Danish ‘motherships’ could help meet Nordic range challenge

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A navy patrol P525 warship on the Copenhagen waterfront, Copenhagen, Denmark, Feb. 7, 2020. (Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This is the latest in a series of regular columns by Robbin Laird, where he will address current defense issues through the lens of more than 45 years of defense expertise in the United States and abroad. The purpose of these chronicles: to revisit how issues and perspectives from the past should inform decisions made today.

With NATO expanding to Sweden and Finland, how the Nordic countries rework their national security approaches and capabilities is a major challenge — and an opportunity. The Kingdom of Denmark could play an important role in triggering innovative thinking and shaping the way forward for Nordic integration.

The Kingdom is much larger than the country of Denmark itself, comprising both Greenland and the Faroe Islands. And as such, Kingdom territory does, in effect, form the strategic rear of a Norse integration effort – and requires operating over distances that a non-Dane might simply not consider doing. against their small navy and air force.

Due to Denmark’s role in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, even though it is a small state, the Danes reached these important geographical areas as part of the defense of the North Atlantic and the involvement in the Arctic. The Russians have expanded the perimeter of their defense capabilities in the Arctic and in doing so have raised concerns among other Arctic powers. This is clearly a central concern for the Nordic countries and an important contribution to their defense modernization efforts, nationally and collectively.

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Therefore, linking communications within the military, as well as between military and civilian authorities, is vital. This means the Danes have had to work on non-line-of-sight capabilities for Link 16, which involves, among other things, ways to move Link 16 data to various other networks.

Innovation in C2 is now a key focus of Danish defense leaders and key to being able to chart the way forward for Nordic defense integration.

In a 2021 interview I did with Major General Anders Rex, then head of the Danish air force and now head of the Danish defense review, he highlighted how innovation C2 is crucial right now – using current technologies and not relying on some futuristic JADC2 world – to chart a way forward for integrability in the region. (While I think joint command and control of all domains is clearly the future, I agree with Rex’s view that we need to work on improved capabilities with the current force.)

“We have to focus on both in parallel. Denmark doesn’t have the muscle to shape the future of all areas of command and control, but we also have to drive change – now we have to do the work. What I have focused on for the past two years is improving our strength now. Today,” Rex said then.

“We actually already have the capability to shape more efficient networks of ISR and C2 without significant investments. For example, we are leveraging the Joint Range Extension Application Protocol (JREAP) which requires modest investments, and it is a way for us, our allies and coalition partners, to build a modest combat cloud linking our data.

During my visit to Copenhagen this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with defense and industry officials in Denmark, and it was clear that the focus was on innovations that could advancing inter-Nordic defense. This means going beyond the C2 question to find other ways of working together. One of the problems facing Denmark’s current defense overhaul is that it was launched before Finland and Sweden joined NATO and should be completed before they ascend. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that whatever changes are put in place during the national review, they do not impede eventual Nordic integration.

RELATED: Should Greenland and Denmark Be Part of NORAD?

One area where we might see better regional integration is on water. The Danes are among the most innovative ship designers in the world. The Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate combines capability with affordability, and the British have adopted the Danish design for their new fleet of general-purpose frigates under an agreement with Babcock International. With the obvious need for the Swedes and Norwegians as well as the Danes to expand their maritime capabilities by improving the strategic depth of the Nordic defense, the Danes are focusing on new ways to build a ship that can fit into a concept kill web operations, or the ship’s ability to integrate with air and ground combat systems to provide an integrated firefighting solution.

In fact, the Danish government transferred the head of the Danish Navy, Rear Admiral Torben Mikkelsen, to a new position to work on these issues. From a discussion with him during my time in Copenhagen, it is clear that he is focused on building capabilities designed to deliver payloads to missions, rather than just focusing on conventional platform builds.

During this summer’s visit, I had the opportunity to discuss with the Director of the Danish Naval Team, former head of the Danish Navy, Rear Admiral (Retired) Nils Wang, about this what such an approach means for ship design. He provided a detailed overview of one way to do this, namely by building offshore patrol boat-sized naval platforms designed around payload modularity.

He laid down a design brief for an 80-85 meter vessel with a draft of five meters which had on the foredeck up to 32 cells in Mark 41 launchers. Some of these cells could be loaded with the ship’s organic self-defense missiles and the remaining portion would be launched from third-party platforms (such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) and contribute to an integrated fire solution from a national or command . central decision-making matrix. The arsenal configuration could include a deep strike capability based on the Tomahawk missile.

It should be noted that at the beginning of this year, the Danish Navy fired its first SM-1 missiles from an Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate. They have 50 on order and the ESSM Block IIS is coming to the Danish Navy at the same time. The Danes are studying the possibility of also acquiring SM-6 missiles and are studying the requirements of the sensor suite and the combat management system for the use of this missile.

The vessel would be designed with modules to launch autonomous systems of different types – air and sea – and do so within standard ISO shipping container sizes. Wang pointed to a Danish company, SH Defense, whose Cube concept can contain a variety of smaller unmanned systems and platforms that could be launched from what is effectively a small “mothership”. .

These “motherships” would have robust self-defense systems, but would push long-range effectors and smaller platforms into the battlespace that could contribute to and reinforce a web force of maritime destruction. This would lead, according to Wang, “to a paradigm shift in how we would label naval platforms.” Rather than just using the legacy labels – corvette, frigate, destroyer, etc. – we would focus on “motherships” and what capabilities they could activate in the battlespace through integrability.

While Sweden is clearly faced with the need to move from a land-centric defense of territory posture and Finland is also adapting to a posture that provides defense in depth for the region, such Danish thinking could serve as a trigger to shape innovative new pathways for northern defense innovation. and integration.

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