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NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90]

1984 NFR-90 Orders
United States18
United Kingdom12
W. Germany4
The Netherlands2
The NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90] planned for the adoption of a standard frigate by NATO navies, and would have yielded valuable operational advantages in terms of interoperability. The discussion within the NATO working groups had led us very early to the realization that a great need for frigates unequivocally exists for the 1990's. The estimated unit numbers varied among the nations, but their sum always was definitely in excess of 50.

The NATO Frigate Replacement program originally consisted of seven participants: the United Kingdom, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and the United States. Spain joined the program in 1983. The main rationale for the eight countries to proceed with a joint frigate program was the economies of scale obtainable from international collaboration. Given that the project was spread among eight countries, NFR-90 was anticipated to absorb a smaller percentage of national defence budgets than if each had chosen to go it alone. Savings were estimated at 25%.

In the "Mission Need Document," it was established when and why frigates will be needed by the different nations in the 1990s. That was received in December 1979. Then the assessment of the Mission Need Document led to the "Outline NATO Staff Target," which contains an outline of the objective. It was adopted in September 1980.

In the Mission Need Document it had already proved possible to stipulate the following as the operational objective for this ship, which was to be used predominantly in the escort service: Worldwide deployment, submarine pursuit in connection with other antisubmarine systems, air defense, surface naval warfare. The priorities varied with the separate nations, and even in the early stage of the discussion this led to the recognition that different equipment for the ships would be required. But on the other hand, a large number of common interests could not escape notice.

The Prefeasibility Study involved 90 companies and 150 engineers. The Prefeasibility Studies ran from February 1981 to October 1982 and were in part financed from the NATO budget. The residual financing rested with the industry concerned. One observer said itt was "downright inspiring" to see how so many firms from so many countries cooperated so openly and constructively. This gave all the participants the courage to continue on the path which had been optimistically entered. The Prefeasibility Study elaborated several parameters for the NFR-90: Global effectiveness of the frigates, construction of at least 50 ships, the nations are to build their NFR 90'6 at their own shipyards, specified components to be supplied by the separate nations are installed on all ships. Particular attention was focused on: Standardization, Interoperability, Flexibility (on allowing for national wishes),And the integration of differing subsystems in accordance with national preferences. In December 1983, from the outcome of this study it proved possible to derive the "NATO Staff Target" ~ the objective — and the "Statement of Work" — the description of the work to be carried out in a Feasibility Study (national conceptual phase). The 1984 feasibility study alone cost an estimated $15 million and involved the participation of "lead" companies: Acres International Ltd of Canada, Thomson-CSF of France, MTG Marinetechnik GmbH of the FRG, Cantieri Navali Italiani of Italy, Hollandse Signaal Apparaten BV of The Netherlands, Empresa Nacional Bazan of Spain, British Shipbuilders, and Westinghouse Corporation of the United States.

In the context of the International Ship Study (ISS) Association, Hamburg, eight NATO countries had arrived at a technically interesting concept for the NFR 90, the NATO frigate for the nineties, as the result of a 1985 feasibility study. The "Feasibility Study of a NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s" included the questions of work share, cost-sharing and the financial balance between the partners. In principle however as little money as possible should flow between nations. The scope of work for the study included the design of the ship. The idea was that although most wanted an identical ship design, the ships should also have enough space and weight for specific national needs. The study was concluded in October 1985, less than 18 months after the signing of the MOU. The result of the 10,000 pages strong study was very positive and promising. The concept study closed with no fewer than 18 different design variants for multipurpose frigates of about 4,400 to 5,000 tons displacement. The number of different design variants included the various national needs for their own equipment.

If everything proceeded as scheduled in the 1984 planning, the first ship could be placed in service in 1994. The First Ship would begin Sea Tests at the end of 1992. By 1987 it was planned that the first ship would be launched in the mid-1990s, to enter service in the late 1990s.

Closely linked with the NFR-90 was the program for future antiaircraft defense on ships. In two separate groups the countries involved in the NFR-90 program endeavored to resolve the question of a close-range air defense system because the eight countries in Project Group 33 in NATO's Naval Armaments Group were unable to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution in respect to a local area missile system (LAMS). NFR-90 was designed to utilize a new missile system, either the NATO Antiair Warfare System, NAAWS or Family of Air Missiles, FAMS. The choice between the two became the crux of the project's troubles.

Early in 1987 the USA came forward with a proposal for the other seven nations to participate in a US-led development of a missile system initially dubbed the Naval Defence Initiative, but soon called the NATO Antiair Warfare System (NAAWS). Countries supporting NAAWS included The Netherlands, Spain, UK and US.On the other hand was the European-led Family of Air Missiles (FAMS), which had support from France, Italy, Spain and the UK. Spain remained a member of both NAAWS and FAMS, despite being host nation for the latter's project office.

Italy, and particularly France, were keen to develop a European alternative to Naaws. In November 1987 the two countries signed a letter of intent covering the joint development of the Aster surface-to-air anti-missile systems. The short-range shortrange Aster 15 was being developed for the French Navy and the medium-range Aster 30 for the French Army. The French and Italians always considered these programs ripe for European co-operation.

Following completion of international feasibility studies, the UK considered whether to participate in the next stage, project definition, of the collaborative project NFR 90, which could potentially meet the Royal Navy's requirement for an anti-air warfare escort coming into service at the turn of the century to replace the type 42 destroyers. In the interests of sound and efficient procurement practice, the UK was concerned to ensure proper coordination between work on the frigate and work on the principal armament it would require for Royal Navy service, namely a support defence missile system, which was to be procured through a separate collaborative program.

