Interview with Captain Peter Degraer of the Belgian Navy
We caught up with Captain Peter Degraer, Director of Naval Systems for the Belgian Navy, who is a speaker at the 7th annual Underwater Defence & Security 2019 Conference & Exhibition.
He has just returned from Chile and we wanted to find out more about some of his relevant programmes that may impact the attendees at March’s UDS meeting.
Sam Patmore, Conference Producer, TDNUK: I know there’s a lot of Bilateral programs regarding spare parts and maintenance that different nations take part in. I was hopeful you could give a joint presentation about the bilateral maintenance that you and the Dutch do together on the MCM fleet and the Frigates.
Captain Peter Degraer, Director of Naval Systems, Belgian Navy: We [The Belgians] are in charge of maintenance for the MCM fleet whilst the Dutch are in charge of the Frigates. It’s an agreement so we can share the workload between us. Of course I am attending the UDS meeting in March and hopefully the contracts will all be sorted and signed, then I can speak far more freely about everything.
Sam: Do you guys [Belgium] have the same specific positions [as RNLN] where you have a head of ASW and MCM, or is it different in Belgium?
Peter: So in the material branch, which is my section, we have four under sections including:
- Frigate section for the two M frigates
- MCM section
- Auxiliary section which includes all the rest; patrol vessels, small vessels, tug boats, water scooters for Special Forces, kayaks for the army – pretty much everything else that floats. This section also has the most contracts of my undersections because it includes so much…
- the Projects section; for the moment we have 3 major projects in this section which are:
- replacing the M frigates
- replacing the MCM vessels, which is the most important because we are in charge of our replacement and also the Dutch
- the replacement of our Oceanographic vessel; the contract was awarded last year and the work has all started with the shipyard. This is a very large vessel as well, about 3500 tonnes and 18m long
Sam: I’ve seen a lot of Oceanographic vessels being built or overhauled at this time by their nations. A lot of governments seem to be footing the bill, especially for the polar vessels. I think it’s a good way to deal with it because you get the naval expertise alongside the scientific requirements for the ship…
Peter: Well I must be honest; we are collaborating with the scientific services of the federal government who are paying for the vessel. We are dealing with the execution of the programme but it’s not our budget being spent.
Sam: What programmes, exercises or units are you currently responsible for?
Peter: So I deal with everything on the materials side, we have a director general of material resources with three divisions:
- Technical systems (where I work) headed up by a Rear Admiral under them is four sections;
- Naval systems (my section)
- Air systems
- Land systems
- The final section deals with all the rest including fuel, medical, clothing, even the musical instruments used by the military bands…
We also have another Directorate General who deals with Legal matters and they work very closely with the Procurement division in the tenders and procurement process of course. As you know, Sam, we are currently in the evaluation process of the three MCM tenders, meaning that my people are evaluating the technical, logistical and operational parts of this. Then the procurement service in effect takes the lead of the budget and advises the security interests alongside the federal services economy.
Sam: It seems like a real collaboration across the board in these projects, do you find that this much coordination means that there is often confusion? I only ask because I know that in the past of ship design it was often difficult having different teams doing different things at different times.
Peter: It is quite streamlined, we have processes that means we keep one department in the lead - The procurement service actually takes the lead and then my team only deal with the technical part. The processes are quite clear really and by dividing it into three parts and having the evaluations done independently means that there is very little chance of influence by one of the parties competing for the tenders.
Sam: In terms of cooperation or working with other nations, are there any other nations or organisations aside from the Dutch that you work with frequently?
Peter: We work with the British and the French who are following our projects closely because they already have the British/French Toolbox program, so they will be very interested in the outcome of our program. Then with a view to more international cooperation, we are part of the NATO MAS (Maritime Autonomous Systems); which is a multilateral agreement which includes a signed declaration of intent from the Ministers of Defence for 13 nations and conferences on the subjects of MAS. Your event partner, the NATO CMRE are also involved in the event, especially David Burton who is involved in the initiative.
PESCO are also involved in the MAS from the European side. One of their other programs is the MAS MCM, which Belgium is leading. PESCO works with the European Defence Fund (EDF) and the European Defence Investment Development Program (EIDP).
Sam: I know that the Germans are also looking to procure MCM vessels at the moment, are you looking to each other for guidance …Or is there any contact regarding this?
Peter: Yes, so we are in contact with them, but the Germans have a very different approach when it comes to MCM. They are one of the only nations still going into the mine fields, whereas we and most other nations, are looking predominantly towards standoff capabilities.
Sam: Surely that is a bit of an odd way to go about a new MCM capability, especially considering how much stand-off capabilities have evolved over time. What would be your view on that?
Peter: Well there are differing views; pulling the man out of the minefield was originally a political decision of ours. If you want to go into the minefield still with these unmanned or autonomous assets, it is very expensive. You have issues such as magnetic and acoustic signatures, larger mother platforms and the expense associated with all of that. Also don’t forget that the main challenge of the project will be the integration of the ship and the toolbox; a challenge which us and the Germans will both have to deal with.
Sam: I was unaware how in depth the procurement and contracts process is… for example the Type 31e that the UK are looking to build – the process had to be restarted because there weren’t enough competitive bids put in. Then you also have the Canadian vessel where one of the companies who were competing for the tender tried to circumvent some of the process. So I agree that maintaining this clean process is incredibly important when there is so much money changing hands.
Peter: We actually had a new law brought in about contracting for defence which is in accordance with the European framework for public procurement. So our process is so strict now because of that, for example I cannot say things like ‘I want that company involved’ because it just isn’t allowed. We do however factor in the social return which counts for 10% of the points in the process and I believe that is an important aspect. That isn’t really my aim or objective however, my job is to procure good equipment for us [Belgium] and the Dutch at a good price.
Sam: I really appreciate you going through this with me Peter, and I’m looking forward to the UDS meeting in March.
Peter: I am also looking forward to it, we can catch up beforehand and talk a little more once the contracts are signed for the MCM vessels.
Peter Degraer at Underwater Defence & Security 2019
Captain Degraer will be discussing in detail Belgium’s hunt for its new MCM fleet and the Results of sea trials and the influence on new vessels in his presentation at the MCM Pre-Conference Day on 5th March at 1130 hrs. Download the full agenda online.
- Shortfalls found during unmanned trials and the impact they will have
- How plug and play solutions will influence the onboard systems
- The contractual layout of the vessel - what is required
Participation at the Underwater Defence & Security Conference & Exhibition sells out every year in advance of the event. In order to ensure there is space for your delegation, we encourage you to register before the end of 2018.