2 Finnish Helsinki Class FACs to Croatia
by Igor Tabak
Croatia’s famous Adriatic coastline is warmer than Finland’s, but its geography of long coastlines and near-shore islands in a narrow body of water lends itself to similar naval solutions and requirements. On July 17/08 Croatia purchased two Fast Attack Craft (FACs) vessels from Finland, which are well suited to near shore and coastal patrol. Croatian Minister of Defense Branko Vukelicand “Patria Aviation Oy” representatives Ilkka Jaakkola and Risto Marjomaa signed the actual contract on the purchase of 300t Helsinki Class FACs Oulu (62) and Kotka (63) in Zagreb. Ownership of these vessels has now been transferred.
This naval acquisition was not foreseen in the list of goals stated within its “Armed forces long term development plan 2006-2015”. As such, it can be seen as a opportunity seized. That is also the view brought forth by the Croatian authorities. Croatian Defense Minister Vukelic stated that Patria’s representatives recently informed the Croatian authorities of the possibility, and due consideration found the 2 vessels to be highly compatible with the FACs already in Croatian naval service.
- The Vessels
- Technology Similarities
- New Technologies for Croatia
- The Deal
- Updates and Events [NEW]
The Finnish Helsinki class FACs were designed during the 1970s, and 4 ships were built by Wartsila shipyards in Helsinki. After Helsinki (60) was commissioned in 1981, the project was refined and the remaining 3 vessels were built to this modified design. They were ordered in January 1983, and commissioned from 1985 to 1986. Helsinki was later retrofitted to the new standard, and a 20 year upgrade was planned from 2004-2008. Instead, the Finnish Navy started decommissioning their Helsinki class FACs when upgrades were due.
Rumor has it that the 2 newly acquired FACs are to be named “Dubrovnik” and “Vukovar” when in Croatian service.
The two Finnish FACs are similar to the vessels of comparable purpose already in Croatian service. The new Finish vessels are somewhat smaller then Croatian RTOP-11 Kralj Petar Kresimir IV and RTOP-12 Kralj Dmitar Zvonimir FACs (in the western literature usually referred to as “Kralj”, i.e. “King” Class Corvettes), but larger then the one-of-a-kind RTOP-21 Sibenik (ex-Yugoslav RTOP-402 Vlado Cetkovic, modernized with AK-630 stern gun and Saab RBS 15 missiles).
The main armament of the Finnish FACs is similar to that of the Croatian vessels. A Bofors 57 mm/70 Mk1 acts as bow gun on the Finnish vessels, with Saab RBS 15 missiles as the primary anti-ship armament. Saab’s 9LV fire control system is also a common feature on both Finnish and Croatian FACs, with slight variant differences. Croatian Kralj class ships are said to have the PEAB 9LV 249 Mk 2 fire control system (at least in the RTOP-11), while the 2 Finnish FACs have the Philips 9LV 225 system. Official Croatian sources claim that those 2 variants will work together seamlessly.
New Technologies for Croatia
Unlike the Croatian FACs, the hull and superstructures of the two Finnish vessels are made of light alloys. Still, the main difference between the Helsinki Class and Croatian Kralj Class vessels lies in the propulsion systems. Unlike the three ex-Soviet M 504B-2 diesel engines on Croatian ships, Finnish FACs are equipped with three MTU 16V 538 TB92 diesel engines (7.52 MW sustained). Fortunately, this is somewhat similar to the secondary engine system of the Croatian RTOP-21 Sibenik (CODAG – two RR Proteus 52-M55B gas turbines, 5.37 MW sustained, and two MTU 16V 538 TB91 diesel engines, 5.29 MW sustained).
The Finnish vessels were purchased with 2 twin Sako mounted 23 mm/87 guns (probably the original 2A 14) modified from the ZSU-23-2 for close range defense – weapons of a caliber currently not present in Croatian Navy. MBDA’s Mistral air defense missiles can reportedly be fitted in their place, if desired. The Helsinki Class also comes equipped with Simrad Marine SS 304 active sonar as well as Finnyards Sonac/PTA towed sonar array. These systems and their general capabilities are also new to Croatia.
