Valour-class frigate

The South African Valour-class frigates are the major surface ships of the South African Navy. Their German manufacturer designates these warships as the MEKO A-200SAN type, member of its MEKO family of naval ships.[3] They were designed and built using principles of stealthy design, including the extensive use of "X-form" structure design in which right angles and vertical surfaces are avoided, and techniques to reduce the infrared signature, such as expelling pre-cooled exhaust gasses just above the waterline. Blohm+Voss, the designers, claim that this class has the radar signature of a vessel one-half her size, 75% less infrared emissions than previous designs, as well as a 20% lower life-cycle cost, 25% lower displacement, and 30% fewer crewmen.[4]

SAS Spioenkop (F147) (before weapons, various antennas and other equipment were fitted)
Class overview
Name: Valour class
Builders: Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Kiel
Operators:  South African Navy
Preceded by: President class
Cost: R9.65 billion (final cost for all 4 ships of the class in 2007 currency)
In service: 2006
In commission: 2006
Planned: 5
Completed: 4
Cancelled: 1
Active: 4
General characteristics
Type: Guided missile frigate
Displacement: 3700 tons
  • 107.3 m (352 ft) at waterline
  • 121 m (397 ft) overall
Beam: 16.34 m (53.6 ft)
Draught: 5.95 m (19.5 ft)
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range: 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
Endurance: 28 days
Complement: 152[1] (incl aircrew)
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • Surveillance Radar: Thales Naval France MRR-3D NG G-band multi-role radar
  • Optical Radar Tracker: 2 Reutech RTS 6400 monopulse X band (I/J bands) combined radar and optronics trackers
  • Electro-optical Tracker: Reutech Electro-optical tracker
  • Identification Friend or Foe: Tellumat Integrated Naval Identification friend or foe system
  • Target Designation Sights: M-Tek Target Designation Sights
  • Sonar: Thales UMS4132 Kingklip sonar
  • Obstacle avoidance sonar: MDS 3060
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
  • ESM/ECM: Saab Grintek Avitronics SME 100/200 ESM (Intercept and Jammer) & ELINT
  • Decoys: 2 Saab Grintek Avitronics MRL Super Barricade chaff launchers (96 decoys)
Armour: Welded GL-D36 steel[2]
Aircraft carried: 2 SuperLynx 300, 1 Atlas Oryx, 2 AgustaWestland AW109, 1 Denel Rooivalk or various UAVs (Planned)
Aviation facilities:


For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the South African Navy had no operational ships fulfilling the multi-purpose and multi-capable frigate role, which includes guided-missile anti-surface and anti-air warfare roles. The purchase of SAS Good Hope from France was stopped at the last minute in 1977 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 418; one of its three "Type 12" (Rothesay class) anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates, SAS President Kruger, was lost in an accident in 1982, while the last, SAS President Pretorius, was decommissioned in 1986 due to obsolescence.

Project Sitron was part of the Strategic Defence Package (commonly known as the arms deal) signed on December 3, 1999 with the European South African Corvette Consortium (ESACC). The contracts became effective on April 28, 2000. Amatola arrived in South African waters in November 2004, Isandhlwana in February 2005, Spioenkop in May and Mendi in September 2005.[5]

These frigates were built by the Blohm+Voss shipyards in Germany, two in Hamburg, and the other two in Kiel.

Ships of the class

Ship nameBuilderLaid downLaunchedDeliveredIn service
SAS Amatola (F145) Blohm + Voss, Hamburg2 August 2001[5]6 June 200220032006
SAS Isandlwana (F146) Howaldtswerke, Kiel26 October 20015 December 200220042006
SAS Spioenkop (F147) Blohm + Voss, Hamburg28 February 20022 August 200320042007
SAS Mendi (F148) Howaldtswerke, Kiel28 June 2002Oct 200320042007


The MEKO ships of the South African Navy are collectively called the Valour class, and each commemorates an incident of conspicuous bravery. "The symbolism, however, is not in the battle itself, and who the victors were, but the extreme valour shown by the forces involved — both the victors and the defeated" said navy spokesman Commander Brian Stockton.[6]

Amatola is named for the redoubt of the famed Xhosa chief Sandile, who fought British colonial expansion in the 19th Century, and SAS Isandhlwana, named after the hill dominating the site of one of the most famous battles of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.[7]

