More than the Sum of Its Parts: Dutch SIGMA Ships for Vietnam

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Indonesian SIGMA(click to view full) Vietnam’s growing economy, and China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea, are pushing the country to begin a long-delayed military modernization program. Most of the equipment comes from Vietnam’s traditional Russian sources, but a purchase of Next-Gen DHC-6 Twin Otter maritime patrol aircraft from Canada showed the country’s willingness to consider other suppliers. Now comes word that Vietnam’s new Russian Gepard Class corvettes may be joined by another Western entry: 4 SIGMA ships from the Dutch Schelde shipyard. SIGMA actually stands for Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach. Block construction has become almost routine for ships, but block design at this level is unique… Exocet MM40 Block 3(click to view full) The SIGMA design uses standard, 7.2m sections, separated by bulkheads with watertight doors. That block size allows the ship to meet international requirements for surviving 6m wide damage to the ship. To add capabilities, people, or space, just add blocks to the design, and a base 50m OPV design can morph all the way to a 90m corvette (Indonesia) or even a full-featured 105m – 150m frigate (Morocco). Necessary standardization within compartment interfaces, beams, doors, portals, stairs and other key construction components adds more […]
MM40-3 firing

Indonesian SIGMA
(click to view full)

Vietnam’s growing economy, and China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea, are pushing the country to begin a long-delayed military modernization program. Most of the equipment comes from Vietnam’s traditional Russian sources, but a purchase of Next-Gen DHC-6 Twin Otter maritime patrol aircraft from Canada showed the country’s willingness to consider other suppliers. Now comes word that Vietnam’s new Russian Gepard Class corvettes may be joined by another Western entry: 4 SIGMA ships from the Dutch Schelde shipyard.

SIGMA actually stands for Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach. Block construction has become almost routine for ships, but block design at this level is unique…

MM40-3 firing

Exocet MM40 Block 3
(click to view full)

The SIGMA design uses standard, 7.2m sections, separated by bulkheads with watertight doors. That block size allows the ship to meet international requirements for surviving 6m wide damage to the ship. To add capabilities, people, or space, just add blocks to the design, and a base 50m OPV design can morph all the way to a 90m corvette (Indonesia) or even a full-featured 105m – 150m frigate (Morocco). Necessary standardization within compartment interfaces, beams, doors, portals, stairs and other key construction components adds more efficiencies.

Vietnam’s SIGMA 9814 will be somewhere in between, estimated at about 98m in length and 1,950t, with a crew of 91 or so. Thales Smart-S Mk.2 is the standard SIGMA radar, a multi-beam S-band radar with 250+ km range. It’s tied into Thales’ TACTICOS combat system.

SIGMA light frigates typically sport 4 Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missiles, whose GPS helps with inshore shots, and also gives them some land attack capabilities within their 200 km/ 108 nmi range. Triple torpedo launchers for Eurotorp light torpedoes offer close-in shots.

For defense, a set of 12 vertical launch cells typically carry VL-MICA air defense missiles. An Oto Melara 76mm super-rapid gun offers a combination of naval gunnery and last-ditch missile defense, and a pair of 20mm cannon for close-in work usually rounds out the ship’s armament.

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OM 76mm Super-Rapid
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Customers like Vietnam can change that if they want. Compatibility with the Russian weapons on its other naval ships would offer advantages of its own, and Vietnam is license-building Kh-35E anti-ship missiles. Despite these incentives, however, Vietnam seems to have opted for the standard SIGMA electronics and missile array: TACTICOS, SMART-S, Exocet MM40 and VL-MICA. That set alone will make the SIGMA frigates Vietnam’s high-end naval assets. Vietnam certainly has a long history with France, who is interested in resuming some level of defense ties.

If they choose to change other standard SIGMA standard armament, the most likely substitutions involved incorporating a Russian 76.2mm AK-176M naval gun instead of Oto Melara’s 76mm Super Rapid, and 23mm close-in guns instead of 20mm. Reports from Vietnam, however, claim that Vietnam will adopt Oto Melara’s 76mm Super Rapide gun along with its other western equipment, opting for the gun’s higher performance over fleet compatibility. Fortunately for Vietnam, the Super Rapido is arguably the world’s most popular naval gun, whose customer roster of over 55 navies includes all of Vietnam’s seafaring neighbors except Cambodia.

Contracts & Key Events

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RMN SIGMA Frigate
click for video

Oct 24/13: Vietnam has chosen MBDA’s Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missiles and VL-MICA air defense missiles for its initial 2 Damen-built Sigma 9814 light frigates, according to French business weekly La Tribune. MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier reportedly sprung the news that Vietnam had picked their missiles in a French National Assembly Defense Committee hearing.

The Vietnamese Phunut Today also says that Vietnam will accept the ships with Oto Melara’s Super Rapide gun, effectively choosing its high-end capabilities over compatibility with the Russian 76.2mm guns on other Vietnamese vessels. Sources: Phunut Today, “”Phap ban ten lua cuc manh Excocet Block 3 cho SIGMA VN” | Navy Recognition, “Vietnam Navy selects MBDA Exocet and VL Mica missiles for its Sigma 9814 Corvettes”.

Oct 23/11: Reports indicate an agreement in progress with Vietnam, whereby the first 2 SIGMA ships will be built in Vlissingen, the Netherlands, and the last 2 would be built in Vietnam, under Dutch supervision. That would represent a big step forward for Vietnam’s shipbuilding industry. Sources: Defense Update, “Vietnam Negotiate Buying four Sigma Corvettes from the Netherlands”

Additional Readings

Background: SIGMA Ships

* Damen Schelde – Sigma Series. See also their “SIGMA Corvettes TNI-AL” and “SIGMA Frigates CMRM” pages.

* Naval Recognition – SIGMA 9813 Frigates Sultan Moulay Ismail & Allal Ben Abdellah – Royal Moroccan Navy Frégates Multi-Missions Marocaines (FMMM) – Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding. The 9813s are the likely starting template for Vietnam’s 9814s.

* Aviation Week (May 15/08) – Schelde Sees Bright Future for Sigma Modular Ship

Background: Mission Systems

* Thales – TACTICOS – Combat Management System

* Thales – Smart-S Mk2 3D medium to long range surveillance radar

* MBDA – Exocet MM40 Block 3.

* MBDA – VL-MICA-M. Its 20 km/ 10.8 nmi range isn’t fantastic, but its 360 degree engagement capability, advanced seeker and electronics, and ability to load radar or infrared guidance variants make it dangerous. Range is slightly longer than competitors like Raytheon’s RIM-116 RAM, RAFAEL’s Barak-1, or Denel’s Umkhonto; its closest competitor may be MBDA’s own CAMM-M/ Sea Ceptor.

* Naval Recognition – Oto Melara 76/62mm gun and its ammunition: the story of a success

Background: Other

* DID – Vietnam’s Russian Restocking. Russia is Vietnam’s largest defense partner by far.

* Damen Schelde (June 6/12) – Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding signs contract for SIGMA 10514 Guided Missile Frigate, PKR – Perusak Kawal Rudal. That will give Vietnam’s neighbor Indonesia 5 SIGMA ships: 4 SIGMA 9113 corvettes and 1 frigate.

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