Although British concerns on this score were not entirely allayed, in January 1988, following discussion with the allies, the UK decided to join the project definition stage of NFR 90 and to sign the implementing memorandum of understanding. Continued British participation was conditional upon the agreement of a timetable which was both realistic in technical terms and properly matched to the timetables for the ship's major weapon systems. The arrangements for project definition included provision for reviews at various points by the participating nations to take stock of progress. In January 1988 France and Germany signed the modernization project for the "project definition" phase, thus all eight countries were continuing their initial joint work on this project.

The three principal subsystems included: the hull and machinery, electronics, and weapons. A substantial amount of new technology was to be used in the NATO frigate, beginning with state-of-the-art computer technology. A new computer technology with a distributed architecture was to have used mini and micro computers connected together in a network.

Due to those delays interest faded in many participating nations. Germany, a driving force at the beginning of the definition phase decided in 1987 to build four frigates of the Type 123 Brandenburg class on its own, reducing the planned numbers of NFR-90 frigates from 8 (7) to 4. Marinetechnik GmbH (MTG) was the German national lead company. By 1988 the West German Navy's particularly urgent requirement for frigates necessitated priority construction of four ships derived from MTG designs for the F 123 [not F 124], the national version of the NFR 90. These frigates would, on the one hand, be patterned after the proven F-122 class but they would also provide sufficient flexibility for later adaptation to NFR 90 equipment.

During the Baseline Review in Hamburg in September 1989 the representatives from eight defence ministries were presented a design for the NFR 90, which found the basic consent of all parties. Of the presented alternatives the PMO recommended that the so-called “Baseline Ship” should serve as basis for the further work in the next phase: The ”Detailed Design Phase”. The "definitive" NFR-90 ended up being 134 meters long with a full load displacement of 5500 tons - quite small for a modern AAW frigate. At this stage the construction of 59 frigates was planned.

By 1989 it had become necessary to increase the budget or make a smaller, less capable ship. The preliminary figure of $30 billion for 52 ships was expected to rise unless the participants would agree to scale back operational requirements. In connection with every new construction and every rebuilding, legitimate desires of the fleet and the engineers involved had to remain unfulfilled in the past and would have to remain so in the future as well, in light of the budget limits.

One of the principal difficulties encountered in the co-development of weapon systems was that all participants must agree on the characteristics the weapon will have. In the NFR-90 program, in which eight countries were involved in the project definition phase, there was no firm accord on whether the frigate‘s anti-air warfare capability should provide only for local area defense or whether the ships should have separate point-defense and medium-range capabilities. In addition, there was little agreement on the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities of the frigate, nor even its size, as the ship had been variously viewed as ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 tons.

By the time France, Italy and the United Kingdom withdrew from the project in September 1989, costs were given as one of the reasons. A decision on whether to join the two-year $82 million project definition stage was the deadline which triggered the UK withdrawal. Comparative costings showed a 70 million pound difference between a Type 23 Frigate for the Royal Navy (at 130M) and the NFR-90 (at 200M). Upon withdrawing from NFR-90, the United Kingdom awarded a follow-on contract to Swan Hunter for three Type 23 frigates, at an estimated cost of 500 million dollars. The United Kingdom was supposed to purchase 12 NFR-90s, second only to the United States' order of 18. The new contract was expected to create 10,000 jobs over five years.

After Britain, France and Italy withdrew from the program, other countries followed. In January 1990 the Spanish Government decided to withdraw from the NFR-90 project. With Spain's withdrawal, of the eight countries which began the program, only Canada and the United States were left to attend an 18 January 1990 NFR 90 steering committee meeting, and thus the development of the NFR-90 frigate could finally be considered canceled. the reasons for abandoning the project included the pointlessness of remaining following the withdrawal of five of the eight countries which began its development, and the change in the world political situation with the end of the Cold War, which meant that these major naval programs no longer make sense to many politicians.

After the cancellation of the entire project in January 1990, most partners reverted to national procurement solutions. In March 1990, Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd., a subsidiary of the United Kingdom's General Electric Co., proposed a new Super Frigate as an alternative to the defunct NFR-90. Two other informal European proposals were also launched: a joint venture between the Germans and the Dutch and a French proposal to involve the Italians, Spanish and British defence ministries.

With the UK selection of FAMS over NAAWS, combined with the West German pull-out from NAAWS, only Canada, the USA, Spain and the Netherlands remained in the program. The NATO Anti-Air Warfare System (AAWS), intended to defend the frigate, was canceled as a consequence.

Over the decades, when a cooperative effort among several NATO nations with respect to a quite definite weapon system had been agreed on, again and again it turned out that such a joint task could not be done, given the multitude of national viewpoints and areas of interest.

Displacement (full load) 5,000 mt 5,400 mt
LOA overall length 143 m
waterline length 133 meters
Length BP 130 m
Length 131 meters
Width 15.9 m
Draft4.8 m
Drive power30,200 kW
Electrical power 4 x 1,200 kW
Speed 25 knots28 knots
Range 5,000 NM @ 19 knots5,000 nm
  • 1 x 100mm Compact gun,
  • 48 VLS cells for Aster 15 (32 forward, 16 aft)
  • 8 MM-40 Exocet
  • 2 Mistral launchers
  • Aircraft1 medium helo (NH-90 or EH-101)
    Crew 201230

    NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90] NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90]
    NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90]
    NATO Frigate Replacement for the 1990s [NFR-90]

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    Page last modified: 25-01-2013 18:56:37 ZULU