Spioenkop is named for the January 1900 battle between Boer and British forces for the possession of the hill on the banks of the Thukela (Tugela) River in now KwaZulu-Natal. Spioenkop hill marks the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the 1899–1902 Anglo Boer War.[8]

There is a progression in the names and the fourth frigate takes its name from a naval incident in World War I – but unlike the others, her name commemorates not a battle, but valour during a maritime disaster. The 4230-gross-ton (GRT) passenger ship SS Mendi was ferrying the mostly-Pondo 5th Battalion, SA Native Labour Corps (SANLC) from Britain to France when the steamer collided with the 11,000 GRT liner SS Darro during the early hours of February 21, 1917. Described as South Africa's worst naval disaster, 607 members of the SANLC, nine of their white countrymen and 33 British sailors died when the troopship sank eleven miles off St Catherine's Light in the English Channel. The Rev. Isaac Wauchope Dyobha led the doomed men in funeral song and dance as their ship went down.[9] On her way home from Germany, SAS Mendi, with HMS Nottingham, laid a wreath at the coordinates of the disaster on August 23, 2004.[10]


Frigates are designed to be capable of conducting sustained operations at sea, and they are designed to negotiate sea conditions such as those found off the South African coast. These frigates are designed to carry up to two AgustaWestland SuperLynx 300 helicopters, which will significantly improve and extend its surveillance, operational and sea rescue capabilities. They are capable of day or night operations in conditions up to Sea State 6[7].

Routine tasks will include:[4]

  • Regular patrols for the protection of marine resources against poaching and pollution in the country's Economic Exclusion Zone
  • Law enforcement at sea with respect to piracy and the smuggling of drugs, weapons and other contraband

Peace and civil support missions could include:[4]

  • Search and rescue (SAR) missions as far south as the Prince Edward island group
  • Evacuating of civilians from coastal areas in times of emergency or crisis
  • Providing gunfire and other support for land forces, as well as the transport of limited equipment and personnel in support of land action, especially during peacekeeping missions.

Typical wartime duties could include:[4]

  • Patrols
  • Defensive sea surveillance
  • Combat Search and Rescue
  • Special operations
  • Mine-laying and other sea-denial missions



The ships of the Valour class are equipped with an assortment of multi-purpose weapons, each fulfilling a vital role in naval warfare including anti-surface, anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare. The ships' primary anti-surface armament is its MM40 Block 2 Exocet anti-ship missile launchers which give them an anti-ship capability with a range in excess of 72 kilometres (45 mi). According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Navy is planning to upgrade these missiles to Block 3 standard, giving them an effective range of 180 kilometres (110 mi).[11] For closer surface threats the ship can use its OTO Melara 76 mm main gun (range of 16–40 km, depending on the type of ammunition utilised). It is also equipped with a twin Denel 35mm Dual Purpose Gun, two Mk1 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons and two 12.7 mm Rogue remotely operated guns to engage surface targets accurately within a 4 km range.

For anti-aircraft and missile defense purposes the frigates are equipped with a 16 to 32 cell Umkhonto-IR Block 2 VLS, which is capable of engaging aerial targets at a range of 15 kilometres (9.3 mi). The frigate's twin Denel 35mm Dual Purpose Gun CIWS can also destroy incoming missiles and enemy aircraft which have penetrated the ship's outer defences, within a range of 4–6 kilometres (2.5–3.7 mi) using Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction (AHEAD) 35×228mm NATO ammunition. The ships are also equipped with 4 324 mm (12.8 in) torpedo tubes, which can be utilised to engage submarines.

Systems and Sensors

The frigates were built to a modern stealth design to avoid enemy radar and infrared detection. In addition to these features, the Meko A-200SAN class is distinctive with a very new propulsion system which is composed by a water-jet drive, in addition to two propellers. Its CODAG-WARP system (COmbined Diesel And Gas turbine-WAter jet and Refined Propellers) consist of a steerable propeller and a water jet. The power is provided by a combination of diesel engines and gas turbines. The propulsion plant can be operated in four modes:

  • I – Economical mode: One diesel engine driving both shafts, maximum propeller speed: 150 rpm.
  • II – Maneuvering mode: Both diesel engines driving both shafts, maximum propeller speed: 200 rpm.
  • III - CODAG-WARP: Both diesel engines and the gas turbines turned on, maximum propeller speed: 215 rpm.
  • IV – Gas turbine only: Gas turbines powering water jet only.

