Sleek, modern and built on a budget – Denmark’s latest frigate

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Danes have a well-deserved reputation for designing and building efficient, effective ships on tight budgets. In line with the government’s desire to provide meaningful contributions to coalition and expeditionary forces, their newest ships have been designed to deploy well beyond Europe.

In recent years the Danish Navy has commissioned five impressive, modern warships fitted with sophisticated command and control and sensor suites and — when they’re eventually fully fitted out — powerful armaments. First came the combat support ships Absalon and Esbern Snare. Since their commissioning in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the two have deployed a number of times, in particular serving as flagships for anti-piracy forces patrolling off Somalia.

The design of the three Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates was based on the Absalons. Commissioned between 2012 and 2014, they represent a considerable achievement, built at a cost of $325 million apiece – virtually a bargain-basement price for a modern frigate.

The design team assembled by Odense Shipyard that was responsible for the ships continues as an entity, despite the yard’s closure following delivery of the last frigate.

We had an up-close chance to see the newest ship, Nils Juel, during the ship’s visit to the US in the fall of 2014. Turned over to the Navy and commissioned only in August, the frigate is still quite new, without many of the fittings and armaments that the Danes hope to field. Yet she crossed the Atlantic to take part in Exercise Bold Alligator along the eastern seaboard with US and other foreign navies. We caught her just after the exercise concluded, riding from Norfolk to Baltimore. Here’s a look at this impressive ship.

All photos by Christopher P. Cavas

Nils Juel is the third of three Iver Huitfeld-class air defense frigates. Iver Huitfeld was commissioned in February 2012, Peter Willemoes in January 2013 and Nile Juel in August 2014.

Nils Juel is the third of three Iver Huitfeld-class air defense frigates. Iver Huitfeld was commissioned in February 2012, Peter Willemoes in January 2013 and Nils Juel in August 2014.

The forward superstructure is dominated by the Thales Active Phased Array Multifunction Radar (APAR), able to simultaneously support anti-air and anti-surface engagements.

The forward superstructure is dominated by the Thales Active Phased Array Multifunction Radar (APAR), able to simultaneously support anti-air and anti-surface engagements.

The Danish frigates are big ships - 455 feet long overall, 65 feet in beam, with a draft of nearly 21 feet.

The Danish frigates are big ships – 455 feet long overall, 65 feet in beam, with a draft of nearly 21 feet. Major hull components were built in Lithuania and Estonia and assembled in Denmark.

The ship's clean lines are functional, reducing reflective surfaces to lower the ship's radar signature.

The ship’s clean lines are functional, reducing reflective surfaces to lower the ship’s radar signature.

A small Saab Ceros 200 fire control radar sigs atop the pilot house among white-painted communications domes.

A small Saab Ceros 200 fire control radar sits atop the pilot house among white-painted communications domes. The super firing guns are an unusual feature.

Hidden amidships are the ship's missile batteries, flanked aft by enclosures to handle small boats. The aft superstructure is topped by the large Thales Smart-L three-dimensional radar.

Hidden amidships are the ship’s missile batteries, flanked aft by enclosures to handle small boats. The aft superstructure is topped by the large Thales Smart-L three-dimensional radar.

The Smart-L radar sits atop a single helicopter hangar, flanked by the ship's twin uptakes.

The Smart-L radar sits atop a single helicopter hangar, flanked by the ship’s twin uptakes. .

Closer view of the Smart-L radar. A Rheinmetall Oerlikon 35mm Millenium close-in weapon system is to be installed atop the hangar. The Swiss-manufactured weapon is in service with the Danish and Venezuelan navies.

Closer view of the Smart-L radar. A Rheinmetall Oerlikon 35mm Millenium close-in weapon system is to be installed atop the hangar. The Swiss-manufactured weapon is in service with the Danish and Venezuelan navies.

The Niels Juel's Millenium gun was removed prior to the fall 2014 deployment for further work, and a dummy mount installed in its place. This is not just a cosmetic move -- the shape of the gun affects wind currents and eddies hitting the flight deck, which is certified based on a ship's individual characteristics. To maintain flight deck's certified air flow an identical shape was necessary as a temporary replacement.

The Niels Juel’s Millenium gun was removed for further work prior to the fall 2014 deployment and a dummy mount installed in its place. This is not just a cosmetic move — the shape of the gun affects wind currents and eddies hitting the flight deck, which is certified based on a ship’s individual characteristics. To maintain the flight deck’s certified air flow an identical shape was necessary as a temporary replacement.

The ship's wide beam is evident in this stern view. The similar Absalon-class combat support ships are fitted with a stern ramp to a mission bay in this area, but the frigates don't carry that feature.

The ship’s wide beam is evident in this stern view. The similar Absalon-class combat support ships are fitted with a stern ramp to a mission bay in this area, but the frigates don’t carry that feature.

The APAR and Smart-L radars are part of a combat suite that is nearly identical to Dutch De Zeven Provincien-class and German Sachsen-class frigates.

The APAR and Smart-L radars are part of a combat suite that is nearly identical to Dutch De Zeven Provincien-class and German Sachsen-class frigates.

