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Saturday 27 September 2014

Almirante Padilla class light frigates of the Colombian Navy

Written by D-Mitch
Antioquia, third of the Almirante Padilla class light frigates
Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia
The main surface combatants of the Colombian Navy (Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia) are four (4) Almirante Padilla class light frigates/corvettes designed and built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) the period 1983-1984 in Kiel of Germany. The designation of the class is Type FS 1500, a similar design which was obtained by the Malaysian Navy, the Kasturi class frigates that have different electronic equipment and weapon systems. The frigates followed an extensive modernization program in Colombia at Cotecmar shipyard, a program that included the propulsion system, the electronic equipment and the weapon systems. The program finished in 2014 with the completion of sea acceptance tests of the ships. The contract with the Colombian authorities was signed early 2009, with DCNS acting as prime contractor and Thales as the lead systems integrator for the combat system and communications suite.
Almirante Padilla prior the modernization.
Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia

The general characteristics of the ships is a displacement of about 2,100tons at full load, length of 99,1m while the speed is +27knots and the range is 7,000n.m. with 14knots cruising speed. The complement is 92.  The vessels carry on their helipad a Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) AS555 Fennec 2 helicopter each, that can be fitted with coaxial weapons, rockets, torpedoes and various other munitions. There is no hangar on the ships.

Modified photo of modernized Almirante Padilla class light frigate. For a high resolution image click here.
OTO Melara Strales. Photo:
The class was armed initially with the standard OTO Melara Compatto 3in (76.2mm/62cal) which was upgraded to the  OTO Melara Super Rapido gun in a stealth cupola including the Strales system (add-on kit after the modernization),one of the most advanced gun systems in the world. The gun is part of the STRALES system which includes also a Radio Frequency Guidance System with the electronic control unit provided with a mechanical frame that is connected to the gun-mount structure and the DART ammunition. STRALES is an all-weather system designed to engage and to destroy multiple manoeuvring targets with the use of guidance ammunition for increased accuracy and therefore lethality. The gun shield is provided with a watertight cover (mechanical frame) which can be automatically removed to deploy the guidance antenna; once actual target position and stabilization data are available, STRALES operates as a stand alone system. The DART projectile is equipped with the new DART microwave  programmable  multifunction  fuse. The effective operating range is greater than 8km while the maneuverability is higher than.. 40g! A new Multiple-Feeding (MF) ammunition loading system for the 76/62 mm is also available as a separate kit which is able to select any ammunition contained in the branches regardless of its position (typically, DART and standard ammo). The gun can intercept air and surface targets at a distance of 4 km (at 85 degrees) and 16 km (effective range 8 km and 6km the effective range against anti-ship missiles) unleashing 120 rounds per minute weighting greater than 6kg each. The gun has excellent performance in any kind of role, such as air defence, anti surface, anti-missile and shore bombardment role. It is claimed by OTO Melara that these guns can engage 4 missiles before they reach the ship.

Antioquia frigate. Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia

Fast Forty. Photo: OTO Melara
At the aft of the ships there is an OTO Melara naval mount with two 40mm/70cal guns. There is no source clarifying if it belongs to the Compact version with 600rnds/min (2 × 300rnds/min) or the twin Fast Forty with the incredible rate of fire of 900rnds/min (2 × 450rnds/min). It might be assumed that the naval mount belongs to the second and more capable version as the vessels followed an extensive modernization to all their systems. According to the manufacturer, a twin Fast Forty, can destroy an incoming supersonic missile flying in a straight line at ranges as great as 3,000 meters. In general, the maximum horizontal range is about 12,500m, the range for AA targets is greater than 8km while the effective firing range of the system is 4km.

MM40 Exocet anti-ship missile
The anti-ship missile armament consists of eight (8) MBDA MM-40 Exocet Block II guided anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 70km carrying a warhead of 164 kg. The missile guidance is inertial in mid-flight until turns on active radar late in its flight (active guidance) to the corresponding trigger point for the detection and locking of its target. In order to minimize the recognition from rival radar and infrared seekers and the subsequent attack of the projectile from the air defense around the target, the system maintains a very low altitude during ingress, staying 1–2 m above the sea surface (sea-skimming) while the speed is high approaching 0.9 Mach. Due to the effect of the radar horizon, this means that the target may not detect an incoming attack until the missile is only 6,000m from impact and thus it leaves little time for reaction of the target’s CIWS. The missile has low signature and it has enhanced target discrimination and ECCM making it very difficult to be intercepted.

Sea Star anti-ship missile launched from a ROK frigate, Photo:
In 2012 Colombia ordered 16 SSM-700K Hae Sung I (Sea Star) anti-ship missiles from South Korea to arm the frigates. These missiles were designed and developed by the Korea Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Nex1 Future the last decade and they equip until now only destroyers of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROK). The missiles have an operational range of more than 150km with a speed of 0.85M. The number of missiles is not large enough to equip all of them with eight (8) missiles so perhaps only two of them are equipped with the new missiles or more unlikely each frigate carries four (4) Exocet and four (4) Sea Star.

Helipad of a frigate of the class and Fennec helicopter.
Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia
Fennec helicopter of Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia.
Photo: The flying Dutchman,

Simbad launcher on Almirane Padilla class frigate
Each vessel is equipped with two twin MBDA Simbad launchers for  Mistral 2 Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) at each side of the main mast. Mistral 2 is a lightweight, fully digital and autonomous (fire-and-forget), heat-seeking missile, with a passive IR homing guidance by a highly sensitive cooled multicell seeker (seeker activation time: two seconds). The speed is Mach 2.5, the warhead is 2.95kg, effective range up to 6km while the accuracy of the missile  is outstanding (96% kill efficiency rate demonstrated during user firings). The system is optimized to counter any air target at short notice.

