Sea Defence: Using scenarios to explore the challenges for naval platforms

Introduction to Sea Defence


Navies operated by EU member states face new challenges, such as geopolitical tensions in key maritime areas threatening European Sea Line of Communication, increased pressure from non-allied navies and technological disruptions (high-speed or even hypersonic missiles and unmanned vehicles, possibly in swarms). The SEA Defence project is based on the conviction that cooperation at the European level with the support of the European Commission is necessary to preserve the excellence and the competitiveness of the European naval industry as well as to provide state-of-the-art and interoperable technologies to European navies.


SEA Defence unites in one unique consortium the main naval shipyards and some maritime research and technology organisations (RTO) in the EU. The consortium consists of: Damen Holding (coordinator), Fincantieri, Naval Group, Navantia, SAAB Kockums, SEA Europe, thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Odense Maritime Technology, Lürssen Defence, TNO, MARIN, Centro Technológico Naval. The overarching goal of the consortium is to provide the EC and Member States with a comprehensive, shared and up-to-date roadmap of (future) technologies to be included in next generation of naval platforms and to be pursued in further European development programs (such as the European Defence Fund). SEA Defence is explicitly looking at innovations for the next generation naval platforms, while taking into account the need for continuous innovation through increased adaptability during the lifecycle of naval systems.


Sea Defence is a feasibility study under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). EDIDP is a two year programme (2019-2020) aiming at enhancing the competitiveness of the EU defence industry. EDIDP aims at supporting the efforts of the EU defence industry in the development of defence equipment and technologies through co-financing from the EU budget. Within the EDIDP programme the EU and participating Member States of have allocated a budget of up to 15.8 mln EUR of a total EDIDP budget of €500 million for SEA Defence. EDIDP is part of the European Defence Fund, launched by the Commission in June 2017, to help Member States spend money more efficiently, reduce duplications, and get better value for money by coordinating, supplementing and amplifying national investments in defence research and development activities.


Scenario based capability requirements working sessions


To make sure that the technologies in the roadmap that Sea Defence will deliver, address future operation challenges, a number of scenario based working sessions were organized at the beginning of the project. The project plan already identified several areas of interest as well as specific technologies within these areas to be evaluated in the project’s feasibility studies. The first goal of the scenario based working sessions was to confirm that these technologies address the future operational challenges and needs of the military operator. Another important goal was to gain insights on the operational capability requirements that might be of interest in these feasibility studies. Since the areas of interest as identified in the project plan were also the basis of the breakdown structure of the project into work packages (WP), another important goal of the scenario based working sessions was to gain insights into the relationships and possible requirement conflicts between these areas of interest, which might be addressed during the project. Finally new technologies or solutions of interest could be identified that might be worthwhile to include in the feasibility studies.


For these working sessions three scenarios that represent the operations of future naval platforms were developed, including the threats that these platforms are likely to encounter in these operations. The scenarios were based on the recommendations of the Capability Development Plan (CDP), available documentation on future naval warfare shared by several European member states as well as open source documentation.


The three scenarios were situated in the future, 10-15 years from now. A notional conflict between two fictional nations, Brinia and Nordania, formed the background against which a EU Naval Force had to fulfil three missions.


The first mission for the EU Naval Force was to intercept an near-pear enemy naval force in the Northern Atlantic. Challenges included possible threats such as hypersonic glide missiles as well as extreme sea states and icing conditions.


The seconds mission was situated in the tropics. The EU Naval Force was tasked to protect merchant shipping lanes against hostile proxy actions, including attacks by drones as well as attacks by coastal batteries. In this scenario the extreme high temperature as well as heavy sand and dust storms were also a challenge to the force.


The third scenario was an amphibious landing operation of two marine battalions with the aim of liberating a refinery, occupied by hostile armed forces. The mission was to establish and defend a sea base, support the landing force with naval gun fire support, aerial surveillance and resupplies.


These three scenarios as well as the introduction of the conflict were illustrated in short 2-3 minutes films. The scenario based working sessions took place online, over a period of one week in March 2021.


The week started with a plenary online session hosted from a studio in The Hague. In the studio the Sea Defence Project manager from Damen, the Sea Defence Work Package leader from TNO and a representative of the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation gave an introduction to the project and the working sessions to come.  Over 40 consortium members and representatives of the Member States where participating via WebEx.



After this introduction a total of seven 3,5-hour online working sessions took place with about 15-25 consortium and Member State participants each. Each working session was focussed on one of the seven work package / areas of interest of the project. After an introduction of the program and the overall introductory scenario the working group was divided in three subgroups related to the three mission scenarios. Each subgroup was shown the scenario film and then was asked to think and discuss the following question:


‘Having in mind the topic of interest in this work package, which capabilities requirements of a future naval platform, are most challenging in this mission scenario?’


The requirements addressed specific threats buts also requirements concerning the environment and other challenges that were presented in the film. The results of this brainstorm were captured in a template and after the subgroup discussions the three subgroups reconvened and the results of each subgroup were plenary presented and discussed. In this plenary discussion the possible requirement conflicts or overlaps with other topics were also addressed. The week ended on Friday morning with a second plenary online studio session. Here the first preliminary results of the working sessions for each of the three scenarios were presented and the way forward was discussed.


Reflection on methodology and conclusion


The use of scenarios, when thinking of ship requirements is not new. However, there are some aspects in the way scenarios were used in the Sea Defence working sessions that are quite unique.


First of all: the setting and the participants of the working sessions. For the first time ever a broad group of leading European naval shipyards and EU navies together exchanged experiences and ideas in this way. European cooperation always starts with finding common ideas and sharing expertise and it was found that scenarios are a powerful platform to facilitate this.


Scenarios are commonly used by naval shipyards to identify the specific user requirements needed to design a platform. Detailed scenarios are used to describe specific operations that future operators foresee, setting the technical requirements of the vessel. In this sense, these scenarios are used one directional; the scenarios address the ‘requirements pull’ of innovative shipbuilding. For the Sea Defence project the use of scenarios was multidirectional. By having both operational end users as well as technical shipbuilding experts discuss the future scenarios both ‘requirement pull’ aspects as well as ‘technology push’ elements were addressed simultaneously. The scenarios were not to set the requirements but to facilitate a structured discussion between the operators and the technicians with the purpose to identify possible feasibility studies and research questions to be addressed in the Sea Defence studies.


The consortium was unequivocal in its conclusion that the scenario based capability working sessions brought much added value to the Sea Defence project. Not only in setting the scene for the remainder of the project, but also in getting common views on the future scenarios for all work package leaders, participants and member state representatives. The final result will thus reflect relevant research and development topics that can be used in PESCO and EDF projects for EU naval capabilities. But more importantly, the cooperating shipyards and its participating Member States will have a common understanding of the operational concepts that inform future European shipbuilding endeavours.


A very professional and well-prepared session! Very useful to understand how SEA Defence manages the scenarios (levels, storylines, relations with WPs, debate…). Scenarios are indeed key to frame and put requirements in the proper context. - Mr. Francisco Casalduero, Project Manager - Defence development programme

Ingrid Bastings
Marcel Elenbaas
Marcel-Paul Hasberg
Jeroen de Jonge