These frigates are expected to spend about 80% of their at-sea time in modes I and II.

The ship's steering gear consists of a steering unit and twin semi-balanced underhung rudders. There is an emergency steering station in the superstructure in the event of damage to the bridge and they can also be operated by hand from the steering gear compartment. To improve the ship's performance in a seaway, they are fitted with a B+V Simplex Compact stabiliser system.

This class of warship has seven independent Noske Kaeser air-conditioning plants allowing the ship to operate at a preset temperature and moisture level in ocean water ranging between 4 °C and 30 °C, and the air temperature between −4 °C and 32 °C. This also keeps the air pressure in the citadel five millibars higher than on the outside to prevent the drawing in of RBC (radioactive, biological, or chemical) contamination. These ships are also fitted with Sulzer und Weise seawater fire-fighting pumps and sprinkler systems. These are also ready to wet down the warship's ammunition magazines. In addition, a CO2 fire-extinguishing system protects the gas turbine and diesel engineering areas. The galleys are fitted with an ANSUL system and the flight deck and hangar with a Noske Kaeser Hy FEx foam fire extinguishing system. Two Pall Rochem reverse-osmosis plants generate 15 cubic metres of fresh water each every 24 hours. This water is provided to the galleys, messes, and drinking water supplies, and it is also used for cooling the guns, the air-conditioners, and the engine room, in addition for washing the helicopters. Water pumped to the guns, sensors, and air-conditioners is chilled by two Noske Kaeser refrigerators. An oil-fired hot-water boiler, made by the same company, provides the ship's heating, whereas the hot water for the galley and messes comes from a 600-litre, 45 kilowatt electric geyser.

This class of warship is conspicuous for a lack of any funnels. To add to their stealth characteristics, the exhaust fumes from the Meko A200's gas turbines and diesel engines are cooled by spraying water into the exhaust duct and then expelled just above the ship's waterline, making the frigate almost invisible to most infrared detectors.[12] In 2004, the project officer Rear Admiral (J.G.) Johnny Kamerman explained that the ships’ design features incorporated stealth characteristics that gave the Valour-class very low radar, acoustic, and magnetic signatures. "It is the first major warship in the world with a horizontal exhaust and water jet propulsion, and has an X-form outer hull," he said. Its manufacturers added that the design has the radar cross-section of a missile patrol boat, a 75% lower infrared signature than previous designs, as well as a 20% lower life-cycle cost, 25% less displacement and 30% fewer crewmen. The lack of funnels also frees up desirable room amidships for armaments, crew quarters, and store rooms.

This class's combat-management system (CMS), which apparently accounts for about 40 percent of each warship's cost, was purchased from the Thales Detexis company. The Tavitac system is also fitted to the French Navy's La Fayette-class frigates, and updated versions are aboard the Saudi Arabian F3000-class air-defence frigates, and the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Kamerman said that he was very proud of the ships' combat system and the South African ingenuity that went into their design. "Seventy-five percent of the combat suite is home-grown. It's the largest local-content percentage of all the defence packages. The local content makes testing and integration so much easier. The foreign stuff must be done in a tight time-frame and flying their experts here is expensive. The guys who built our radars are just 40 km away in Stellenbosch," Kamerman said of Reutech Radar Systems, one of the contractors. Local content also speeded up repair and maintenance. "It is local support in-country, not a local capacity created artificially or a bunch of foreigners flown in."

The vessel's surveillance radar is the MMR-3D NG G-band multirole radar from Thales Naval France. The MRR-3D has a lightweight phased array antenna and operates as both a surveillance radar and a self-defence system sensor, with automatic mode switching.

In surface surveillance mode, the MRR-3D NG can detect low and medium-level targets at ranges of up to 140 km and in long-range 3D air surveillance mode targets up to 180 km. In the self-defence mode, it can detect and track any threat within a radius of 60 km.

