Military


Navire de transport stratégique belgo-luxembourgeois
(NTBL) [belgian-luxembourg strategic transport vessel
Command, Logistic Support & Transport (CLST)

According to the May 2000 The Modernisation Plan 2000 - 2015 of the Belgian Armed Forces, "The naval component will be see the replacement of its frigates by multi-role escort ships, the upgrade of its mine hunters and the introduction of a strategic transport ship." In the Belgian army modernization plans, adopted by the Government on 12 May 2000, involved the acquisition by the Belgium of a ship RoRo having a capacity of loading and unloading autonomous whose cost was estimated at EUR 112.5 million.

This soon evolved into a more ambitious effort, under which the French Mistral class and a variant of the Dutch Rotterdam design were under consideration. The ship was to be able to carry two CH-46 and five NH-90 troop helicopters as well as two landing craft air cushion (LCACs) or landing craft medium (LCMs) in a stern docking well.

As early as 1994, it was in this perspective that the HQ of the Naval Force identified the need to replace the ships command and logistic support, the A960 Godetia and A961 Zinnia, during the period 2004-2006. Division Admiral Willy Herteleer, Chief of the Naval Force, stated that for 2005, the Belgium will "absolutely need" a ship capable of ensuring both the role of command, logistics, communications centre and - this was new - a carrier of troops that can take to the field of operation the equipment of a battalion. In military jargon, a "Sealift" ship. The ship would be 150 metres long and would only require a crew of 60 men (versus the 120 of the command and logistic support ships, the A960 Godetia and A961 Zinnia). In an "exclusive interview" with the editorial staff of newspaper "Gazet van antwerpen" (October 14, 1994), the Chief of naval staff, Admiral Herteleer, said that naval force had the ambition to build a ship carrier of troops. The Navy began lobbying in the acquisition of such a roll-on-roll-off vessel. This ship carrier of troops could be committed to humanitarian operations.

Originally, the intent was to acquire a Roll on Roll off ship at a price of EUR 86 million for the landing of the troops and rescuers. The Minister wanted to acquire the ship by a negotiation procedure with Directorate General of Constructions of the French navy, but the Council of Ministers has required that a public auction is launched. July 1, 2001, by decission of the Council of Ministers, the State made a tender.

In July 2001 André Flahaut, Belgian Defence Minister, stated that "in Belgium, we do not just make speeches. I mentioned that we had taken some very concrete actions. It is the first time for a long time that we have made such large military investments: the purchase of eight A400M aircraft, including one with the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, as well as the joint purchase of a strategic transport ship [ d'un navire de transport stratégique] with the same partner, although the Grand-Duchy has no direct access to the sea, are concrete actions..."

This future Marine component will be allocated by 2006 a new warship intended to be the largest ever in the Belgian Navy. On June 1, 2001, the Council of Ministers gave the green light to the construction of a "Navire de transport stratégique belgo-luxembourgeois (NTBL)" [belgian-luxembourg strategic transport vessel]. Belgium would bear 75% of costs and Luxembourg, 25%. But collaboration does not stop there. On the contrary. During operations, Luxembourgers will cover a portion of the costs and provide possibly even as members of the crew.

In the defence and security investment plan adopted on 10 November 2001, RoRo ship became a strategic transport vessel. Luxembourg associated itself with Belgium and agreed to bear one quarter of the amount of purchase, EUR 112.5 million budget is revised upward: EUR 190 million. This new Belgian fleet acquisition plan reportedly called for construction of a 19,200-ton Command/Logistic Support/Transport (CLST-A) to be completed by the end of 2005 [some sources incorrectly report 2015] to carry Belgian and Luxembourgian Army troops and their equipment.

The initial phase was bidding from the shipyards. Shipyards from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Singapore and Spain showed their interest in the project. They had until December 10, 2001 to respond, there were five candidates. The following companies introduced an offer: Chantiers de l'Atlantique (France); DCN International (France); Fincantieri (Italy); Izar (Spain); and Schelde Marinebouw (Netherlands). Then, the commission evaluated offers (involving, inter alia, representatives of the four components) to compare the different proposals.

The Requirements of Belgian and Luxembourg armed forces were not simple. The list of tasks assigned to the NTBL included: material transport, loading and unloading fast and autonomous, command, support monitoring, communication and information (C3I), medical and logistical support to the troops on on-board and ground, important housing capacity and self-defense. Concerning the transport of materials, the ship must have hangars capable of hosting a column of at least 1,850 linear metres (total length available for loading, i.e. approximately 300 vehicles, including a 4 x 4, tanks, trucks and containers ISO-20 feet. In addition the NTBL must carry a surgical suite as well as five medium helicopters 16 tons. It is also able to carry more cargo in exceptional circumstances - a maximum of 900 linear meters of containers.

The ship must bring material alongside independent and timely manner. In addition to the classic modes (via ramps lateral and rear), two options were possible in case port infrastructure is unavailable: boat loading and unloading entering an internal dock or motorized pontoons coming to dock the ship. Whatever the option retained, boarding of personnel, vehicles, equipment and munitions must be conducted simultaneously and by different access.

