Denmark’s two flexible support ships carry a lot of combat capability, and a lot of room for imagination. The Absalon class, which includes the HDMS Absalon and HDMS Esbern Snare, were built by Odense Steel Shipyard upon a frigate-like design, but with significant internal volume inside the multipurpose flexible support deck (FSD) – or “flex deck” – which features stern ramps for vehicles and boats. The Absalons also leverage Denmark’s experience with warship modularity gained with its StanFlex ships, and used the same containerized capability packages. But these are more than amphibious ships or auxiliaries. They’re armed with guns and missiles like a combatant.
Denmark led the way in the trend for modular systems with its 14 Flyvefisken-class StandardFlex ships, which could be equipped with various modules to give each ship the desired capabilities. Those ships were built for Cold War missions in Danish waters, and they have been retired. But the StandardFlex concept – and indeed the modules themselves – live on.
On the Absalon class, the weapons deck has five StandardFlex module positions. “We have five container positions amidships,” says Cmdr. Senior Grade Henrik Holck Rasmussen, the commanding officer of HDMS Esbern Snare (L 17). “Currently we have two positions for ESSM (the NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow missile) and two for Harpoon (anti-ship missile), with one vacant. But that is easily changed.”
The Saab Ceros fire control radar is the same as used on the StandardFlex ships, removed and installed on the Absalon class and upgraded for ESSM, the 5-inch and Millennium Gun. “We have an Atlas hull mounted sonar, but no towed array or VDS. We could be equipped with a modularized capability to bring aboard a towed sonar system, and could also carry unmanned systems if required,” says Rasmussen.
“StandardFlex was indeed a success based on modularity,” Rasmussen says.
Rasmussen previously commanded one of the Flyvefisken-class StandardFlex ships, HDMS Hajen, now LVS Dzukas of the Lithuanian Navy. “They were not a blue water ships. They were built for a coastal war. They didn’t have the endurance to deploy to the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Aden, although we did deploy them to the Straits of Gibraltar (STROG) patrol mission after 9/11. But they couldn’t do Somalia. They had their era in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the first decade of this millennium.”
“Today’s mission is the result of a strategic shift and fiscal realities. Today we are employing ourselves in a new way. We’re still engaged at home, but we have a global view of our responsibilities. We don’t have submarines anymore. It was the result of a military strategic shift, but had also its roots in budgetary restraints,” Rasmussen says.
We will be a credible member of the international community. We would not be credible with 14 of those,” pointing to the Dzukas, which was moored close by at the Frederikshavn naval base where both ships were preparing for the recent DANEX/NOCO 2012 naval exercises.
Denmark is committed six months out of each year to NATO’s Ocean Shield mission to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Both Absalon and Esbern Snare are ideally suited for this mission, and both have participated with great success. “We will try to enroll the new frigates in that task starting in October 2012,” Rasmussen says.
Rasmussen says the ship was “designed and built to cost.”
The Absalon and Esbern Snare were built mainly to commercial classification standards, but the frigates will be built to a more rugged military standard to make them more survivable.
The 6,500 ton Esbern Snare has a lean crew of just 99. The small crew figures into the ship’s total lifecycle ownership costs. “In our navy, cost includes manpower, education and support,” Rasmussen says.
Despite its economical operation, underway time must be scheduled carefully and used judiciously. “We are paid by sea days, so we must account for all of our time under way. We’re looking for fewer days at sea, but more effective days,” he says. “We’re starting training just as soon as we slip.”
“We still have conscription, but it is only four months and only a limited number are drafted. The aim of the short conscription period is only to give an introduction to the defense forces and a basic general education focused on civil defense,” says Rear Adm. Kent Birger Jensen, a retired Danish naval officer who now heads Naval Team Denmark, which represents Denmark’s naval industries. “With the exception of the royal yacht, with a crew of conscripts aboard for nine months, no other units in our navy have conscripts on board.”