The spacious bridge spans the full width of the ship.

The spacious bridge spans the full width of the ship.

The helmsman sits at a raised console in the center of the pilothouse, steering with a joystick.

The helmsman sits at a raised console in the center of the pilothouse, steering with a joystick.

A view out the ship's bridge windows at the foredeck, where safety gear is required. The two sailors here are rigging festive lighting for the ship's visit to Baltimore.

A view out the ship’s bridge windows at the foredeck, where safety gear is required. The two sailors here are rigging festive lighting for the ship’s visit to Baltimore.

Detail of one of the navigational displays on either side of the pilothouse.

Detail of one of the navigational displays on either side of the pilothouse.

Ship's captain, Commander Senior Grade Lars Holbæk, addresses the crew over the ship's announcement system just after leaving Norfolk, while Lars Schwetje, multimedia director for Gannett Government Media, shoots video.

Ship’s captain Commander Senior Grade Lars Holbæk addresses the crew over the ship’s announcement system just after leaving Norfolk, while Lars Schwetje, multimedia director for Gannett Government Media, shoots video.

Electro Officer Christian Jens, in the foreground at left, oversees operations in the ship's Engineering Control center. With a crew of only 117, the Nils Juel relies on a high degree of automation. Fifty cameras monitor key spaces around the ship -- at right, one of them shows a view of the helicopter hangar.

Electro Officer Christian Jens, in the foreground at left, oversees operations in the ship’s Engineering Control center. With a crew of only 117, the Nils Juel relies on a high degree of automation. Fifty cameras monitor key spaces around the ship — at upper right, one of them shows a view of the helicopter hangar.

One of the ship's four MTU 20V M70 diesels. Together, they provide 32.8 megawatts to drive the ship's two propeller shafts.

One of the ship’s four MTU 20V M70 diesels. Together, they provide 32.8 megawatts to drive the ship’s two propeller shafts. The diesels are able to propel the ship at just over 30 knots, but at lower speeds, the ships are able to travel well over 9,000 nautical miles — enough to travel from Denmark to the US and back again with more in the tank.

Another view of the forward machinery room. These spaces, along with most of the ship's lower hull, were designed primarily by Maersk, the huge Danish shipping firm. Use of commercial features combined with military requirements was key to keeping construction costs down.

Another view of the forward machinery room. These spaces, along with most of the ship’s lower hull, were designed primarily by Maersk, the huge Danish shipping firm. Use of commercial features combined with military requirements was key to keeping construction costs down.

A spacious workshop is fitted between the two machinery rooms. Overhead rails allow heavy gear to be moved around the ship.

A spacious workshop is fitted between the two machinery rooms. Overhead rails allow heavy gear to be moved around the ship. Many cabling wire ways also are nearly empty – a design feature to make installation of future improvements easier.

A view of the forward deck, with one of the ship's 76mm guns at right. The large canisters in the center hold inflatable life rafts.

A view of the forward deck, with one of the ship’s 76mm guns at right. The large canisters in the center hold inflatable life rafts.

Two Italian-made 76mm Oto Melara guns are fitted forward -- unusually for post-World War II ships, in a super-firing arrangement (one over the other). The guns are reconditioned units from decommissioned patrol ships. The base ring for the forward mount is sized to take a US-built Mark 45 five-inch gun, but funding for the mount -- at about $50 million each -- has yet to be approved. Eventually, the Danish Navy hopes to install another close-in weapon system in the No. 2 position.

Two Italian-made 76mm Oto Melara guns are fitted forward — unusually for post-World War II ships, in a super-firing arrangement (one over the other). The guns are reconditioned units from decommissioned patrol ships. The base ring for the forward mount is sized to take a US-built Mark 45 five-inch gun, but funding for the mount — at about $50 million each — has yet to be approved. Eventually, the Danish Navy hopes to install another close-in weapon system in the No. 2 position.

The ready-ammunition magazine for one of the 76mm gun mounts. Variants of the lightweight Oto Melara are one of the most popular gun mounts in the world, in no small part because of their minimal impact on ship designs.

The revolving ready-ammunition magazine for one of the 76mm gun mounts. Variants of the lightweight Oto Melara are one of the most popular gun mounts in the world, in no small part because of their minimal impact on ship designs.

The missile bay amidships is fitted with three different types of launchers. At center is a new 32-cell Mark 41 Vertical Launch System from Lockheed Martin, able to handle Standard SM-2 and SM-6 missiles. The weapons have yet to be purchased, however, and the system is not yet operational. Flanking the Mark 41 are two Raytheon Mark 56 missile launchers to handle Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM) anti-air missiles. Just visible in the foreground are the support structures for Boeing Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles. Both the Mark 56 and Harpoon launchers come from decommissioned ships. None of these launchers are yet operational, but the ship plans to fire both ESSM and Harpoon missiles in Spring 2015 to certify the systems.

