POLA. ARM REFORMADOR: REFORMING THE MEXICAN NAVY AND THE SHIPBUILDING INDUSTRY
In November 2018 a ceremony took place at the ASTIMAR 20 naval shipyard in Salina Cruz, Mexico, that not only marked a major milestone for the Mexican Navy, but also a potentially global paradigm-shift in the way that advanced naval platforms will be built in the future. The flagging and launching ceremony was in itself a justified cause for celebration, but what made it unique was the fact that it took place just 20 months after work began on building the vessel. For the building of top-end sophisticated naval vessels, this speed is unheard of and indeed it is acknowledged to have set a new world record for the modern era.
Of course, this was no ordinary project. The ARM Reformador (Reformer), is a Mexican version of the Damen SIGMA 10514, a proven design that is already in service with a number of navies. There, the class is designated the POLA, the acronym for the Patrulla Oceánica de Largo Alcance, which translates as Long-Range Ocean Patrol Ship. The ARM Reformador is so-named as it marks a new stage in the process of reforming the operational capabilities of the Mexican navy and strengthening the Mexican naval industry.
107 metres in length and with a beam of 14 metres, the ARM Reformador will be able to sail at speeds of more than 25 knots and spend more than 20 days continuously at sea. “This vessel will be capable of carrying out various missions such as safeguarding Mexican sovereignty, international security cooperation, long range search and rescue operations and humanitarian aid,” said Frank Verhelst, project director at Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS). “ARM Reformador will also enable the Mexican state to increase its surveillance coverage and the protection of its maritime interests beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone.”
The power of SIGMA combined with local shipbuilding
This vessel has been built using modular construction techniques, with six modules accounting for the entire structure. Four of these have been built in Mexico and two at DSNS in the Netherlands. These last two were then transported to ASTIMAR 20 for the final integration under Damen supervision. “In this way the vessel is being built for Mexico, in Mexico, by Mexicans” said Horacio Delgado, sales manager in charge of the project. “Damen remains the main contractor though, bearing final responsibility for quality and performance. The key to success in these multi-yard projects is excellent process control and a fully-developed build strategy from the outset that forms the framework for the project from which everyone works,” continues Frank.
Damen, with its long track-record of working alongside third-party shipyards outside Europe to build complex vessels, has been transferring knowledge to the Mexican shipbuilding industry via its globally successful Damen Technical Cooperation (DTC) programme. The POLA project, however, has taken the DTC concept to the next level by applying simultaneous modular construction on two continents. This format has already been proved a success by DSNS in the construction of two SIGMA 10514 PKR frigates for the Indonesian Navy, with the transfer of skills enabling the construction of all six modules for any future vessels to take place domestically.
The excellent cooperation between Damen and the Mexican Navy is due in part to the synergy developed through the previous building together of ten Tenochtitlan class patrol vessels, based on the Damen Stan Patrol 4207, and the logistic supply vessel Isla María Madre, derived from the Damen Fast Crew Supplier 5009 design. These projects provided a significant transfer of technology to the Mexican shipyards involved and laid the groundwork for the much larger and more complex POLA project. In fact, ARM Reformador will be the twelfth vessel that Damen has delivered to the Mexican Navy.
As part of the POLA project, the Damen team in Vlissingen in the Netherlands was mirrored by a Mexican Navy team embedded alongside them. Its scope was to monitor the production there of the two modules and play an important coordination role. At the same time, the Mexican team transferred valuable, region specific, operational experience to their Damen colleagues which they in turn used as part of the feedback loop for Damen’s design and safeguard planning and production.
The three pillars of modular building
The success of the POLA project and others like it rests on three pillars; process control, global coverage and building strategy. Total process control at every stage is vital for projects that span continents yet depend on real-time coordination. Digital platforms for information availability and the visualisation of progress play an important role. Global coverage is all about optimising local yards yet maintaining a flexible approach so that a SIGMA vessel can be built anywhere, and a complete building strategy from the outset ensures that everyone knows how they fi t into the overall picture, what their goals are and when they need to deliver them.
The multiplier effect of technology transfers
The transfer of technology is not just about the shipyards, although that is important. Despite the previous cooperation between Damen and the Mexican Navy, additional training was required at ASTIMAR 20 for the specific welding techniques needed for the hull, and differences regarding working methods were identified and resolved over time. Administration practices also underwent some modifications. Damen has additionally worked with local suppliers to the project, sharing the information and skills necessary to manufacture and deliver materials and components to the required specifications.
In recognition of this, Admiral José Antonio Sierra Rodriguez, Director General of Naval Construction, was recently quoted as saying, ”I would like to say that the benefits that we must recognise are those that the country obtains from acquiring the technology, developing the infrastructure and training personnel. This vessel is an extension of our country, representing Mexico as it travels the world flying its flag.”
For Mexico, in Mexico, by Mexicans
He has every reason to be proud. This project has been a triumph of cross-border cooperation, and everyone at Damen and within the Mexican Navy who contributed to its success has a right to share in that pride.
In November 2019, the ARM Reformador will begin sea trials before going into active service, representing a critical step in the reformation of the Mexicans Navy’s operational capabilities and the Mexican shipbuilding industry.