When compared to neighbors France and Germany, Belgium is a relatively small nation. However, its geographical position is such that it provides critical access to the waterways of the English Channel via the all-important port city of Antwerp. This water access has always prompted the country to maintain some sort of blue water presence in the region providing a first-and-last line of defense from the sea and deterrence against a potential aggressor to its shipping.
The small Wielingen-class of fighting frigates was born as the first post-World War 2 Belgian Navy warship to be wholly constructed by the country (though its equipment came from various other parties). The types were classified frigates which characterized them as surface-going vessels outfitted with sensors, communications equipment, machinery, and weaponry suitable for force protection and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). For the Belgian Navy, this warship served in the escort ship and patrol roles. The decision to pursue a new design was made by the Belgian government in late 1970s with program approval being had in 1971. Formal design studies came in 1973. The Wielingen-class was to follow the outgoing Algerine-class which numbered eight for the Belgian Navy out of the 110 actually completed for it and other global naval forces.
The lead ship of the new class, Wielingen (F910), saw her keel laid down on March 5th, 1974 by builder Boelwerf and the hull was launched on March 30th, 1976. She was officially commissioned by ceremony on January 20th, 1978 and her sisters followed before the end of the year. The group included Westdiep (F911), Wandelaar (F912), and Westhinder (F913). Once in action, the class formed an important part of Belgian Navy capabilities during the latter stages of the Cold War.
The Wielingen displaced at 1,880 tons under standard load and 2,430 tons under full load. Her length measured 349 feet with a beam of 40.4 feet, and draught of 18.4 feet. She exhibited a low profile that concealed her stout smoke funnel aft of the main mast quite well. A turreted deck gun was fitted fore with the bridge superstructure directly aft of this installation. Interestingly Wielingen was not given any helicopter support facilities which simplified her design and operation some. Her entire crew complement numbered 159 and included up to fourteen officers.
Her machinery was a COmbined Diesel OR Gas (CODOG) system configuration that saw a single Rolls-Royce Olympus gas turbine of 28,000 horsepower coupled with 2 x Cockerill 240 CO diesels outputting at 6,000 horsepower. This arrangement drove power to two shafts with the gas turbine coming into play for high speed dashes while the diesels drove the vessel during normal cruise functions. Speeds could reach 28 knots and operational range was out to 5,190 miles.
Due to the multirole nature of frigate warships in modern navies, Wielingen was given an armament collection to help counter most any at-sea threat. The armament suite was led by 2 x MM-38 "Exocet" Anti-Ship (AS) twin missile launchers for surface targets and an Mk 29 RIM-7P"Sea Sparrow" Anti-Aircraft (AA) octuple missile launcher for inbound aerial targets. Over the forecastle was a conventional naval artillery gun - a 100mm (3.9") Creusot-Loire Mod 68 Dual-Purpose (DP) deck gun system - in a traversing turret. Anti-Submarine actions were handled by a single 375mm Cruesot-Loire Anti-Submarine-ROCket (ASROC) launcher firing Swedish Bofors-made rockets. Additional firepower against undersea threats was managed through 2 x 533mm (21") torpedo launchers for the ten ECAN L5 torpedoes carried. At one point, the 30mm "Goalkeeper" Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) was to figure into the armament suite of Wielingen-class but this initiative was ultimately abandoned.
To accomplish the many roles assigned to it, Wielingen carried a collection of sensors and processing systems which included a Hollandse Signaal Apparaten DA-05 surface search radar, a Hollandse Signaal Apparaten WM-25 fire control radar, a Vigy 105 series optronic director, the Kelvin-Hugues "Scout" navigation radar, the SEWACO IV tactical data system, the Argos 900 ESM, a pair of MK 36 SRBOC chaff launching devices, the SLQ-25 series "Nixie" Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) decoy suite, and the AN/SQS-510 model search/attack sonar fitted to the bow. These systems, combined with a well-trained and experienced crew along with the vessel's standard armament, made the Wielingen and her class formidable warships considering their relatively compact sizes.
Wielingen led a long and healthy service life for the Belgian Navy, spanning from 1976 to 2007. With the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union as the primary European threat, the vessel was decommissioned in 2006 and sold off to Bulgaria in 2008 where she has continued her career as the "Verni" ("Faithful"). Two of her sister ships were given the same fate - all transitioned via sale to the Bulgarian Navy. Only Westhinder was scrapped (in 1993).