Norway’s New OPVs: Flexibility, Power, Efficiency – Opportunity?
Guest Article by Endre Lunde
For most countries, coast guard duties consist of inshore search and rescue, security patrols and environmental protection, and are performed by smaller vessels, Many are even operated by civilian agencies. Not so for the Norwegian coast guard, which is a branch of the Norwegian Navy and operates in Norway’s entire Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) and protection zones, a total of 2.2 million square kilometers as well-known known for the North Sea’s and Arctic’s harsh conditions as it is for its oil platforms and rich fisheries.
To perform these duties, a whole series of new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) ranging in size from 700-6,500 tons have been developed by Norwegian designers over the last decade. The traditional corvette designs were avoided – instead, the new ships were based on 30-40 years of experience designing civilian offshore support and fishing vessels for the North Sea. Lately, as advanced OPVs have begun riding a crest of popularity and the littoral threat continues to rise, the Norwegian branch of Rolls Royce has found itself designing coastal and environmental protection vessels for France, Spain and India; they are considered strong candidates with other countries as well.
This article outlines the background of these vessels, and describes two of their main designers, the aforementioned Rolls Royce Marine with their successful exports, and Vik-Sandvik AS, who were recently awarded the contract to design one of the world’s first hybrid-powered naval vessels.
Norwegian OPVs: The History
In the aftermath of the Cold War, as funding slipped from the military’s budgets, the Norwegian Coast Guard were forced to think in new ways how to handle procurement and operations. The solution was to expand a model that had been used since the 1970s – to lease vessels from private companies that would handle procurement and maintenance, and then equip them as OPVs for the coast guard.
The difference would be that instead of being converted trawlers and supply vessels, they would be custom built by civilian designers and shipyards to the demands of the Norwegian Coast Guard. The hope was that they would provide vastly enhanced capabilities, while keeping costs at an acceptable level. In fact, this has been the case with every vessel built for the Norwegian Coast Guard in the last 10 years, except for the 6,500 ton “KV Svalbard.”
These vessels soon developed a distinguishable profile as well, dismissing the corvette-like designs used by many other countries, as the designers drew on their past experiences from designing for the North Sea, resulting in vessels emphasizing flexibility, stability and cost efficiency.
Remoy Shipping and Remoy management, two Norwegian companies owned by two members of the same family, currently owns and maintains half of the Norwegian Coast Guard fleet as a result of this policy. The vessels are manned by a mix of civilian support staff and operational personnel from the military, with the exception of the KV Svalbard ice-breaker/OPV/ support vessel which is a wholly military ship.
Norwegian OPVs: The Designers & Ships
The following are two of the many companies that have taken part in designing the new vessels.
The Ship Technology division of Rolls Royce Marine based in Ulsteinvik, Norway has long been established as one of the foremost designers of offshore support vessels for the oil industry, with more than 500 vessels built of their so-called “UT” designs over the last 30 years. Based on this experience, they have designed the latest addition to the Norwegian Coast Guard, the KV Harstad, based on a design named the 40 mm Bofors naval gun
According to the Norwegian Coast Guard, the vessel is also specially designed to perform submarine rescue.
According to Rolls Royce, what makes their vessels unique is their emphasis on stability and safety, both during transit and during operations. The hull and the machinery are designed with emphasis on providing the best possible stability and power even under extreme sea states and resistance. In addition, all the ships systems are built with redundancy in mind, for instance by having two propellers with independent propulsion. These are lessons learned from offshore operations in the North Sea, where systems failure in a critical moment while operating close to oil installations could have disastrous consequences.
The second designer, Vik-Sandvik AS, is a fairly new as a designer of OPVs. What they do have is a long record of designing advanced trawlers and various civilian offshore support vessels. The company started in 1975 in the small community of Fitjar outside Bergen, and has continued to expand until today when consists of a group of companies in Norway, Poland and China, and numbering some 200 employees.
According to the company themselves, some 60 vessels designed by them or their affiliates are under construction world wide.
On the 21st of October 2005, Vik – Sandvik AS and Remoy Management signed a contract with the Norwegian Coast Guard for the delivery of a two new coast guard vessels, to be named the KV Barentshav and the KV Sortland. The first ship of the new design is to be delivered in 2007. Like the UT-512s, the new The VS-794 ships will measure about 3,100 tonnes and have approximately 100 tons of bollard pull, making them capable of functioning as a tug boat for much larger vessels. Though no details have been released as of yet, the vessels are likely to be equipped with the same kind of rescue and environmental protection equipment as the one designed by Rolls Royce, and a naval gun of roughly the same configuration.
But the similarities end there.
These latest vessels represent a major step forward by being one of the world’s first naval vessels to use a hybrid propulsion system based on diesel and liquid natural gas (LNG). The hull is also built along the lines of a North Sea trawler, in order to maximize speed and fuel-efficiency. This allows the vessels to perform up to a speed of approx. 16.5 knots using gas generators, up to 18.5 knot mechanically, and above 18.5 knots in hybrid mode.
This new propulsion also enables the vessels to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% and NOx emissions by 90%; according to one of the chief designers, a 25% reduction in fuel expenses can also be expected. This would make the vessel considerably more efficient to run, and clearly marks the entrance of environmental concerns in naval designs. As shown by several previous DID articles, energy concerns are on the rise within militaries worldwide, and experiences from vessels such as these might prove valuable when creating the propulsion systems to power future naval vessels.
The new vessels follow the global trend toward increased automation and smaller crew sizes with a standard crew of 16, while its facilities can support a maximum crew of up to 40 members. This allows even further savings on operating costs.
These innovations will certainly be highly touted as a potential edge in future competitions, such as the one for the future OPV of Iceland that is to be decided this December 2006. Rolls Royce has confirmed that they will be a candidate.
In addition, September 2006 will see Europe’s first conference dedicated to Offshore Patrol Vessels in London, England, further recognizing OPVs’ growing importance. This DefenceIQ conference will feature the Norwegian experiences and OPVs both in workshops and lectures, and will give their builders’ in-depth views of their new and future role within Europe’s defenses.
Sources and Additional Readings
Note that ship names are referred to by their Norwegian designations in this article, as KV (Kystvakten) rather than the English “NoGC”.
- Norwegian Kystvakten/ Coast Guard
- Rolls Royce Marine
- Vik-Sandvik Homepage
- Wikipedia – KV Svalbard. Compare to Denmark’s Thetis Class 3,500t arctic patrol frigates, a.k.a. “fisheries patrol vessels”.
- Rolls Royce (March 15/05): – New Norwegian Coastguard vessel K/V Harstad is designed and equipped by Rolls-Royce
- DID (May 18/06) – The Pentagon’s Energy Conservation Series
- DID (March 17/06) – Energy Conservation Moving Up The Pentagon’s Agenda