¿are Damen’s SIGMA frigates about to take over Latin America?

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Dutch shipbuilder Damen is walking hard in Latin America, about to deliver its first Reformador class frigate to the Mexican Navy and a serious contender in both Brazilian Navy Tamandaré and Colombian Navy PES programs for replacement of Niteroi class and Almirante Padilla class frigates respectively.

SIGMA 10514 frigates, reduced in size and displacement but not in performance if the conditions were in place, could replace Peru’s Lupo class frigates and Argentina’s MEKO 360. These 105 meters and a 14 meter beam frigates are cost effective and in a high level of automation alternative. Indonesia and Morocco hold standard versions of these frigates and Mexico ordered a custom improved design with a 2 meter length difference in hold of new equipment and more powerful machinery. Considering the regional particular interest in Reformador class frigates, this article will make an educated guess and comparison with regional requirements and current capabilities.

Regional fleets hold a majority of Frigates built between late 1970s and early 1980s, with similar electronic and weapon systems and machinery as well. The majority of these hulls and systems are reaching to an end considering the sundown on support given by their manufacturer. Meetings between operators of legacy equipment and systems are regular on sharing valuable information on lifespan and maintenance.

Surface to surface missiles hold an average range of engagement between 40 and 80 for C-Star, Exocet, Harpoon and Teseo missiles in different versions. As for Air Defense Systems, since argentine Sea Dart and Chilean SM-1 missiles have been out of service, the standard is for point defense and self-defense missiles including Aspide/Sea Sparrow variants, Mistral and anti-aircraft artillery. Some of these frigates can take 2 helicopters but regionally don’t take deployments of more than one and have limited or none assisted capabilities.

For this purpose, Damen offers a cost effective frigate with reduced crew as needed due to a large implementation of automated processes and modern equipment. Having the same or larger punch than a MEKO 360H2 with almost half of its displacement and crew. Taking consideration of these developing nations, Damen is offering local assembly of these surface units with partial or full construction of the building modules. Having state of the art radar, ESM and missiles with option to choose from a set of proven suppliers and including also legacy proven systems such as LIROD Mk 2. Mexico’s choice on the Reformador class was to have a VLS launched Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile with Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) Block II and remotely operated guns for close in engagement, with RIM-84L for surface units engagement and a multipurpose Bofors 57mm gun.  the Anti-Submarine Warfare responsibilities lay on the embarked helicopter (yet to be determined on AMLO’s cancellation of MH-60R’s recent purchase) has two triple torpedo launch tubes with Mk 54 torpedoes. With a Combined Diesel or Electric (CODOE) propulsion, these vessels will have more than 20 days autonomy and a maximum speed over 25 knots.

As a wrap up, these surface units seem to be a very cost effective solution even though share a tough competition on Naval Group/Leonardo, BAE Systems and Navantia’s proposals. Venezuela has in service Navantia’s Avante class in Coast Guard and Navy versions, Argentina recently bought 4 Gowind OPV’s to be built in France. This OPV term rarely is been used and the Reformador are taken as frigates even if the Mexican Navy named them OPV’s. While some of these proposals are proven variants and other still in the drawing board, will have a fierce political, economic and industrial challenge to overcome. Still being impossible to consider a multinational request as for example the European Horizon program and not the mention the unstable politics and finance of the region.

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