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Miecznik: The Current State of the Most Important Modernisation Programme of the Polish Navy

The second press briefing on the implementation of the Miecznik (“Swordfish”) Programme, which took place on 8 April in Gdynia, provided information on the current progress of the project, as well as further details on the selected configuration of the armament system of the planned series of ships.

The second press briefing on the implementation of the Miecznik Programme, which took place on 8 April in Gdynia, provided information on the current state of the project, as well as further details on the selected configuration of the armament system of the planned ships. According to the schedule for the programme, by the end of March 2022 its first stage was to be completed, i.e. conducting an industrial feasibility study which included, among other things, preparation of conceptual designs for ships, configuration of an integrated combat system, subsequent selection of one of the designs and approval of tactical and technical requirements.

Initial impression of the Polish Miecznik missile frigate, based on the British Arrowhead 140PL project / Image: Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa

As we found out on 10 February this year, among the three ship proposals, i.e. the German TKMS MEKO A-300PL, the Spanish Navantia F-100PL and the British Babcock Arrowhead 140PL, the Armaments Agency (Agencja Uzbrojenia) chose the latter design. At the beginning of March, information was released that the PGZ-Miecznik Consortium had concluded a strategic cooperation agreement with Babcock, MBDA UK and Thales UK. Completion of the first stage and the commencement of the second stage, i.e. the update on the industrial feasibility study on 1 April, made possible the presentation of the conceptual design developed under the first stage.

The conceptual design of the Miecznik based on the Arrowhead 140PL frigate is a large frigate type vessel with a full displacement of 7,000 tons, length 138.7 m, beam 19.7 m and a draught of 5.5 m. The vessel will be capable of embarking 160 men but the number of crew itself will be approximately 100-120 men, depending on the eventual configuration chosen. The ship will receive a CODAD (COmbined Diesel And Diesel) propulsion system consisting of 4 diesel engines, which will allow for speeds of up to 28 knots and a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles at an economical speed of 18 knots. The ship’s autonomy, i.e. the time at sea with no need of re-supply, is estimated as 30 days.

The most important information provided during the meeting, however, was the planned configuration of weapons and equipment built around a Thales TACTICOS integrated combat system.

The ship’s radar sensors system is to be based on two Thales radars:

  • Sea Master 400 with four permanent phased active antennae (AESA) installed on the main mast. This radar operates in the 2-4 GHz frequency range (S-band) and has an effective range of over 400 km for air targets and 80 km for surface targets. It is able to track at least 1,000 targets simultaneously. The attached impression demonstrates that the latest version of the SM 400 Block 2 is to be installed on the Miecznik-class ships.
  • Thales NS50 also has an AESA class antenna, but in this case a rotating one, located on the top of the main mast. This device, in turn, operates in the frequency range of 8-12 GHz (X-band) and has an effective range of up to 180 km for air targets and 80 km for surface targets.

Both radars are multi-purpose devices, so they are used both for target detection as well as tracking and guiding weapons. They are referred to by the manufacturer as 4D, which is the designation adopted by Thales for devices capable of electronic beam control in two planes.

Two sonars will be used to detect underwater targets:

  • an under-hull fitted Thales BlueHunter;
  • a towed Thales CAPTAS, without a precisely specified variant, although it can be expected that it may well be CAPTAS-2, which the manufacturer himself describes as a suitable solution for medium frigates.

Little has been learned about the planned radio-electronic warfare system, apart from the information that it will contain decoy missile launchers.

Miecznik-class vessels will be capable of having a wide selection of weapons installed. In the field of anti-aircraft defence, it will consist of an MBDA Sea Ceptor system, and more specifically its new development version. This makes use of short-range anti-aircraft missiles from the CAMM family – the basic CAMM with a stated range exceeding 25 km and CAMM-ER with a greater range, according to the manufacturer’s specifications, exceeding 45 km (this still does not belong in the medium range, which according to the current classification is classified in the range 50-100 km).

They will be launched from a Mk 41 vertical launcher, using an expected maximum 32-chamber variant. The Strike version of the launcher was chosen, which could potentially house all of the types of weapons the Mk 41 is capable of launching, including Tomahawk missiles. However currently, in the case of Miecznik, there is no possibility of launching any missiles other than the CAMM family from them. Theoretically, the integration of the launcher with other types of missiles will be possible in the future, which of course will require additional funds.

The anti-ship armament will consist of a maximum of 16 RBS-15 missiles, but it is not yet known whether these will be of the RBS-15 Mk3 variant, as already used by the Polish Navy, or perhaps the next-generation RBS-15 Mk4 missiles which will also be available. This issue remains to be decided by the contracting authority in the future. The RBS-15 missiles in their maximum variant, i.e. 16 items, will be placed in four groups of four launch containers each. Two of them will be placed amidships and two more will be located on top of the helicopter hangar, one on each side.

The anti-submarine armament will consist of two 324 mm twin torpedo tubes (MU-90).

The proposed gun armament is a fore 76 mm gun and two 35 mm AM-35 anti-aircraft cannons, one at the bow and one at the stern, both from the OSU-35K artillery system being developed for modernised Kormoran mine hunters.

On board the Miecznik will be a space for a maximum of two large Leonardo AW101 Merlin helicopters, although actually one because only one can be placed in the hangar. Analyses are currently being carried out as to whether it will be possible to redesign the ship in such a way that it will accommodate a helicopter of a type without a folded tail boom, i.e. the Merlin aircraft which have been ordered for the needs of the Aviation Group in Darłowo of the 44th Naval Aviation Base.

The ship provides space for four semi-rigid boats – two up to 11 m long and two up to 7.5 m long. These mountings can also be used to carry, for example, unmanned sea vehicles. Under the helipad there is a deck for – among other things – the so-called mission modules where up to 4 standard 20ft containers can be carried.

This, in a nutshell, is the shape of the proposed Miecznik concept project. It should be emphasised that this is, however, the maximum variant developed in response to the requirements contained in the initial tactical and technical plans. Before us is the phase of developing the preliminary design and the key moment when the meeting with reality will take place, i.e. the update of technical and economic analyses. During the meeting, a declaration was made that some systems may be scalable, e.g. the number of launchers or other systems may be limited due to the available budget. As the Programme Manager Cezary Cierzan said, only after the preliminary design is completed, decisions will be made whether all units of the Miecznik-class will be equipped in the same way or otherwise.

According to the current schedule, the construction of the first vessel should commence around August 2023, when sheet metal cutting is to begin. The construction of the Miecznik Programme ships requires significant shipbuilding investments, especially at the Naval Shipyard (Stocznia Wojenna). A completely new hall is to be built there, intended to integrate the hull units, which will be built both at the Naval Shipyard and at Remontowa Shipbuilding (Stocznia Remontowa). According to preliminary arrangements, two large stands for each ship are to be built at each of the shipyards, which will then be joined together at the Naval Shipyard. According to President Lulewicz, a tender is to be announced in the coming days to select the design office that will prepare the technical and executive design of the facilities necessary for the implementation of the Miecznik Programme. According to the schedule, the assembly hall should be completed by January 2024.

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