The missile bay amidships is fitted with three different types of launchers. At center is a new 32-cell Mark 41 Vertical Launch System from Lockheed Martin, able to handle Standard SM-2 and SM-6 missiles. The weapons have yet to be purchased, however, and the system is not yet operational. Flanking the Mark 41 are two Raytheon Mark 56 missile launchers to handle Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) anti-air missiles. Just visible in the foreground are the support structures for Boeing Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles. Both the Mark 56 and Harpoon launchers come from decommissioned ships. None of these launchers are yet operational, but the ship plans to fire both ESSM and Harpoon missiles in Spring 2015 to certify the systems.

The Harpoon supports in the foreground show blast wear -- evidence of their prior service aboard older patrol boats.

The Harpoon supports in the foreground show blast wear — evidence of their prior service aboard older patrol boats.

The frigates do not have conventional masts, although halyards are rigged from several supports to provide flag hoists. The twin uptakes are staggered and angled outward to minimize heat signatures and damage to sensors.

The frigates do not have conventional masts, although halyards are rigged from several supports to provide flag hoists. The twin uptakes are staggered and angled outward to minimize heat signatures and damage to sensors. The tower mast at center is topped by a tactical air navigation system beacon (TACAN), necessary for aircraft to return to the ship.

Sailors hoist in one of the ship's two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs). Only three sailors are needed to handle the operation.

Sailors hoist in one of the ship’s two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs). Only three sailors are needed to handle the operation.

A view forward of the ship's APAR superstructure, flanked by satellite communications domes.

A view forward of the ship’s APAR superstructure, flanked by satellite communications domes. The crane is installed to handle missiles.

The large flight deck is limited to aircraft of 20,000 pounds -- big enough for EH-101 and NH-90 helicopters. The flight control station is at left.

The large flight deck is limited to aircraft of 20,000 pounds — big enough for EH-101 and NH-90 helicopters. The flight control station is at left.

Looking forward inside the single hangar, with the ship's brow (gangway) stored at left. While the Danish Navy operates Sea Lynx Mark 90B helicopters, no aircraft were carried on the fall 2014 deployment. Denmark is procuring new Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters, but the first units won't be delivered until 2017.

Looking forward inside the single hangar, with the ship’s brow (gangway) stored at left. While the Danish Navy operates Sea Lynx Mark 90B helicopters, no aircraft were carried on the fall 2014 deployment. Denmark is procuring new Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters, but the first units won’t be delivered until 2017.

View in the hangar looking aft. The single hangar is somewhat unusual in an era where many expeditionary ships have dual hangars.

View in the hangar looking aft. The single hangar is somewhat unusual in an era where many expeditionary ships have dual hangars.

The ship paused off Annapolis, Maryland to embark distinguished visitors. Here, Danish ambassador to the US Peter Taksøe-Jensen reviews his honor guard after coming aboard.

The ship paused off Annapolis, Maryland to embark distinguished visitors. Here, Danish ambassador to the U.S. Peter Taksøe-Jensen reviews his honor guard after coming aboard.

The third deck is flanked by two passageways running nearly the length of the ship. Sailors wash down the P-ways nearly every day, keeping the entire ship scrupulously clean.

The third deck is flanked by two passageways running nearly the length of the ship. Sailors wash down the P-ways nearly every day, keeping the entire ship scrupulously clean.

An athwartships passage on the third deck with red night lighting.

An athwartships passage on the third deck with red night lighting.

A junior officer's stateroom on the ship is fitted in the same manner as all staterooms, whether for enlisted, senior enlisted, or officers. Computer installations are standard. Rooms are carpeted, with drop ceilings and recessed lighting. The ladders to the top berths are a nice feature - something never to be found on a US Navy ship. All staterooms are fitted with a toilet and shower.

A junior officer’s stateroom on the ship is fitted in the same manner as all staterooms, whether for enlisted, senior enlisted, or officers. Computer installations are standard. Rooms are carpeted, with drop ceilings and recessed lighting. The ladders to the top berths are a nice feature – something still unusual on a US Navy ship. All staterooms are fitted with a toilet and shower.

Crew members displayed a variety of uniform and grooming standards. T-shirts and beards were common, along with a few pony tails. Four female enlisted sailors were included in the crew of about 100 on this cruise, along with a woman doctor.  Doctors are assigned only to ships on deployment.

Crew members displayed a variety of uniform and grooming standards. T-shirts and beards were common, along with a few pony tails. Four female enlisted sailors were included in the crew of about 100 on this cruise, along with a woman doctor. Doctors are assigned only to ships on deployment.

The Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates could be the last major warships built or assembled in Denmark. Hull and superstructure blocks for the ships were built in Lithuania and Estonia and assembled at the Odense shipyard in Lindø, Denmark, but the yard closed with the delivery of the Nils Juel.

The Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates could be the last major warships built or assembled in Denmark, since the yard closed with the delivery of the Nils Juel. The 2012 date reflects when the ship was delivered to the government. The technical know-how which designed the ships is still together, however, as Odense Maritime Technology.

Christopher P. Cavas
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Christopher P. Cavas

If it's on, over, under or around the water, I write about it. Ships and aircraft, units, tactics, leadership, strategies, acquisition, politics, industry. In the USA and around the world.
Christopher P. Cavas
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