Just a nice view
No I haven’t lost my senses the above picture was taken by myself last weekend whilst in the beautiful city of Barcelona. Whilst it has no images of military equipment or more importantly to our esteemed site Master & Commander “Think Defence” some shipping containers it is of relevance to this article. For the curious it was taken half way up the Sagrada Familia “Gaudi’s” seminal masterpiece and proof that some projects can be even slower then the FRES program with a ground breaking in 1882 and a projected completion date of 2026-ish.
Anyhow modernist architecture aside this next picture should give you a better idea of what I want to talk about.
What we have is two F100 Álvaro de Bazán-class frigates sitting in Barcelona harbour, on the first evening of my trip to Barcelona I was walking down to the harbour with an old friend when we happened upon the above sight. Rather excited I dragged my long suffering friend around to where they were docked and on closer investigation found that they were the first of class Álvaro de Bazán and third of class Blas de Lezo. I also found out that they were going to be open the next evening for the public to tour. My friend had no choice we were going to be returning the next day with me justifying it with the words “it will make a good article on Think Defence”.
Made in Europe
Before I go into depth about the actual tour and the photos taken I think it is worth having a bit of a think about the state of European military ship building in the last few decades. Looking back in the 1950’s and 60’s the UK was still very strong when it came to warship exports in particular the excellent Type 12 Leander finding itself in many a foreign fleet. By the time we reached the 1970’s the decline in UK ship building had set in and the Germans with their MEKO concept really reaped the rewards often ironically replacing worn out British vessels. In many ways the Germans have dominated European warship exports through to the late 90’s with an honourable mention to the French who have made a few interesting (Saudi Arabia) and in some cases controversial (Taiwan) deals.
For the last decade the market has again started to shift, within Europe Navantia the major Spanish ship builder has come on leaps and bounds managing to capture some contracts from serious customers. A combination of improved quality and significantly lower prices has opened up some new and unexpected markets. If you had told me in the 1990’s that Norway would be buying a Spanish ship in the future I would probably of laughed. Nevertheless Norway now operates five Álvaro de Bazán derived SPY(F) AEGIS equipped frigates…
There has been plenty of talk about how to restore major warship exports from the UK and many do see the Type-26 myself included as a hopeful step in that direction. With the recent visit of HMS Daring to Australia it should be noted that Australia is a key target market for the Type-26 and there has already been some tentative work to entice the Australians into joining the program. For me the major thorn in that idea is Australia’s increasing relationship with Spanish ship building. There are currently two major ship procurements for Australia that are both being serviced by Navantia of Spain:
- Project JP 2048
- SEA 4000
The former being a variant of the Juan Carlos class LHD the latter a derivative of the Álvaro de Bazán class. In many ways the decision making process that led to the decision to buy a derivative of the Álvaro de Bazán shows up the problems facing the UK competing in this market.
Not as capable but good enough
It is interesting to note that a variant of the Type-45 was put forward for SEA 4000, alas it didn’t really have a chance. The RAN wanted AEGIS, the Standard missile system, a ship closely configured to US specifications and affordability. Trying to adapt the baseline Type-45 design to those requirements was going to be a tall order and nobody was particularly surprised when the offer was rejected. What is more interesting is the decision to buy a Álvaro de Bazán derivative. Aside from the Blohm + Voss offering there were effectively two realistic choices for SEA 4000:
Whilst the Gibbs & Cox evolved Arleigh Burke was classed as superior in all respects the contract was awarded to Navantia in 2007. In the end the Álvaro de Bazán was lower risk and significantly cheaper, in other words it was good enough for their needs.
I have seen this comment crop up recently about the Álvaro de Bazán class and Navantia:
“Navantia has got very good at building American ships”
With their significant US system fit, affordability and improved quality the latest Spanish offerings are very attractive. The Álvaro de Bazán class is the first Spanish warship to include ballistic resistant hull material and has anti vibration mountings for the propulsion and major systems. They also include the AEGIS combat management system and AN/SPY-1(D) radar. The propulsion and weapon systems are also entirely American of origin, you are effectively buying a US ship but from a European yard.
To get back to my little trip, we returned to the harbour on Saturday evening and after queuing for about an hour we were walking towards these two Spanish warships camera in hand ready to learn about their secrets.
The first thing I noted aside from the rather handsome sleek lines was the large number of small eyelets and small boxes dotted all over the hull side. If you expand the bottom image you can just make them out, the boxes were randomly dotted about and about the size of a small tub of margarine. I doubt they help the stealthy aspects of the vessel but neither of us could divine their purpose.
The side on views here give a good look at the AN/SPY-1(D), SPG-62 illuminator and the Harpoon quad launcher.
The truck had just arrived to drain out something smelly.
