Denmark cancels the ongoing procurement of new pollution control vessels to investigate the possibility of building military multipurpose ships. This surprising piece of news came in the new defense agreement that was the announced earlier this week. While Denmark desperately needs new ships for the anti-pollution task, there are some potentially visionary possibilities is the brief and somewhat cryptic message in the political agreement:
The parties agree that the procurement of new pollution control vessels is reconsidered with the purpose of investigating a possibility where new military vessels, in addition to the military tasks, can solve maritime pollution control tasks to a sufficient degree.
Pollution control is not a typical military issue, but nevertheless it ended up stealing much of the public attention. In fact, it was the only thing that the Ministry of Defense found it necessary to elaborate on in a separate piece on their website after the publication of the defense agreement.
In Denmark many coastguard duties are organized under the Navy, including pollution control. The existing oil pollution control vessels are old and outdated, and the Navy was almost ready to put the signature on a purchase of new ships. However, the Danish Navy also has several shortcomings on the military side. It is possible that a smart design of a multipurpose ship could cover some of this.
Most notably Denmark needs a larger vessel for patrols in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the Danish straits. Currently this is done with the Diana-class which has a poor endurance and severe weather limitations. It would be a great improvement to the Danish surveillance concept to have larger ships on regular patrols. These ships could be equipped with better sensors and communications equipment to allow a more comprehensive and robust surveillance.
Another interesting application of such a multipurpose ship would be as a mother unit for the containerized Mine Counter Measures (MCM) concept that Denmark has developed. Denmark has proven that it is possible to conduct high quality MCM with drone vessels controlled from a container on a more or less random ship. However, it is a burdensome challenge to find available mother ships whenever there is an MCM exercise going on.
Minelaying is also a low-hanging fruit. Denmark currently doesn’t have operational mine laying capabilities, but the country has an arsenal of old mines in storage that could be brought back into operational service. The defense agreement states that naval officers will be sent on mine laying training courses so there is a focus on mine warfare as a future possibility.
And finally Denmark needs suitable ships to deploy in international coastguard operations, for example under Frontex. Currently Denmark does not have any obvious assets for such a deployment. Both the actual costs and the opportunity costs are too big by sending a large warship or an arctic patrol ship, which is what Denmark presently has in the toolbox.1
First and foremost the new ships need to be highly capable pollution control vessels. But it is interesting that Denmark is looking at possibilities for building a ship that can contribute in other scenarios as well.
- An international deployment of a pollution control vessel must be coordinated so the national response preparedness is covered by other assets in the meantime. ↩