plans for the future.

DCNS believes its multipurpose frigate, FREMM, would be the optimal choice for Canada’s navy. FREMM is a front-line warship that can be used for a multitude of missions. The ship has automatic operation systems and man–machine interfaces that keep the number of crew needed to operate it at just over one hundred. It has the capability to detect radar and communications from other vessels, as well as block them.

An NH90 helicopter comes in for a landing on the 520m² helicopter flight deck of the FREMM Aquitaine as she cruises on the Iroise Sea, off the coast of Brittany, on November 15, 2012. (p. peron, marine nationale)

An NH90 helicopter comes in for a landing on the 520m² helicopter flight deck of the FREMM Aquitaine as she cruises on the Iroise Sea, off the coast of Brittany, on November 15, 2012. (p. peron, marine nationale)

The FREMM has been designed to be fully loaded with torpedoes, naval cruise missiles, surface to air missiles (up to 7 metres long) and guns up to 127 mm. The vessel is also large enough to hold helicopters and drones if needed. Boissier stressed that the FREMM is an all-in-one package design, which can be altered entirely to fit the unique needs of each country.

In June 2010, Canada announced its proposal for change. The plan, entitled the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), was set to roll out over the next 30 years. The NSPS contained a three-part strategy, which included the construction of large ships, construction of smaller vessels, and the repair and maintenance of existing fleets. Under NSPS, $25 billion has been allotted to warships for the Royal Canadian Navy. From this, six to eight vessels will go to the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship Project, and 15 will be given to the single class Canadian Surface Combatant Project.

The NSPS is said to create 15,000 jobs throughout its lifetime and bring nearly $2 billion into the Canadian economy each year, during its 30-year time frame. However, recent reports have questioned whether the amount of money set aside for the procurement is enough. 

The Canadian Surface Combatant Project is aimed at replacing the destroyers and frigates that currently protect Canadian waters. Irving Shipbuilding was selected to build these ships at its facilities on the East Coast, but now, Canada needs a design.

DCNS believes it has the best design for the frigates that Canada can find. “We want to work in partnership with Canada. We want to help you with your own designs,” said Boissier. “We don’t want to just implement things that worked elsewhere.”

Boissier stressed that if Canada chooses DCNS, the ships will be “built, customized, and maintained in Canada.” The model for the French company’s uniquely constructed frigate, FREMM, can be adapted to any country’s specific needs, explained Boissier.

Boissier also announced, at the dinner, a new project with Dalhousie University to open a Naval Systems Integration Centre in Canada. It will include “leading Canadian companies in naval systems engineering and will be ready to support the shipyards selected under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy,” said Boissier.  It will be “a worldwide centre of excellence in combat system integration, long-term in-service support, and training,” he explained.

This centre will give Canadian naval industries a competitive advantage around the world, he said, and more information will be released at a later date.

DCNS, based in France, has more than 400 years of experience in all aspects of ship and submarine building and maintenance. DCNS directly employs 13,200 people and indirectly employs 40,000 through its partners and suppliers around the world. For Canada, DCNS is pushing to contribute to the Canadian Surface Combatant Project.

Boissier claimed that if Canada takes on the FREMM design, 15 frigates would be made and 10,000 Canadian jobs would be created.

DCNS boasts international relationships with countries like Brazil. In 2009, said Boissier, DCNS worked with the Brazilian Navy to transfer designs of submarines and shipyards. The relationship worked, according to Boissier, because of this transfer of technologies. It was a partnership; DCNS incorporated what was uniquely Brazilian to create success.

According to Boissier, DCNS is ready to begin developing this partnership with Canada. “We are ready to move full speed ahead.”

Rheinmetall Canada

Jason McNaught is a journalist for Esprit de Corps magazine. 

Jason McNaught is a journalist for Esprit de Corps magazine. 

As I sat down at Rheinmetall Canada’s well-appointed office overlooking the peace tower spiking high into the morning sun, Duncan Hills, Rheinmetall’s Director for Government Relations and Industrial Benefits, pressed into a chair across the boardroom table and motioned towards the looming PowerPoint stationed opposite the wall-to-wall windows.

Although the defence industry is a collective clearinghouse for dry and detail-heavy presentations, the Rheinmetall story is a lot more interesting than bullet-point factoids and import/export strategies, and Duncan seems perfectly at home soldiering on without reading prompts.

Rheinmetall is one of the biggest medium-sized defence companies in the world, which is sort of a good place to be, because although they employ nearly 10,000 people worldwide, and rake in more than $2.5 billion (CAN) in sales, the fact that they can place a single company representative in a room unattended with a journalist — without relying on a well-rehearsed stack of media lines — is the personal touch that many mega-defence corps have long neglected.

Rheinmetall's sprawling Quebec-based campus

Rheinmetall's sprawling Quebec-based campus

The German company’s entrance into Canada, as Oerlikon Aerospace in 1986, debuted around the same time the government’s Industrial Regional Benefits (IRB) program kicked off. Their headquarters, based in the small, scenic city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, originally began rolling out the Air Defence Anti-Tank System (ADATS), an experience Rheinmetall explains on their website as “a defining period during the company’s evolution.”

