Portugal's Navy Modernizes To Meet New Requirements

September 2005
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The Portuguese frigate NRP Alvares Cabral, one of the country’s Vasco de Gama–class frigates, surges through the waters of the Mediterranean during the multinational exercise Majestic Eagle. Portugal is modernizing its navy elements to interoperate more fully in diverse missions with its network-centric NATO allies.
Quality, quantity and interoperability are its focal points for the new millennium.

The Portuguese navy has embarked on a modernization program that seeks to incorporate all of the needs of modern network-centric warfare while addressing new mission requirements in the global war on terrorism. The navy must juggle responsibilities ranging from coastal patrol and littoral interdiction to support to NATO operations in the alliance’s all-important southern region. At the heart of these preparations for the missions of the 21st century are new communications and information systems linking what largely will be a new fleet of ships.

A maritime nation, Portugal has a navy with a strong tradition and culture of service, states Adm. Francisco Vidal Abreu, PON, chief of naval staff. The navy serves both in traditional seaborne military roles and as a coast guard. The admiral explains that the navy is built around a specific set of capabilities defined in a 2003 Defense Strategic Concept. When this concept is attained fully, the Portuguese navy will be both highly capable and balanced, he says.

A key part of that naval modernization plan involves “significant leverage” to Portugal’s national shipbuilding and communications industries, the admiral notes. He cites selected modernization and applied research and development as keys to the Portuguese navy’s ability to conduct effective joint and combined operations. Despite budget challenges, Portugal views investment in these areas as very important for guaranteeing interoperability in both national and multinational operations.

As part of this effort, the navy is conducting an extensive program of fleet regeneration that is driven by the need to support both its military and coast guard role requirements, the admiral explains. More than 80 percent of the Portuguese navy’s aging ships will be replaced, and the navy will acquire new vessels, such as a landing platform dock (LPD) ship, that will bring an added element to existing capabilities. Along with this modernization, the marines and diver units also are being re-equipped. This will significantly increase their operational standards and military potential.

These improvement programs reflect the objective of achieving an expeditionary capability, the admiral explains. It will be anchored on the LPD and its escorts and support ships. These include three existing helicopter-carrying guided-missile frigates (FFGHs), one auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel (AOR), two new anti-aircraft capable FFGHs, two new SSG-AIP air-independent propulsion attack submarines being purchased from the German shipyard Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), and a renewed and increased squadron of up to eight organic naval helicopters. This expeditionary capability would be able to project and sustain a battalion-size marine force or similar army forces.

For the navy’s coast guard roles, major programs focus on a new class of 10 offshore patrol vessels (OPVs). Their coverage will include maritime surveillance, fishery patrol and pollution control tasks within the country’s national exclusive economic zone. In addition, a new class of five coastal patrol vessels will be dedicated mainly to law enforcement and fishery patrol.

All these programs are being pursued and developed within a common matrix of requirements to attain high levels of interoperability, integration and automation, Adm. Vidal Abreu warrants. They will incorporate network-centric concepts for information systems and technologies.

This new integrated approach to technology and information systems also is being applied to the development and consolidation of the navy’s new architecture for information systems in support of management and decision activities, he adds. This is expected to become a key enabler in the navy’s modernization.

In many of the Portuguese navy’s new projects—including submarines, the LPD and oceanic patrol boats as well as within the marines’ modernization program—planners are giving particular attention to interoperability capabilities, the admiral continues. “These will be really network-centric-fitted ships and forces ready to integrate with NATO and other multinational operations, including the NRF [NATO Response Force]. Our goal is to smoothly interoperate and work in a cooperative environment, share information, and conduct effects-based and information superiority operations,” he declares.

The admiral comes from a communications and technology background. Almost three decades ago, he served as the director of a naval radio communications station. He contrasts the technology in use then with the challenges and opportunities facing Portugal’s navy today.

“When I was the director of the naval radio communications station, the manpower required to operate the system was about 250 men,” he relates. “Today, after several technological modernization programs, the site is operated by 70 people. With the ambitious radio communications system modernization program that the navy now is conducting with NATO, the site will be operated in the near future by 25 men in a most efficient manner.

“Duly selected and useful technology is, no doubt, one of the most important driving forces of all organizations,” he continues. “Its impact is normally global and sometimes unique, especially over its operational results, and it often leads to quicker and profound organizational and cultural changes,” the admiral observes.

Portugal’s navy in particular has been investing in communications, electronics and information systems. One system, the BRASS program, is a NATO and Portuguese project to improve surface and broadcast ship-shore systems. It uses high frequency, low frequency and satellite communications for managing the formal message traffic required to support surface force command and control.

The admiral cites networking; satellite communications; datalinks; simulation; and command, control, computers and information systems as just some of the projects that the navy has been undertaking for some time. These efforts will affect the navy not only at the technological level but, equally important, at the operational, organizational and human levels, he emphasizes.

“The implementation of these systems, both onboard and in headquarters, has changed the way raw data is captured, how this data is processed to generate information, how information is manipulated and shared to generate knowledge, and how this knowledge is used to improve the decision-making process that ultimately leads to better operational results,” Adm. Vidal Abreu declares.

As with all modern militaries, the Portuguese navy is embracing network-centric operations. Much of the navy’s communication network modernization efforts have been geared toward this goal. Areas seeing benefits include shipborne local area networks, high-speed satellite communications capabilities and cryptographic Internet protocol systems. These efforts also help ensure interoperability in all possible operational environments, the admiral notes.

