A masterpiece of modernisation
The upgraded combat information center of Rauma Class Fast Attack Craft will act much like the brain of the vessel. Data streams from various subsystems will be combined to form an accurate situational picture of the vessel's surroundings: navigation and video surveillance systems and fire-control radar will survey the vessel’s external maritime and aerial space, as well as its interior. Listening to the underwater acoustic world much like a pair of ears, a towed sonar can be lowered to a depth of nearly 200 meters. This sonar will be used for searching for and locating submerged objects. When the time for action comes, the combat information center will issue orders.
Rauma Class Fast Attack Craft – the Rauma, Raahe, Porvoo and Naantali – represent the Finnish Navy's key operational underwater capability. Light and with a low profile and extremely shallow draught, these craft are designed for facing the challenges of the Finnish archipelago. Although the crew may not find the craft's shallow draught one of its most enjoyable aspects in rough seas, it has no effect on the vessels’ seaworthiness. In a storm, the craft will normally roll 35 degrees to one side when sailing cross-wave. Should the vessel capsize for some exceptional reason, it will quickly roll back into its original position. On board the craft, provisions have been made for rolling; a handrail or a handgrip is always within easy reach.
Over the course of the last two years, the Rauma Class Craft has undergone a modernisation project during which its systems were upgraded and replaced with newer versions. Patria's Systems business unit had overall responsibility for the project's management, coordination and scheduling.
"The life span of a military vessel of this kind is around 30 to 35 years. Rauma Class vessels are already more than half way through their life cycle. For various reasons, including the gradual obsolescence of their equipment and the unavailability of spare parts for the systems that are 20 years old, these vessels must undergo one renovation during their life cycle," says Lieutenant Commander Sami Rauhanummi, project manager of the renovation project.
The biggest compromise involved was the vessel’s active air defence system: obsolete ship-to-air missiles were discarded and air defence is handled with a single gun. The vessels were also fitted with an automatic decoy system , which will lure incoming radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles off course by firing decoy flares or metal strips. Similarly, the craft's capability for underwater surveillance was enhanced by the installation of a modern sonar system. However, lightness is a limiting factor for the Rauma Class Fast Attack Craft.
"Although conditions in the archipelago pose grave challenges, very large-scale equipment cannot be installed on vessels of this size. Nevertheless, the performance of their sonar system is the best on the market. In collaboration with Patria, we have already tested the sonar system using a remote controlled anti-submarine training target," says Rauhanummi.
The last of the vessels was handed over to the Finnish Navy in late 2013. Before that each vessel underwent a six-week, extensive acceptance testing phase.
"The last phase of testing normally involves both surface and air target firings, to ensure that the entire chain of measures, from target detection to interception, functions as planned. Sea trials are carried out in neighbouring waters and on the Finnish Navy's maritime firing areas. Acceptance testing aims at ensuring that the end product meets the requirements," says Lieutenant SGr (Engineering) Harri Koskela, responsible for the project's system technology.
The craft's end users, the personnel of the 6th Missile Squadron, were closely involved in system and interface design, work supervision and acceptance testing. For the Navy, the participation of the end users was a natural part of the process, since they are most knowledgeable about the product. During the overhaul, the old was mixed with a heavy dose of the new.
"This was also a matter of resources; the Navy does not have better team available for such tasks, while the project gave end users also the opportunity to have a say in their own tools," Koskela says.
The fact that the overall schedule and budget were adhered to in line with the original plan bears testimony to the success of the project, which was delivered on a turnkey basis. The project had an employment effect of around 150 person years, most of which were worked in Finland and the rest by Swedish and Norwegian suppliers.
Jarno Nieminen, System Engineer at Patria, was responsible for integrating the combat system with the vessels.
"In particular, coordination of schedules with the project's various sub-phases posed a challenge. Since many of the suppliers participating in the project were working in parallel, a change in one of their delivery schedule affected the entire undertaking. A substantial number of travel days were logged during the project."
"We have well-defined processes to which we adhere. In this project, we applied our systems expertise on an exceptionally large scale, ranging from shipyard work to upgrading the systems. Many Patria employees also have a background in maritime occupations: for example, many at the Tampere unit are former employees of the Hollming shipyard, which used to manufacture ships, including research vessels," for the Soviet Union, says Nieminen.
The customer gives credit to the high quality of Patria's processes.
"All phases of the project were systematically completed. Both parties had a clear understanding of what a proper acceptance process for work packages entails. This is one of Patria's strengths," a view which both Rauhanummi and Koskela confirm.
Collaboration between the Finnish Navy and Patria was characterised by openness. All parties were present at several meetings, representatives of the customer also having the right to participate in meetings where their presence was not strictly necessary. Furthermore, the project benefited from the participation of other players, such as Saab, the supplier of the combat management system, and Kongsberg Maritime, the deliverer of the sonar system – two companies well-known to the Finnish Navy.
Similar views on smooth cooperation were expressed by Ilkka Jaakkola, the project's propulsion system expert.
"Whenever the customer's representatives had any comments, they communicated them openly, allowing us to straighten things out right away. The Finnish Navy constitutes a relatively small branch of the Finnish Defence Forces, which is one of the things that made cooperation with them so flexible. Seamen are a breed apart; demanding but flexible," says Jaakkola.
The project's strict quality and security requirements also covered the subcontractor network. The ship technical repair element of the project was supplied by Western Shipyards, a company located in Teijo, which fully met expectations.
"For us, this project was a major opportunity, allowing us to develop remarkably as an enterprise. Among other things, the shipyard’s security arrangements were brought up to impeccable level in a concerted effort, in line with Navy requirements. In addition to camera surveillance, our premises are monitored by laser radars which immediately detect intruders. I would claim that we are one of Finland's best shipyards in this respect," says Pekka Niinistö, CEO of Western Shipyards.
Shiptechnical repair, which form part of the project, are the staple work of Western Shipyards. An unusual aspect of the project was the many contractors operating on the shipyard premises, but with no contractual relationship with the shipyard itself. From the shipyard's perspective, the repair of the vessel's old hull, with the related strict inspection and quality requirements, presented the toughest challenge. However, due to meticulous preparations made in advance, the work ran smoothly. The shipyard also learned valuable lessons about project management and documentation, which were a major feature of the project.
"A demanding customer – and both Patria and the Finnish Navy would qualify as demanding – is definitively beneficial to a company. For a supplier, a professional customer who knows what they want provides an excellent opportunity for professional development. We have taken some major leaps forward over the last three years," says Niinistö.
This article was published in the Patria magazine in June 2014.