FM-54 Independiente

A244 torpedo. Photo: EuroTorp
The Anti-Submarine Warfare systems include the hull-mounted Atlas Elektronik ASO 4-2 and two EuroTorp triple torpedo launchers of 324mm, one at each side of the ship, for the A244/S Mod 3 light-weight torpedo. The torpedo has a speed of 30-39knots and a range of 13.5km with low speed while it carries a warhead of about 42kg. The operational depth is 10-800m.

All Almirante Padilla class frigates in formation with other Colombian units.
Terma SKWS. Photo: Terma
Terma SKWS (Soft Kill Weapon System) is the decoy launching system of the ships that can fire all existing 130 mm decoys – also known as SeaGnat decoys. The system is based on two Terma DL-12T launchers (12 firing tubes each) on each side of the ship. The Terma launcher is designed to provide 360 degrees coverage against attacking anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. The DL-12T launchers are fitted with 12 tubes, 3 in each of the firing angles 10°, 40°, 60° and 135° in the azimuth plane in relation to the sailing direction. DL-12T launcher tubes are fitted with a Round Identification System (RIS). The vessels are equipped with the Vigile 200S according to the latest DCNS and Thales reports after the completion of sea acceptance trials, however it can be noticed that the sensors are not of the Vigile 200S but of the LW (light-weight). Vigile is the latest generation Radar Electronic Support Measures (RESM) system from Thales. Vigile  provides a real-time tactical view of the surrounding area – delivering effective situational awareness, threat assessment and warning and ELINT in complex littoral environments.

 Antioquia frigate. Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia

SMART-S 3D radar.
Photo: Thales
The most significant installation from the electronic equipment is the SMART-S Mk2, Thales’s latest 3D multibeam radar that operates in S-band (E/F-band) and it is optimised for medium-to-long-range  air and surface surveillance and target designation in littoral environments. The latter consisting of a mix of sea, land, islands, coastal rains and thunderstorms and a multiple of radar targets including small surface targets, helicopters and anti-ship missiles. SMART-S Mk2 is extremely suitable as the main air and surface surveillance radar in a one radar concept for light frigates, corvettes and large landing ships. Pulse-Doppler processing enables fast target track initiation and stealth target detection, even in a cluttered environment. With its 2 main modes, 250-km range for air targets and 80km for surface targets, a track capacity of about 750 tracks, special helicopter mode, surface fire channels, easy installation, high reliability and easy maintainability, SMART-S Mk2 is one of the most advanced radars in its category.

Almirante Padilla

STING EO. Photo: Thales
The boats are equipped also with the STING-EO Mk2 of Thales that is part of the new equipment installed, a highly capable, medium range, lightweight, dual band (I and K) weapon control system, primarily for gun control. The system offers support functions such as sector search (with automatic target detection), missile launch detection, projectile position measuring during gun fire and kill assessment support, it supports gun fire control, it performs kill assessment and makes a valuable contribution to classification and identification of threats. In addition, the system can be used as a surveillance sensor, even under radar silence conditions. STING-EO Mk2 combines a 1.2 m radar director with a full set of electro-optic equipment (TV/IR/laser), including optronic tracking and an automatic ‘best sensor’ selection process. The three data sources (I, K and EO) provide high redundancy, high performance and ECCM resistance. A shell-measuring feature is incorporated to support facilities such as Pre-Action Calibration (PAC) and Miss Distance Indication (MDI). The fully solid state STING-EO Mk2 provides the best weapon control for medium-sized vessels. The instrumental ranges are 72km in X-band and 17km in K-band.

Almirante Padilla

MIRADOR. Photo: Thales
During the modernization of the ships, it has been installed a Terma Scanter 2001 surface surveillance radar that provides backup to primary surveillance radar system, it assists onboard tactical task functions, it perform sea surveillance with automatic target tracking, it provides versatile interface capability for C3I (command, control, communication and information) and other onboard systems and finally it provides safe navigation for year-round operation. The navigation radar is a Furuno ARPA FAR 21/28 series variant. In the electronic equipment it is included a Thales MIRADOR electro-optical tracking and fire control system which was also installed during the modernization. MIRADOR is a compact, fully optronic observation and weapon control system. The one-piece stealthy sensor head houses a mix of electro- optical sensors for TV surveillance, TV tracking, IR tracking and laser range finding. Its lightweight design enables ultra-quick responses. An ergonomically designed state-of-the-art Human Machine Interface completes the system in a stand-alone configuration. MIRADOR acts as a secondary passive fire control and observation channel on board.

Three of the four modernized Almirante Padilla class corvettes

ALTESSE. Photo: Thales
The communications include a variety of equipment with among others the Thales ALTESSE, a high performance wideband for Communication ESM providing early warning and tactical situation awareness capabilities based on interception and direction finding of the radio communication signals in HF and V/UHF band, that can be easily integrated with Combat Management System. All the terminal links and communication systems are integrated together with the other weapons, guns, radars, sensors, EW system, chaff launchers and communications in the modern TACTICOS Combat Management System (CMS) of the vessels with 4 Multifunctional Operator Consoles (MOC) Mk3 (more information here). As it was already mentioned in the introduction the engines of the ships were replaced with new main propulsion engines, on-board power gensets and electronic monitoring systems. As part of the modernization program, the four 20-cylinder Model 1163 TB 82 engines on each ship were replaced by four 16-cylinder Model 1163 TB 73L. See here for more details regarding the engines.

Frigates of the Almirante Padilla class in formation.
Photo: Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia


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