For information management, the Portuguese navy’s core operational information system is the NATO Maritime Command and Control Information System, or MCCIS, which is installed in the most important deployable/mobile and fixed operational commands. However, some in-house developments also may play key roles. One of these is the Ship Internal Battle Management and Decision Support System, known as SINGRAR. The admiral describes it as a highly sophisticated information system in final development. Recently concluded tests were successful in focusing attention on how it functions with systems from other navies, he adds.

And, because the process of implementing network-centric operations is as much related to technology as it is to people and organizations, the Portuguese navy is investing in people’s technical competencies. This includes a focus on the human knowledge and organizational arenas, the admiral offers. The goal is to bring about network-centricity across the spectrum of the Portuguese navy.

“The technological and organizational demands required by network-centric operations are being followed, and several efforts are being made in order to embrace, progressively, this capability,” the admiral states.

As in most Western militaries, commercial technologies are playing a key role in modernizing Portugal’s navy. Adm. Vidal Abreu cites their cost-effectiveness, open-architecture, user-friendly operation and maintenance, vendor-independence and increasing fidelity as the features that make commercial technologies, protocols and systems attractive for an increasing range of navy applications.

The Portuguese navy uses commercial hardware and software technologies widely in its headquarters ashore. Exceptions are high-end strategic command, control and information (C2I) systems. Commercial technologies may be found in communications networks, computer support systems, logistic and administrative systems, and maintenance and technical systems, among many others.

One application benefiting from commercial technologies is a new generation of ashore operational simulators. These simulators used to be physical and logical replicas of onboard systems. Now, the legacy simulators are being complemented or replaced by standard simulators based on commercial development tools and technologies, the admiral reveals.

On ships, the rough environment and strict operational demands of the high seas require commercial systems that offer robustness and fidelity, the admiral offers. At sea the Portuguese navy uses commercial technologies and systems in low- to medium-end systems, including communications networks, computer systems and some communications control systems and integrated platform management systems.

High-end shipborne systems, such as combat and C2I systems and other critical and operational systems, tend to be proprietary. However, they increasingly are based on proven commercial platforms. The admiral foresees that this trend of replacing extremely expensive proprietary systems with carefully chosen commercial systems will continue. Commercial technologies continue to improve in robustness and fidelity, he notes.

These commercial technologies play a vital role in helping the Portuguese navy advance interoperability. Adm. Vidal Abreu states that being able to interoperate with allies and partners is a basic need. Interoperability challenges include C2I systems, Link 16, satellite communication systems, in-port communication systems and telemedicine. He cites Portugal’s participation in NATO and international standardization fora as being extremely important for learning more and being able to influence standardization decisions.

Adm. Vidal Abreu emphasizes that NATO remains the cornerstone of the nation’s defense and an anchor of Euro-Atlantic security. “The navy must implement systems that follow widely accepted NATO and commercial standards to guarantee interoperability, and we are doing so,” he declares.

“Interoperability also has to do with being able to work in a cooperative environment with our allies, sharing information that will lead to better-informed and quicker operational decisions,” he adds. “Interoperability involves not only systems and methodologies, but also the human factor. So, we see interoperability as a broad challenge we face that must be continuously overcome with careful decisions on the systems we decide to have, on the standards and methodologies we decide to follow, and on the training and education we offer to our military.”

As a member of NATO, Portugal considers the United States a key ally that shares a common trans-Atlantic vision and link that should be kept and reinforced, Adm. Vidal Abreu states. Within this framework, the navy is committed to modernizing and adapting to balance national and alliance interests. This requires new capabilities for carrying out potential missions.

The Portuguese navy’s contribution to NATO takes the same approach as that of many other alliance members. It focuses on providing its most qualified national assets to the most demanding missions. Adm. Vidal Abreu emphasizes that the NRF and High Reaction Forces will be kept as a top priority for assigning Portuguese assets such as the FFGH, special operations teams and marines. In the near future, Portugal also expects to support NATO requirements by increasing its contribution with new capabilities. These include one LPD and a battalion-size marine force as well as the new class of SSGs.

The Portuguese navy’s role in support of NATO activities in the alliance’s southern flank also can be expanded, the admiral observes. The navy could perform tasks such as protecting shipping or focal point control, as the new class of OPVs are well-suited for this task. The admiral adds that the navy’s long operating experience in Africa has given it the thorough knowledge necessary to be a facilitator both for NATO and for other coalitions intending to operate in the region.

These commitments to NATO and the extensive naval modernization effort present substantial challenges to the Portuguese navy. Adm. Vidal Abreu divides these challenges into three levels: resource, organizational and operational.

At the resource level, the navy must be able to ensure that it has a pool of highly motivated and qualified people. It also must be able to conduct the vital fleet regeneration program in compliance with the established Portuguese Military Forces System, he says.

At the organizational level, the focus is to adapt and transform the existing organization and processes to be more operational and output-oriented. The admiral offers that this will require innovative and flexible approaches to attain greater effectiveness. A particular concern is the need to increase cooperation opportunities between the military and the coast guard components.

In operational terms, the navy must practice jointness as well as develop and improve doctrinal aspects that are coherent in the context of NATO activities. The navy also must emphasize training, proficiency and readiness standards to maintain its reputation of professionalism among its international peers, the admiral warrants.

And, concurrent with meeting this broad-based challenge, the navy must closely scrutinize the development of technology and knowledge to ensure timely and commensurate updates at all levels.

“The challenge that we face is complex, demanding, but highly stimulating,” the admiral declares


Web Resources
Portuguese navy (in Portuguese): www.marinha.pt/Marinha/pt
NATO Joint Headquarters Lisbon: www.jc-lisb.nato.int/index.htm


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