“But the second idea is also very important,” he says. “We are a balanced navy. We haven’t adopted the idea of NATO specialization that was very popular some navies. Due to our responsibilities and interests, we cannot be a specialized navy. We have to be a balanced navy because the international environment changes very fast, and if we specialized as other navies have, we would not be able to perform the tasks that our foreign policy requires. So we kept a set of capabilities to be able to perform the tasks that the navy has to do.”
To carry out the broad spectrum of tasks, Ribeiro says Portugal has five frigates, two submarines, two new ocean patrol vessels, six old corvettes, a logistical support ship, four hydrographic vessels, three patrol vessels, thirteen patrol boats and three sailing ships for training. It also has five Lynx helicopters.
“We had to decide which were the imperative capabilities – the ones we must have, and design capabilities – the ones that were good to have.”
The two classes of frigates – the Vasco da Gama-class MEKO frigates, and two Bartolomeu Dias-class frigates – are being modernized. “They are used in very different scenarios and in very different tasks. So we are going to modernize them in different ways,” he says.
The Bartolomeu Dias frigates are former Royal Netherlands Navy Karel Doorman-class multi-purpose frigates, transferred in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The MEKO ships were built in Germany for Portugal and joined the fleet in 1991-1992.
Maintaining and improving the navy is challenged by budgetary realities.
“Portugal is in a very severe financial situation,” Ribeiro says. “In spite of that, we are fighting very much to modernize our navy.”
Ribeiro says the modernization effort was guided by several factors, including limited financial resources, and increasing performance as much as possible within those budget constraints. “We had to decide which were the imperative capabilities – the ones we must have, and design capabilities – the ones that were good to have.”
The result has been to designate two frigates for demanding, major theater operations, and three of them – the German-built MEKO-class frigates – that will be used for small-scale contingencies. On the latter, the Vasco da Gama-class ships, Ribeiro says the modernization will focus on sustaining radars, and improving IFF, electronic warfare, and electro-optic GPS sensors. The plan is to improve the CIWS (close-in weapon system), but keep the present surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles. To improve command and control, the satellite communications and other communications systems, including Datalink 11, 16, and 22 – the latter fitted for the combat management system – and the decision support system will be upgraded. The engineering integrated platform management system will also be improved during the refit.
Two new Viana do Castelo-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) have recently been built in Portugal.
Ribeiro says that a more ambitious mid-life update is planned for the two Bartolomeu Dias frigates, for which more demanding operations are envisioned. “We will improve the IFF, electronic support measures, electro-optic GPS and sonar. On the weaponry, we will upgrade the CIWS and the surface-to-air-missiles, keep the present surface-to- surface missiles, and modernize torpedoes. Engineering-wise we will overhaul and modernize the turbines in order to extend their life significantly.”