NATO Navies: No Frigate on the Horizon

By Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Royal Navy, Director, Royal United Services Institute

Italy's entry into the project was rather different. Although a requirement for replacement air-defense ships early in the new century was identified, there initially was uncertainty over what capabilities were needed. Early work on technical specifications, however, showed that the ships' main antiair missile system, soon to be known as the Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS), probably would be procured from an ongoing French-Italian missile program that was developing both land-based and shipborne systems. As a result, Italy had a fair call to join the project, and was able to agree to the staff requirement—without further changes, and again with minimal national variations—in time for the grand signing. And so Project Horizon got off to a good start, but as one prescient skeptic muttered at the time: "You never reach the horizon."

The management structure for the acquisition of the ship was complex, with a naval committee to oversee the integrity of the tripartite staff requirement, and a steering committee to oversee procurement. They acted through two project offices: the Horizon Project Office that managed the ship and combat systems (except PAAMS) and a PAAMS Project Office. The former was sited in London under French leadership; the latter was in Paris under British leadership.

The prime link to industry was through an international joint venture company (IJVC) with British shareholders BAe, GEC, and Vosper Thorneycroft, Italian shareholders Fincantieri and Finnemeccanica, and French shareholder Direction Construction Navale (Internationale) (DCNI), as part of the Delegation Generale de l'Armement (DGA), the French procurement executive.

To ensure that competition was genuine, the major subsystems were put out to bid, each with two international consortia, and DGA/DCNI, already represented on the steering committee and the IJVC, were excluded from being subcontractors.

Perhaps the most important subsystem was the Combat Management System, and the two consortia were EuroCombat (with BAe Sema, Thomson-CSF, and Alenia) and HEPICS (with GEC Marconi, Dassault Electronique, and Datamat). DCNI was permitted to become a consultant to HEPICS, and whether because of that or coincidental to it, that group eventually put forward as its bid the SENIT 8 system, the latest in a family of systems built for the French Navy. At the competition's conclusion, however, the EuroCombat bid was selected. This was not acceptable to the DGA, and to deny the correct result of the competition was equally unacceptable to Britain. This impasse threatened the entire Horizon project, and there were a number of attempts to revisit the points of disagreement and to seek compromise, but without success. Both sides went the extra mile several times, the last at the start of the Kosovo air campaign, when an industrial muddying of the waters was considered uncomfortably maladroit. So another month was bought, but to no avail: for Horizon, it was indeed ashes to ashes.

All is not lost, however. Somewhat perversely, the PAAMS project, which was chronically difficult to set up, continues promisingly on twin tracks. The French-Italian option, centered around EMPAR, the European multifunction phased array radar, is run by EUROSAM, and the British option, using the Sampson radar, is managed by UKAMS. Both should be able to proceed into front-line service, given safe passage across the procurement "snakes and ladders" board.

The three ministries of defense and the three navies now have to take stock. For Italy it seems possible that the priority for a high-capability air-defense ship in the time frame envisaged may weaken. For France, the delay in bringing the Charles de Gaulle into service may provide some relief for their future air defense frigate program, but the building blocks are there, including SENIT 8. And as for the British, they may revert to an evolved version of the national staff requirement on which the tripartite staff requirement was based. The Combat Management System may not turn out to be the EuroCombat solution, and a more capable version of the Type 23 frigate command system could be considered. They say that the ship might be called the Type 45 Destroyer: for destroyer buffs this may be a welcome glimmer of light—on the horizon.

For European defense, the lessons may be harsh. The seeds of destruction for Project Horizon were sown in its procurement structure, but their origin lies in Europe's failure to rationalize so that the several parts of the defense industrial structure are interoperable. One must be confident that Europe will learn well the lessons from this tale of woe. There is really no alternative.

 

 
 

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