The Danish Approach

Last October, the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard launched, for the first time ever, a unified maritime strategy. This took place for good reasons. The challenges facing maritime forces in the 21st century have to be addressed cooperatively.  Only a very few maritime tasks can be considered exclusively ‘Navy Tasks’ or ‘Coast Guard Tasks’. The world has changed. The maritime challenges of today are primarily of a global nature but are often associated with choke-points or coastal areas. The problems often involve asymmetries between forces and can occur without strategic warning.

It is logical that these new circumstances will have an impact on the organization of the maritime assets of a country, as well as associated impacts on how the ships are acquired and how they are manned.

In Denmark, we have never had a separate Navy and Coast Guard.  The Royal Danish Navy (RDN) has always been responsible for what used to be known as typical coast guard tasks.  As the maritime tasks changed in nature and began to overlap, we found that having only one maritime organization has been advantageous.  We have no need to label a maritime task either “Navy” or “Cost Guard”, no resource competition between maritime organizations and only one command and control system.  When the Admiral of the Danish Fleet tasks his units, he will have a wide range of assets in his toolbox that range from hard-kill frigates to civilian type ships.  There is no reason to choose an expensive and manpower heavy frigate if the job can be done by a less capable ship that is cheaper to run.

At the time of writing, HDMS THETIS is evidence of this flexible Danish approach to maritime problem solving.  THETIS was commissioned in 1991 and was designed as an Artic/Ocean Patrol Ship (A/OPS) to serve in the North Atlantic around Greenland, and she and her sister ships have been conducting “typical coast guard tasks” in this challenging area for many years. However, right now THETIS is on her way to the Horn of Africa where she - in support of the UN World Food Programme - will conduct escort duties to protect civilian UN chartered ships from pirate attacks – a “typical navy task”.  In the North Atlantic, the THETIS-class is only manned with a crew of 45; for the UN mission THEIS has an added Intelligence Operations personnel module that brings her crew to 65. In addition, she has embarked a Special Forces element.  All personnel are military and professionals. We do not use reserve personnel in the Danish Navy, and conscripts are only being trained onboard. Conscripts do not count as crewmembers when they are embarked.

The design of THETIS drew upon centuries of Danish experience with maritime operations in the North Atlantic. She was built as a civilian ship with limited military capabilities, with a length of 112 metres and a displacement of 3,500 tons.  She has a range of 10,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 15 knots on 650 cubic metres (cum) of F-76 fuel (50 cum of F-44 fuel is carried for the helicopter), and has a maximum speed of 22 knots.  The fuel capacity of THETIS was expanded from 480 cum to increase her endurance for the KANUMUS scientific project (see below).  The three other ships of the class have an endurance of approximately 6,500 miles at the same speed.  The provisions carried enable them to stay at sea for a period of four months.

The main armament of the THETIS-class ships is a 3-inch super rapid OTO MELARA gun, supplemented by heavy machine guns. The main gun is containerized and can be replaced by other equipment (e.g. environmental, SAR, storage) as deemed necessary, depending on the task. In addition, the ship has a suitable sensor suite and an ASW capability. The command and control system is interoperable with other ships of the RDN and meets standard NATO requirements. The design allows her to operate world wide, year-round.  Off Greenland, her ice-breaking capacity of 1 meter of solid ice is in demand; off Somalia she is more in need of her air-conditioning system. She has a hangar, flight deck and other necessary facilities to operate organic helicopters, like the LYNX.

The THETIS-class has also been used for other purposes. On the east coast of Greenland they were for some years used as a platform for scientific purposes (the KANUMAS project); they have also served a several times as the command ship for the Commander of the Danish Task Force, taking part in a large number of navy exercises; and as the platform for a round-the-world scientific expedition last year – GALATHEA-III.

From my perspective, the THETIS-class has more than lived up to expectations. The design has proved ideal for our purposes. Over almost 20 years, the ships have provided arctic and military capabilities that make them useful in a wide variety of roles and tasks all over the world. We intend to run the ships for another 15-20 years.

I certainly do not advocate that the Canadian navy should copy the THETIS-class when designing their new A/OPVs. After all, the design is more than 20 years old and a number of improvements could be made, but still but I would recommend looking closer at the THETIS-class to get some inspiration.

I have very briefly described the way we address the A/OPV issue in Denmark and hope to have provided you with some food for thought. Good luck in your A/OPV pursuit!