In the bottom picture a rather butch lady sailor with a cap tally for the Álvaro de Bazán awaits to help the public board the ramp onto the Blas De Lezo (NO SNIGGERING AT THE BACK). We were slightly delayed boarding as a VIP in civilian clothes had just arrived with much saluting all around whilst he was piped aboard.
A rather nice view of the Seahawk Bravo more of which later, the group on the right were some Marine Commandos demonstrating some rather nice equipment. The picture also nicely shows the deck handling rails for the helicopter.
Looking forward from the helicopter deck you get a good view of the hanger and the various antennas and systems employed by this class. In comparison to the Type-45 it is certainly cluttered and the need for the illuminator to guide the SM-2MR is a throw back in many ways.
I did wonder if the modernist influence of Gaudi played a part in the design of the ships bell.
Now on the Álvaro de Bazán for the interior tour another couple of nice shots of the Seahawk Bravo before we step inside.
The person greyed out to the left is my best friend trying not to look embarrassed as I start taking pictures of pipes and small boxes,
Some nice pipes, what did interest me was labels aside it really did feel like a ship that has come out of a US yard. I have had the chance to walk about a few US Perry class and at least one Arleigh Burke, the Álvaro de Bazán felt very similar. Considering Spain licence built the Perry class and the Príncipe de Asturias was based on a US design the American influence is strong. Build quality also appeared to be good with equipment mounted on sound deadening rafts (albeit she felt well lived in if that makes sense). Of special note in this picture is the kegs of liquid refreshment and the scooter (obviously the captains personal transport).
Anybody understand Spanish?
What secrets are behind this door? Locked close, a security keypad and some rather clear signs stating that unauthorised are not welcome. Considering its location under the bridge my guess it has something to do with the AEGIS systems and is more then likely the Combat Management Centre.
The surprisingly cramped bridge, I must admit I was rather nervous taking pictures in here not wishing to have my camera confiscated.
Some nice pictures of the modern bridge displays, you can see the combined LM2500/Caterpillar 3600 propulsion displayed on the screen. The operating system appeared to be Windows derived and the crewman didn’t stop me so far so good.
Bridge console mounted on sound deadening raft, curiously the crewman did pass comment when he saw me crouched down taking this picture. Not understanding Spanish beyond knowing how to say “Hello”, “Thankyou” and “Can I have the bill” I rather weekly replied “English” which appeared to placate him.
Erm well it’s a ladder
Stepping outside the bridge we get some nice shots of both vessels, can anybody ID the canon?
The foredeck with the MK41VLS and the MK45 MOD2 visible.
Various nautical stuff old and new.
A really good view of the Blas De Lezo (I told you no sniggering) and one of her two Harpoon quad launchers, also of note is the crane for lifting the embarked ribs.
The spacious mid deck with a Harpoon launcher.
On the foredeck we get a good view of both vessels and the MK41VLS, the F100 class has 48 cells which can presumably be quad packed. Considering that this VLS is in consideration for the Type-26 it was interesting to see it up close. I am not entirely sure what the radar director sitting directly sitting on the roof of the bridge is, my guess it is for the main gun but I could be wrong (answers on a postcard please).
The 5″ MK45 MOD2 installed on this class, according to the data plates in the last picture this turret has been overhauled by IZAR at some point. The Australian Hobart class will be fitted with the Mark 45 MOD4 and it is also proposed for the Type-26.
I would love to know the story behind that nose art!
The Seahawk Bravo does not have a dipping sonar unlike the Foxtrot and Romeo models so the main sub hunting sensors are the towed MAD and APS-124 search radar. Spain has actually procured some surplus Seahawk Foxtrot with the dip but the venerable SH3 is still the primary type used in that role with the Spanish navy.
One of the Seahawk flight crew spins a yarn, had a good chat with him about how they prosecute a submerged target using a combination of his limited English, my limited Spanish and a whole load of arm waving.
A picture of your intrepid author discovering that it isn’t that easy to climb into the cockpit of an SH-60 Seahawk.
My feet and the steam driven cockpit dials of the Seahawk Bravo, just for comparison and to show how much things have changed the picture below is of a Seahawk Romeo cockpit.
Well that’s it folks, I hope you all found this interesting. The chance to have a close look at what is a significant warship type with strong export potential was not to be passed up!
The question is will the UK be able to claw back some of this market or are we destined to be a systems provider leaving steel bashing to other countries with cheaper labour costs?
To finish a picture from earlier in the day outside the Sagrada Familia, a flock of Nuns
(Editorial note: I have intentionally blanked out the faces of people in this article but left the sailors and nuns as is. The sailors were happy with photos whilst Nuns are not real people – according to Father Dougal)