PARIS — The Netherlands plans to order four new air-defense frigates for more than €3.5 billion (U.S. $3.8 billion) to replace its current fleet, Dutch State Secretary of Defense Christophe van der Maat said in a letter to parliament Friday.

The Dutch Defence Ministry intends to work with local shipbuilder Damen Naval for the naval platform and with Thales for the above-water warfare system, though it still needs to reach agreement with the companies, the government said. The four existing air-defense frigates will be replaced one by one, with the first new vessel expected to be operational in 2036.

The current Zeven Provinciën-class frigates came into service between 2002 and 2005 and would need to be replaced in the 2030s, according to the ministry. In addition, modern weapons such as hypersonic anti-ship missiles and a proliferation of relatively simple systems such as drones have created a growing threat to naval vessels.

“The current frigates will be at the end of their lifespan in the next decade,” the ministry said in a statement. “The ships’ armament with anti-air missiles is also due for renewal. These projects are therefore being combined.”

The Dutch government is in discussion about cooperation with other European countries seeking to replace frigates, in particular Denmark, Germany and Norway, but has yet to reach any concrete agreement, the ministry said in its letter to parliament. Cooperation could include joint development and construction, as well as joint purchasing, training and maintenance, it said.

“The Netherlands is taking the lead on these ships, but we would welcome other countries joining us,” Van der Maat said in a video statement.

First delivery is scheduled for 2034 at the latest, with the final of the four new air-defense frigates becoming operational in 2041. That means the current fleet will continue to sail for two more years than initially planned, according to the ministry.

Van der Maat’s letter to parliament sets out the requirements for the new frigates, with budget discussions and project approval requests to follow in coming years.

The Netherlands plans to reuse some equipment being installed to modernize its existing air-defense frigates, including two new Active Phased Array Radars and four 127mm cannons against surface targets. The radar and fire control system in the works for two new anti-submarine warfare frigates will be further developed for the new air-defense vessels.

The replacement frigates will have layered air defense, with a preference for various ranges to be covered by missiles from the same manufacturer, the ministry said. The vessels will additionally be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as with Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile.

The new frigates “will have long-range weapons at their disposal, enabling them to attack important enemy targets inland from a great distance,” Van der Maat said. “This way, the Netherlands can fulfill its role as a seafaring nation and make an important contribution to safety at sea.”

The frigate replacement is the ministry’s biggest maritime project, with a budget for the vessels of more than €2.5 billion, and an additional €1 billion to €2.5 billion investment for the weapon systems. The budget assumes the bare hull will be built elsewhere in Europe, as is the case for the new anti-submarine warfare frigates, though local construction isn’t ruled out, the ministry said.

The new ships will also include defense against hypersonic weapons, which is not part of the budget due to still being in development, the ministry said. The Netherlands is part of the Hypersonic Defence Interceptor Study project, led by pan-European missile maker MBDA.

The defense ministry is replacing most of its major naval surface combatants in the next 15 years, which it said will significantly improve Dutch maritime capabilities, while the resulting industrial cooperation will “provide a powerful boost to European strategic autonomy and the Dutch defense industry.”

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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