The most striking feature of the future vessel is undoubtedly the helicopter flight deck, either a continuous or rear deck. The French Navy has a strategic ship with a continuous deck and 1,000 linear feet. The Dutch Navy was looking for a big brother for Hr.Ms Rotterdam with a bridge larger deck and 740 linear metres. The Royal Navy was examining two projects. One concerns a ship equipped with a bridge for helicopter flight and 550 linear feet, the other a building with demi-pont in flight and 1.200 meters linear. Belgium thought of a possible international collaboration, but the various projects and construction periods did not lead to a tangible result.

The flight deck should not only accommodate all current and future of our Army helicopters but also equipment of allies: means (CH - 46 Sea Knight, EH-101 Merlin, NH-90, UH-60 Black Hawk A, etc), heavy (CH-53 Sea Stallion A/D, CH - 47D Chinook, Super Stallion, etc) and appliances VTOL (Sea Harrier, MV - 22 Osprey, etc). The NTBL must provide at least a heavy aircraft landing zone and three for medium helicopters.

In addition to the crew, 200 people must be able to stay and work aboard for a long period. At the outset of an operation, the ship provides seven days supply drinking water, fuel and food for a battle group landed at 1,000 military. Eventual support for other ships of the fleet is also part of the functions of the NTBL. Its medical function is clearly described in the technical annex of the project: the ship provide care medical and dentistry (1st and 2nd grade) crew, on-board staff and troops landed. Two medical sections (a hospital zone and an infirmary) lose therefore aboard. They will help heal 16 emergency injured (two helicopters Air Evac). Doctors will have to do two operating rooms, a room of intensive care (also equipped for burn treatment), 40 beds, laboratories as well as a space x-ray and ultrasound. The NTBL will also include a funérarium.

The Belgian Navy's Command, Logistic Support & Transport (CLST-H) new command & support ship, scheduled to replace BNS Zinnia, able to conduct a broad spectrum of tasks both regional and global tasks. This new ship will provide us with the necessary assets for the transport of the rolling material of an army battalion and to support them from the sea. Requirements for the new transport ship include medical facilities, provide command facilities and conduct helicopter operations.

A number of options to acquire a multi-role, helicopter capable, transport ship were under consideration. Of particular importance in joint operations is the transportation of the rolling material of an army battalion across the sea and the capability to support them ashore. The new type must be able to operate in a national or multinational environment with a flexible approach for troops and vehicles to be embarked. Recent operational experiences showed the need for military sealift transport in order to quickly move intervention forces, including out-of-area. The Government acknowledged the need for such a military sealift and afloat logistics capability. A common operational concept study, which looks for possible synergies in the requirements of each service, is currently running within the Belgian Armed Forces.

The ship should be capable of operating as a transport ship for army vehicles and equipment, with a capacity of loading and fast and autonomous unloading and be suited to cover command & control functions in the framework of both national and international missions. The employment spectrum would encompass also tasks like: underway replenishment and logistic support for operations; at sea and offshore Command & Control; and primary casualty receiving ship (PCRS) with sufficient medical facilities. The ship would support peacekeeping and -enforcing operations and humanitarian operations, and conduct training for the navy and merchant marine cadets.

In February 2003, Belgian Defence Minister André Flahaut reported that, with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, "numerous bilateral meetings have allowed the establishment of permanent synergies between our two nations, synergies that have resulted in equipment and purchases by the common desire to acquire a transport vessel [un navire de transport ] and the purchase for Luxembourg via Belgium of an A400M transport aircraft (signed Belgolux Convention in June 2001). ... the Belgian Navy, on decision of the government in May 2001, should acquire about a 2005 - 2006 a strategic ship of transport and this, in collaboration with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Authorities. This acquisition will support the transport capacities at sea to the benefit of our European Allies. The file is in progress of study within the Staff."

The Minister consulted each component of the army during the drafting of the specification. The original vessel was transformed into a building intended for landing helicopters with a floating hospital. The price therefore tripled. The lowest offer came from Chantier Naval de Schelde of the Netherlands for a ship in the class of the Rotterdam LPD, but the average price was 250 million, at the top of the Government estimate.

Over time, it became clear that the various users differed in the requirements for the ship. The Naval component wanted a deck allowing helicopter operations, the land component required a roll on/roll-of capacity of 1,700 vehicles, and the medical component wanted a deployable hospital. Luxembourg had the vessel configuration requirements: required to transport one of their scout companies and also support participation in humanitarian aid operations, including transport vehicles, communications and equipment engineering as well as food. A series of increases of prices followed, respectively first 112.5 EUR, then 190 million, and a year and half later, more than 225 million euros. This increased the financial burden of the program, and the stagnation of the defence budget recorded since 2002, coupled with the need to purchase new frigates, finally imposed the decision to postpone the purchase at an unspecified date. In early 2003, the procedure was stopped.

According to the blueprint of defence of December 2003, "the Belgian maritime transport needs will be provided via commercial contracts of affreightment where will be sought for synergy with our partners and allies".

By 2005 there was no longer any discussion of this ship. Instead, by 2016 the sea service expected to commence a new Multi-Mission Ship procurement with the first unit to be delivered in 2020.

Length 180 to 200 m
Width 27 to 33 m
Draught max 6.2 m
Water displacement +/-19,000 tons (loaded to the maximum) travel
Maximum speed 18 knots
Autonomy 9,000 nautical miles at 15 knots or
6,000 nautical miles at 18 knots






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