New ‘electronic warfare’ system for frigates

The defense organization is looking for new electronic warfare (EW) systems for its air defense and command frigates (LCFs). This appears from a letter which the Ministry of Defense sent to the House of Representatives yesterday.

Archive image. Sr.Ms. De Ruyter, one of the four LCFs. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/

The LCFs must continue sailing longer than planned, which was already decided. The frigates will therefore be equipped with new missiles and associated new radars. It does not apply to all four LCFs, but to two, because it will take a long time for these systems to be available. Yesterday it was formally announced that the LCFs will also receive new EOV systems. Not all new systems will be installed on four ships, according to the A letter, which marks the end of the first phase, the A phase, where research is central.

The four frigates now sail with a combined ESM and ECM system (see box below for explanation) called Sabre. Originally, Saber was developed by Thomson Racal, which later merged with Thales UK. These systems date from the 1990s and are now very outdated. Incidentally, insufficient ECM systems were purchased by the Royal Netherlands Navy at the time, resulting in the frigates often sailing without jammers.

Thales Saber ESM and ECM on Zr.Ms. Evertsen. At the time, this was the most advanced Thales could offer. (Photo: Defence, edited by

What is electronic warfare?

With radars, you can detect planes, ships and missiles, but the radar signal can also be intercepted and/or disrupted. This is called electronic warfare (EOV) or electronic warfare (EW). Interception of radio communications and laser signals, for example, also falls under EOV.

When it comes to radars, EOV can be roughly divided into three parts:
ESM, electronic support measures: reception of radar or communication signals (ie passive). The system sees that, for example, a radar is switched on, from which side the signal comes, and you may be able to recognize the radar. So you can tell if it’s a long range search radar from a ship or a radar from a missile. But you can also analyze radar signals and save them in a database so you can recognize the radar later. The latter falls under intelligence gathering (ELINT, electronic intelligence) and is quickly classified as secret.
ECM, electronic countermeasures: active jamming or deception of other systems such as radars. The ECM can, for example, shoot a cloud of metal shavings into the air, but also use its own transmitter to disrupt or mislead the enemy’s radar.
EPM: Protective measures against the opponent’s ECM and ESM. We will not consider this in this section.

An important point with radar ESM (and this also applies to sonar) is the distance advantage that the receiving party has. A radar emits a signal that must bounce off an object, and that signal must be received by the radar. If a ship’s radar can detect an aircraft up to 400 km, the signal must therefore be able to travel 800 km. If an enemy aircraft with ESM flies 600 km away, the aircraft can thus receive the radar signal. The radar signal will then reflect back to the ship, but never reach the ship: the distance it has to travel back is too great (600 km there, 600 back). So the ship doesn’t see an aircraft on the radar screen, the aircraft sees a ship’s radar on the ESM screen. It is therefore inherent in ESM that the detection range of such a system is by definition greater than that of radar. This makes the ESM the primary long-range sensor for a naval vessel.

Electronic warfare is back on the map since the threat from Russia started to rise again a few years ago. The Defense now writes: “Given the geopolitical situation, however, the Defense must take into account operations in the higher part of the force spectrum more than before. An important factor here is the increasing threat from the most modern anti-ship missiles. Given the increasing threat and the longer life for the ships, replacement of electronic warfare equipment is necessary.”

The ships again get a passive ESM system, two ships also get the active ECM system. The installation of the electronic warfare equipment will take place during planned major maintenance in the period 2024-2029. The jammers will only be available in time for major maintenance on the first two ships, before 2026, the letter reads.

The main task of these new systems is therefore to receive radar signals and communications and possibly laser signals for warning and intelligence gathering. And a jammer to disrupt incoming missiles. Where the old systems were actually analogue, the new ones are increasingly fully digital.

Which EOV system it will be should therefore be clear next year or in 2024. There are several suppliers providing such equipment, some examples: Elbit is in the race for the ASW frigates with their Aqua Marine and also won the tender for British frigates, Thales has sold the Vigile-D to the Dutch Navy for the LPDs and Karel Doorman, the German company Rohde & Schwarz is also active in the market (and supplies the Kora to the German F126 frigates) and the Israeli manufacturer Rafael is also interested in the Dutch market with their SEWS-DV system.

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