The last 2 Helsinki class vessels, Kotka (63) and Oulu (62), were decommissioned in 2005 and 2007 respectively. After a few months of talks, the Finnish government reportedly cleared their sale to Croatia on June 19/08 and granted the necessary export licenses to Patria. At that time, the Finnish sources stated the price of the two vessels at EUR 8 million a piece; double what Patria was to pay the Finnish Navy for the ships.
That was not to be.
In the end, the two vessels were purchased by Croatia for an overall sum of around EUR 9 million (cca $14 million). The contractor is Patria, who is providing 84 of its AMV 8×8 wheeled APCs, with an option for another 42. That deal involved substantial industrial offsets, ad the follow-on naval deal offers an opportunity for deeper defense integration of the two countries’ defense industries. Croatia also plans to privatize most of its facilities for aircraft maintenance in the near future, and a foreign partner is needed. Patria Avionics Oy already does that kind of work in Finland, and its involvement in the recent FAC purchase will give it a strong foothold of credibility and local partnerships.
The ships cost around EUR 8.3 million (ca. $13 million) for the two, while the transport costs to Croatia run around EUR 700,000 (ca. $1.1 million). Basic refurbishment of the FACs, the price will probably rise to around EUR 10 million (ca. $15.6 million). The deal also encompasses a larger quantity of spare parts, and some sources mention 2 used, repaired and conserved MTU diesel engines as spares.
The personnel training program is supposed to be a flexible one, and will largely be conducted in Croatia with some work in Finland. Croatian legislation requires an offset arrangement for military related purchases of over EUR 2 million/ HRK 14.5 million, and a large part of the personnel training program is to be declared as an industrial offset.
The two new vessels in the Croatian Navy will probably be presented to the public on Sept 18/08 – the annual Croatian Navy Memorial Day.
The contract signed represents a further step in deepening the cooperation between the Croatian defense sector and Finnish Patria Oy, the provider of 84 8×8 AMV AFV to Croatia.
The overall cost of around EUR 10 million is best measured against the cost estimates for Croatian Navy Kralj Class remotorisation and modernization, projected at a total of around EUR 20 million (ca. $31.2 million USD). The Croatian MoD did so, when it presented the purchase to the public as an actual cost saving measure, giving the Navy 2 additional vessels, while cutting the cost for upcoming and much needed naval refurbishment.
As a side note, this purchase also makes it possible for minister Vukelic to offer one of the two existing Kralj Class FACs for sale through “Alan Agency”, the state-owned armament procurement agency of Croatia. Despite the fact that the Alan Agency lists the Petar Kresimir IV “fast missile corvette” Class on its pages of items offered for sale, it is also possible that the vessel offered will be RTOP-12 Kralj Dmitar Zvonimir. RTOP-12 has been something of an unlucky ship ever since construction began during the Homeland War with Serbia. Its actual completion was long-delayed by the war, by lack of financial resources, and by the non-availability of critical technology. It was launched in spring of 2001 and proclaimed as a highlight of Croatian military shipbuilding, then commissioned into service somewhat more then a year later. Nevertheless, there have been rumors of various technical problems plaguing the vessel.
If a buyer can be found, a sale might free up funds for other priorities, while making its required upgrades either irrelevant or someone else’s problem.
Updates and Events
Nov 3/08: The Helsinki Class FACs arrive in Sibenik Croatia. The Croatian Army Home in Split hosts the presentation. Croatian Navy (HRM) Counter Admiral Ante Urlic, points out that the Helsinki class ships fulfil the fundamental NATO laws and enable the Croatian Navy to take part in its “Active Endeavour” operations, controlling the Adriatic Sea and its avenues of approach.
Counter Admiral Urlic added that these ships enabled the Croatian Navy to act against submarines, which was previously not possible for Croatia. Javno report.
Oct 13/08: Patria announces a transfer of ownership for Helsinki Class missile boats Kotka and Oulu to the Croatian Navy. The missile boats will be loaded in Turku on board a ship, for transport to Croatia. According to the contract signed in July 2008, Patria will also trains the Croatian crew, and provide maintenance of the boats. Patria release.