The Royal Danish Navy

The ship's commanding officer, Captain Dan Termansen, described one event:

There was one day when a distress call came over the international frequency saying that a motor vessel was being attacked by a pirate skiff. We had our helicopter up and on scene, and the Turkish frigate Giresun put theirs up as well. With both helicopters . . . and the Absalon closing in, we were able to protect that vessel and keep them from getting pirated.

Regardless of what flag a Navy ship may be flying out here, we're all working together to fight a problem that affects everyone.

Because about 99 percent of the small skiffs and boats in the Gulf are legitimate fishing vessels, the CTF-151 ships must be able to rapidly intercept such craft when they display hostile intent or weapons are seen on board.

During her deployment with CTF-151, the Absalon detained or inspected more than 80 suspected pirates, confiscated almost 60 weapons-mostly AK-47 assault rifles and grenade launchers-as well as eight boarding ladders used by pirates. "The Absalon and her crew did a magnificent job making the Gulf of Aden safer for the free flow of commerce," said U.S. Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, who was commander of CTF-151 while the Absalon was in the Gulf. Making several visits to the Absalon, McKnight called her a "great ship."

Sometimes legitimate craft are stopped by CTF-151 warships in an effort to gain intelligence-or to purchase fresh fish for the crew. The pirate craft are difficult to distinguish from legitimate fishing craft; they are essentially the same, with the same Honda outboard engines. And both the fishing and pirate craft simply drift at night, doing their business in daylight.

The Absalon is significantly larger than the two U.S. LCS designs, and the Danish Navy officially rates her as a "flexible support ship," being given an "L" (amphibious) series pennant number. Interestingly, the U.S. LCS is also an "L" ship, a designation that historically has indicated amphibious ships in the U.S. Navy.

However, the Absalon definitely rates as a warship by most criteria. As shown in Table 1, not only does her size diverge from the U.S. ships, but also the Absalon is considerably slower. She and her sister ship, the Esbern Snare, completed in 2004 and 2005, respectively, are the largest ships ever built for the Royal Danish Navy.

The Danish ship is more heavily armed than her U.S. counterparts. Her standard fit includes: one 5-inch/62-caliber dual-purpose gun, two 35-mm single-barrel cannon close-in weapon systems, eight .50-cal machine guns, two double Stinger missile firing mounts, 36 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, and eight Harpoon antiship missiles. She also has more flexibility with respect to accommodating weapons, vehicles, and "mission modules." Additional weapons can be fitted, e.g., up to 16 Harpoon Block II missiles. These weapons are mostly mounted in five container wells in the amidships section of the ship. Weapon modules can be changed in about two hours, with "plug-and-shoot" computerized software minimizing changes for changing fire control functions. Beyond the weapon wells, specialized containers can be provided with a capability for laying up to 300 mines.

The ship also has an impressive radar, command and control, and countermeasures/decoy suite. The ship's bandwidth capabilities are greater than those of a U.S. Aegis guided-missile cruiser. In addition, the class can accommodate two large EH-101 Merlin helicopters, although during her eight months in the Gulf of Aden the Absalon had a single Lynx helicopter embarked.

Like the U.S. LCS designs, the Absalon is intended to embark "mission modules" to provide specialized combat or support capabilities. The ship's container deck-at 9,688 square feet-can be loaded with containers to provide accommodations, working space, and other facilities for staffs numbering up to 70 people, or a hospital facility, or a special warfare team. Including helicopter crews and support personnel, the maximum number that can be accommodated beyond the ship's basic crew, probably based on mess facilities, is almost 200. While on anti-piracy patrol a special forces team was embarked in the ship. (Ramps are provided to permit the rapid loading and unloading of modules or vehicles, including tanks.)

The basic ship's crew is 100 officers and enlisted personnel, men and women. Their accommodations are of a very high standard with the enlisted crew in 4-bunk cabins, each with its own toilet and bath. Other spaces each house two or three petty officers or two officers, with senior officers getting single quarters. Similarly, appealing recreation and mess spaces are provided, and there is an Internet cafe, tanning chamber, and sauna. These facilities are necessary to attract volunteers to naval service. The crew was rotated halfway through the eight-month deployment to the Gulf area.

Another manifestation of her warship persona is the Absalon's incorporation of stealth design characteristics that provide reduced acoustic, radar, and infrared signatures. She features 16 watertight sections or compartments, with automated damage-control and fire-fighting capabilities. More than 50 cameras are fitted to monitor unmanned compartments.

The ship's major limitation is her speed-23 knots maximum. She is propelled by two MTU 8000 diesel engines, each rated at 8.31 megawatts. Two shafts drive controllable-pitch propellers. Both U.S. LCS designs originally called for a maximum speed of up to 50 knots. However, the U.S. Navy has not published a concept of operations that explains the need for that speed regime.

Obviously 23 knots is too slow for an effective warship when one considers long-distance deployments. However, offboard sensors, helicopters (manned and unmanned), as well as other factors, raise questions about the need for even 45-knot speeds in littoral areas. Thus, while the Absalon's 23 knots may be too slow, many other features of the ship make the design attractive for littoral operations.

In the offing is Denmark's new "flexible patrol ship." This frigate is based on the Absalon hull with many of the same features, including a modular weapon fit, but with a different superstructure and more capable weapons-a MK 41 vertical launcher with Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles. The same engines are used but are doubled from two to four providing greater speed, about 28 knots. The lead ship of three is expected to enter service about 2012.

The men and women who design next generation U.S. Navy surface combatants would do well to look at the Absalon and Esbern Snare as well as the newest Danish design.

Mr. Polmar, author of Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, also wrote the recently published two-volume Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events (Potomac Books).


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