Dutch navy starts retiring submarines, but successor still unknown

PARIS — The Dutch navy this week retired the first of its four Walrus-class submarines, and the Netherlands will decide in 2024 who will build the successor to the diesel-electric attack submarines, the Defense Ministry said.

The lead vessel of the Walrus class was decommissioned after 31 years of service and will be used for parts to keep the country’s remaining fleet of three submarines operational, according to the ministry. A second boat is set to retire in the coming years, but no exact date has been set.

“The withdrawal of the Walrus will help the Navy maintain focus on the future in coming years, and facilitate the material maintenance of the sailing boats,” Commander Jeroen van Zanten, the head of the Royal Netherlands Navy Submarine Service, said in the ministry’s statement.

The Netherlands received bids in July from Naval Group, Saab Kockums and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems to build four replacement submarines, with a preliminary decision planned for the first quarter of 2024. The government has said the new submarines will cost more than €2.5 billion (U.S. $2.6 billion), while Dutch media have reported the budget may exceed €4.5 billion.

The project to replace the Netherlands’ aging Walrus class has racked up years of delays. An initial plan for the first new submarine to sail in 2028 has been adjusted; the plan is now for two fully operational boats in the 2034-2037 time frame.

Program delays forced the Royal Netherlands Navy to extend the service life of the Walrus class, originally designed to operate for 25 years. The growing importance of operations in coastal waters has resulted in less hull strain than included in the design, which the Dutch government says allows for continued operation of the class until new submarines come into service.

The Walrus, attached to the Dutch naval base of Den Helder, was decommissioned Thursday with a flag-lowering ceremony after 3,000 days at sea and participation in 14 military operations, the ministry said. Once the second submarine is retired, the navy will continue to sail the two remaining Walrus-class boats until their first replacement comes into service, which will take at least 10 years, the ministry said.

The three shipbuilders competing for the project also submitted industrial cooperation agreements that will be evaluated by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. Following the preliminary decision, parliament is expected to discuss delivery terms and price in the second quarter of 2024, after which the Defense Ministry will be able to sign a final contract.

The contract will include a requirement for the winning shipbuilder to complete sea acceptance trials for the second submarine within 10 years of final signing, with the goal of limiting the risk of a capability gap for the Dutch armed forces.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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