A Naval News report, “RNLN Looks At Low-Manned Platform To Augment Frigate Fire Power” talks about the possibility of adding weapons and sensors to lightly manned small vessels to act as extensions of a large warship’s weapons and sensors. Cooperative Engagement Capability probably makes this possible. (Incidentally the vessel shown in the leading illustration is a Damen design 50 meter in length with a beam of 9 meters. More here.)
But the post also discussed another program, a new class of smaller amphibious warships, expected to enter service from the early 2030s, that will also fill the role of Offshore Patrol Vessels.
Captain Van der Kamp also outlined the RNLN’s evolving thinking on a replacement amphibious shipping capability, dubbed LPX…these new ships are also expected to assume the patrol and surveillance tasks currently performed by the navy’s four Holland class patrol vessels…“We would combine these amphibious ships with the function of a patrol vessel to do Coastguard patrols in the Caribbean and counter-drugs operations in the Caribbean.”
The four Holland class OPVs were commissioned 2012 to 2013, so in the early 2030s they will be at the most 23 years old. These ships are similar in size, speed, capabilities, and mission to the OPCs. They have frequently conducted drug interaction missions in the Caribbean with US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments embarked and at least on one occasion using a USCG helicopter.
The other two ships being replaced, HNLMS Rotterdam and HNLMS Johan de Witt. are older, commissioned in 1998 and 2007. They have a combined capability to land about 1200 Marines. I presume the cumulative capability of the new ships will be similar. Each of them can also carry up to 32 tanks, but the Netherlands Marine Corps does not have any tanks, nor do they have organic heavy artillery. Their only armored vehicles are much smaller, so perhaps the replacement ships will not need the capability to handle tanks.
Why is the Netherlands Navy choosing to do this?
Going from six ships to perhaps only four is likely to decrease the total crew requirements.
It may be that the landing ships are considered better able to meet the disaster response component that has been one of the OPVs’ missions.
The Netherlands Navy may not see any wartime role for the OPVs, or at least no role the new LPX could not also do.
Nevertheless, it seems the changes is rooted in changes in the Marine Corps concept of operation. “…leaner and smaller units that would unload further away from land.”
It may be significant that the new ships are referred to as LPX not LPDX. That may mean that they would not have a well deck. It might be thought they are paralleling US Marine Corp thinking that resulted in the Marines shedding their tanks and heavy artillery and the formation of a Littoral Regiment and a program to build relatively small Landing Ship, Mediums. On the other hand, given the way the Netherlands Marine Corps names their units, “Raiding Section,” “Raiding Troop,” and “Raiding Squadron,” they obviously see themselves as a raiding organization more akin to the British Royal Marine Commandos of WWII than to the US Marine Corps that seized and held islands in the Pacific. They do have a long and continuing association with the Royal Marines. In any case they are and probably will remain essentially light infantry.
If the new ships are to replace the four OPVs, then I would presume they would still need at least four ships. If they were following the USMC example, they may build a larger number of smaller ships, but I don’t think that will be the case. If they are to “…unload further away from land,” they are going to be very different from the beachable LSMs envisioned by the US Marines. The British developed LCVP Mk5c used by the Netherlands Marine Corps are big boats, 15.7 m (51 ft 6 in) in length and displacing 24 tons. If they are to be swung from davits, it will not be from a small ship.
I would not be surprised if the LPX program came out as four ships that look a lot like slightly larger Danish Absalon class (which can reportedly transport a company-sized landing force of some 200 soldiers with vehicles). Four ships that could each transport 300 Marines, each equipped with four LCVPs (or its replacement), a pair of “FRISC” (Fast Raiding, Interception and Special forces Craft) RHIB, with hangar space for a couple of helicopters, could replicate the transport capacity of the two LPDs in a more flexible, distributed, and perhaps more survivable force package. The resulting ships would effectively be modern high-speed transports (APD/LPR).