The HDMS Absalon (L16) class and her sister ship, the HDMS Esbern Snare, are the two largest vessels ever built for the Royal Danish Navy (RDN). Some categorize the class as transport frigates while others consider them combat support ships. However, the RDN classifies the Absalon-class as "Command and Support" ships and puts all discussions to rest.
HDMS Absalon is named after Absalon, a Danish archbishop and statesman who constructed the first fortification in the city that would ultimately become modern day Copenhagen. HDMS Absalon (L16) was built by the Odense Lindo Shipyard with construction beginning in 2003 and the vessel became fully operational in 2007 as the flagship of the RDN. The Danish design resembles the French La Fayette-class frigate but has a different mission description - one of a command vessel as opposed to a pure war ship.
The attractive hull and super structure design minimizes right angles, giving the class a small dispersed radar signature. The RDN chose to use the class for multiple missions instead of standard frigate duty. The lower vehicle and LCP deck is a large space of 900 square meters - 84m by 10.9m by 5m suited for the multiple mission concept and capable of holding varied cargo up to 450 tons. To access this space, a "roll-on-roll-off" ("Ro/Ro") ramp along the stern can handle vehicles as heavy as the 62 ton Leopard main battle tank - that said, the space can be used by a variety of vehicle types. This space can also be used as a 24-hour "ready" hospital module or additional living quarters for some 300 troops.
At sea, a number of amphibious vessels can access the LCP deck by way of the ramp when lowered into the water. The second (and smaller) "Ro/Ro" ramp is along the starboard side of the transom with a gantry door on the port side for launching and recovering two Swedish designed LCP's. These boats use waterjet propulsion, having a three man crew with room for 10 equipped troops or passengers, and can make 40 knots for 200nm (370km).
The aft top deck is an 850-square meter helicopter landing pad. The deck can accommodate heavy helicopters up to 20tons like the twin-rotor Chinooks. The normal compliment is for two AgustaWestland EH-101 "Merlin" helicopters (or two Westland "Lynx" series) stored in twin hangers just forward of the launching/landing pad. For quick response, the EH-101 systems can be refueled in just 10 minutes. If the mission does not require helicopters, the hangers and aft deck can be used for additional vehicle or cargo storage - living up to her true defined "multi-mission" capability. The ship has 16 watertight compartments in case of emergency flooding or damage from an attack.
Armament for the vessel includes a fixed bow-mounted, fully automatic 5-inch (127mm) Mk 45 Mod 4 main gun. The gun was chosen for its accurate surface naval gunfire against shore-based targets, fast surface targets, and even some incoming air threats. The Mk 45 is controlled by either the Mk 86 Gun Fire Control System or the Mk 160 Gun Computing System. The guns range is up to 13 nautical miles and can fire 16-20 rounds per minute. Magazine capacity is a listed 475-500 projectiles. For certain anti-aircraft protection, the vessel fields 2 x CIWS (Close-In Weapon System). This gun uses a large cylinder with multiple chambers like a revolver hand gun. Unlike a single shot hand gun, however, the CIWS cylinder is power-driven at high-speed and fires a 35mm shell up to 1000 rounds per minute. One is located forward above the 5-inch gun and below the main bridge while the second system is aft above the landing pad - both can provide a 360-degree arc of fire.
Near the aft CIWS gun are additional defense and weapon systems - four six-tubed SBROC chaff decoy launchers located amidships along with two Mk 32 twin launchers for the MU90 anti submarine torpedoes. In the sunken center top deck section are two double quad launchers for 16 all-weather Harpoons - a proven over-the-horizon, surface-to-surface, anti-ship cruise missile of American origin. For anti-aircraft surface-to-air protection are the three rows of 6 x 18 "Sea Sparrow" vertically fired missiles, essentially navalized variants of the aircraft-based AIM-7 "Sparrow" medium-range, air-to-air missile system.
All weapons and radars were not installed when Absalon was commissioned - cost being the underlying reason - so some systems were added later to bring her and her sister ship up to full duty status. This concept limited the ships on mission readiness standards and the RDN used this time for additional training of the small crew (made up of 100 to169 officers and enlisted personnel - with many women holding command and operational roles in the RDN). The cost of the ship and all her equipment was stated as 2.7B Kroner (or $ 565M in Canadian dollars). The ship displaces at 6,300 tons and is powered by 2 MTU 8000 series M70 x 20-cylinder diesel engines producing 11,000 shaft horse power to twin screws and includes a bow water thruster for ease of docking. Her average speed is 15 knots but she can make 23 full knots (42.5 km/h) and maintain a range out to 9,000 nm (10,356mi) (16,666 km).
The ship has a number of sensors but is fielded with less than is standard on contemporary frigates. The air search radar used is a Thales SMART-SMk 23D complimenting the Terma Scanter 2100 surface radar. Submarine threats are countered by the Atlas ASO 94 sonar and the fire control system is 4 x Saab CEROS 200-series radar systems. The chaff uses the ES-3701 tactical Radar Electronic Support Measures system (ESM).
The RDN has focused on international missions and, starting in 2008, HDMS Absalon was the flagship of the Danish task group with Task Force 150, this force charged with hunting pirates in the Gulf of Aden in conjunction with 20 other nations. In 2008, she captured one-third of the vessels detained by the twelve-ship task force. Task force 150 divided the Gulf into twelve patrol "boxes" with one ship responsible in defending the shipping of their assigned area. Absalon's operating box remains classified but when pirates are sighted, she provides aid at flank speed while representing the Flag Ship of the force. The lower deck is currently being used as a command and control area to manage the Gulf and all suspected pirate craft with the Task Force commander onboard.
Early in December 2008, Absalon spotted a boat with suspected pirates 100 miles off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. The Somali craft was taken by the Absalon's operations force and boarding party. In such a situation, the two LCP's work together to see if the craft in question is a true fishing boat or a staging platform for piracy. In such an instance, the operation LCP goes in first with an armed force of RDN special forces members who circle the suspects and decide if the boarding party can approach. If the party appears to be pirates, the operational crew takes the lead. In this particular instance, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles were found. The Absalon took the enemy sailors and weapons, sunk the craft and contacted the Yemeni Coast Guard to take responsibility of the prisoners. In February of 2010, Absalon came to the rescue of a crew aboard the tanker Ariella, they having been attacked by six pirates sometime earlier. In response, Absalon launched one of its helicopters with a special force operational team onboard and ran the pirates off. In March of 2010, Absalon sank a Somali ship, an identified staging platform for pirate speedboats, in the Indian Ocean.