In 1999, Oerlikon Aerospace Inc. was acquired by Rheinmetall AG, and they immediately set to work diversifying their organization into a multi-faceted defence company capable of supplying four main combat systems; vehicle integration, weapon systems, air defence and electronic systems for armed forces customers around the world. This has led to a number of interesting contracts for the 250 employees at Rheinmetall’s Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu plant, including the repair and overhaul of the Leopard 2A4 training tanks, the 40mm close area suppression system, the armoured recovery vehicle project and the MASS (Multi Ammunition Softkill System) for the Halifax-class Shield Replacement.

In the Canadian government tradition of stretching procurement dollars by purchasing “previously enjoyed” military equipment, the expansive interior space of Rheinmetall’s Quebec-based workshop has been taken up by a clank of Cold War-era Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks now finishing up a multi-year contract for repair and overhaul. Forty-two of these beauties, purchased from the Netherlands in variable condition, are being stripped down to their bare hulls, sandblasted, and then fully “Canadianized” before seeing service as trainers for the Army. Interestingly enough, it won’t be the first time they’ve met, however, as Rheinmetall CEO Andreas Knackstedt explains: “Of the approximately 2,125 Leopard 2A4 tanks produced, Rheinmetall built 997, which is almost half the total amount.” He goes on to say that the Richelieu plant was the benefactor in a large amount of investment to “optimize and modernize vehicle production and system integration” in advance of winning the main battle tank modernization project.

And then there’s the prosaically named 40mm close area suppression system (CASW), Rheinmetall’s digitized grenade launcher; adorned with a moniker that does absolutely nothing to extol the virtues of a weapon that the company brands as “the most technologically advanced solution to combat ground targets.”

Rheinmetall won a contract to convert more than 40 Leopard II Main Battle Tanks to trainers for the Canadian Army. 

Rheinmetall won a contract to convert more than 40 Leopard II Main Battle Tanks to trainers for the Canadian Army. 

What that really means is the CASW is capable of hitting more targets with less training, day or night, because it more or less operates you instead of the other way around. To clarify, once your target is identified, the CASW will tell you where to aim in order to produce a hit, regardless of whether you can actually see it or not. How many rounds you choose to fire is up to you, but that could get pricey, as a full minute with a heavy finger on the trigger will have hurled 340 grenades at enemies up to 1.5 kilometres away.

The CASW is made from components such as the Heckler and Koch grenade machine gun, BAE thermal imager and a Vinghog-Vingmate fire control computer, and doesn’t come down the procurement pipeline as a descendant of some aging and outmoded weaponry; rather, Rheinmetall’s creation is the first of its kind for the Canadian Army — a piece of technology that will undoubtedly give our soldiers a huge advantage in combat with enemies on the ground.

Rheinmetall Canada’s President and CEO Andreas Knackstedt believes that their team approach to the CASW represents “a proven capability to form alliances in order to provide a system/solution,” a statement that also rings true with the MASS system they’ve been contracted to install on the Royal Canadian Navy’s 12 Halifax-class frigates.

The Rheinmetall team has sourced approximately 80 per cent of the material for the Multi Ammunition Softkill System from Canadian suppliers, easily surpassing the IRB offset requirements. Looking at the angular, boxy frame of the MASS doesn’t produce any sense of awe or wonderment, nor does it raise eyebrows when watching it swivel around and around on a testing video — but the theory behind how the MASS works, and for those trying to figure out what a “softkill system” actually means, is actually pretty intriguing.

The MASS is designed to act as a decoy when advanced guided missiles and other projectiles suddenly come whistling towards your warship. While you stand on deck, dumbstruck with the thought of your impending doom, the MASS’s angular body autonomously springs to life, sending out a multitude of special rounds designed to detonate away from the ship, confusing the sensors aboard the incoming missiles and steering them away from their intended target. It’s the type of technology that ensures Canadian warships aren’t “sitting ducks” when engaged in a combat scenario, allowing them to focus on eliminating the origin of the threat, as opposed to using up onboard resources in a purely reactionary sense.

For the Canadian Army in Afghanistan, Rheinmetall Canada supplied the Persistent Surveillance on Aerostat, or PSA, system to provide wide-area observation, detection, identification, and monitoring of threats against its forward operating bases. For those unfamiliar with the technology, think of it as a stabilized all-seeing eye suspended from a giant balloon, tethered up to 300 metres above the ground, operating day or night, in all weather, identifying targets up to 20 kilometres away. Of course, gathering valuable intelligence isn’t much good when it can’t be easily shared. Reports from the PSA can be quickly generated with video or snapshots, coordinates, and threat contacts which can be rapidly forwarded to commanders for immediate action, a huge advantage over the days of paper handwritten reports and radio calls.

The success of the PSA with the Army ultimately factored into their decision to contract Rheinmetall to upgrade a similar system, known as the Persistent Surveillance on Towers, in order to offer an integrated approach to protecting military and civilian infrastructure. Through the use of both technologies as one “Persistent Surveillance System” or PSS, the Army was able to maximize the benefits of Rheinmetall’s innovative software and hardware solutions. Rheinmetall Canada is now marketing the PSS solution worldwide for military and commercial applications.

So what’s next for Rheinmetall Canada, the defence company that’s now passing the quarter-century mark on Canadian soil? More work, thanks to Textron and Rheinmetall’s winning entry in the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) Program. Rheinmetall will be supplying integrated logistic services, in-service support and the integration of remote weapon stations onboard 500 vehicles (with an option for 100 more) expected to serve the Canadian Army for the next 25 years.