The acquisition contract also included a comprehensive logistics package, accounting for 7.5 percent of the order volume. The package includes adequate and prompt spare parts supply, documentation and training. Also included was a computer-based "Naval Logistic Management System" that controls the on-board maintenance planning and execution by automatically generating weekly check-lists and repair schedules. Replenishment at sea can take place over the bow, over the stern, or amidship. Liquid and dry goods as well as passengers weighing up to 250 kilograms can be transferred this way. Vertical replenishment via helicopters can take place over the helideck and/or the foredeck.

Kamerman said that these ships were designed to "take punishment" and that they were designed for inherent growth. They have spaces with all the necessary fittings for rapid fitting of additional equipment without needing modifications. This means that the frigates could increase their surface-to-air missile capabilities from 16 launch cells up to 32 launch cells in a relatively few hours. It is expected that this class of frigates will be substantially upgraded over the warships’ 30 to 40 year operational lifetimes. Kamerman has said that the ships had plenty of space to accommodate new equipment and new weapons, and that they were designed to allow for easy removal of outdated equipment through readily-accessible hatches.

Planned upgrades

  • Autonomous underwater vehicles: It is anticipated each of the frigates and the multi-purpose hull vessels will carry an AUV for minehunting purposes, obviating the need for specialist vessels.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: The Navy is following the ongoing development of rotor-propelled UAVs and plan to purchase some, to a scale of two per ship, when the technology matures.[4]
  • Upgrading to the Exocet MM40 Block 3 standard. The South African Navy is planning (as of May 2013) to upgrade its anti-ship missile capability in order to strike surface targets from 180 km away[11]
  • Land Attack Missiles: As of 2008 the class deliberately lacks a land-attack cruise missile capability for political reasons: such weapons are seen by some as “too aggressive” and out of keeping with the Valour-class’s “defensive posture”. However, like its peers the SA Navy recognises the growing importance of fighting in the littoral battlespace and supporting land forces during war and peace operations. As a result, a land attack missile capability is likely to be added as funds become available and sensitivities are assuaged.[4]
  • Upgrading the Umkhonto missile: Denel is ready to further develop a version fitted with a radar seeker and an extra solid-fueled booster should a customer desire these upgrades. This would suggest the Umkhonto VLS (vertical launch system) can accommodate missiles capable of medium ranges and area defence (the current Umkhonto-IR is, by contrast, a short-range point-defence system. It is not known if a higher speed version of the missile is to be developed. Tests in 2005 appeared to demonstrate the system's ability to defeat subsonic targets. However, several navies and air forces already have supersonic anti-ship missiles. How Umkhonto will deal with these is not known in the public domain.
  • A new main gun: The Otobreda 76 mm (3-inch) caliber naval gun that is fitted to this class is an interim cost-saving measure. Senior naval officials are well aware this naval gun is too small to effectively support forces ashore.[4] In the intermediate term, a navalised version of either the 105 mm Denel G7 gun or the 155 mm Denel G6 gun is considered to be a good choice because of their longer range and the already-existing variety of land-attack munitions for both calibers. The South African Navy was impressed by the testing of a German 155 mm PzH2000 gun turret in December 2002 aboard the German Navy frigate Hamburg, replacing the 76 mm naval gun and a later test aboard the German frigate Hessen. In January 2006, the Jane's International Defence Review reported that the "development" of the MONARC (modular naval artillery concept) naval 155-millimetre gun turret has been expedited following what the contractor Rheinmetall described as the turret's "tentative pre-selection" as part of the armament solution for the German Navy's future F125 class frigate development program.[4] Unfortunately issues with recoil have derailed most 155mm naval gun programs, including MONARC. Solutions are converging, instead, on very long-range guided shells like Oto Melara's Vulcano.


The hangar and flight-deck design enables a wide range of helicopter options to fit requirements such as: two Westland Super Lynx helicopters (for up to sea state six day and night operations); or one Westland Super Lynx helicopter plus two UAVs; or one Atlas Oryx (for up to sea state five day or night operations); or one Denel Rooivalk (for up to sea state five day or night operation).[4]

Additional units

Under an initial deal in 1999, the South African Navy (SAN) was to receive five units of the class. However, budgetary constraints limited the initial purchase to the four units that have been delivered thus far.[13] The final acquisition has been canceled in favour of an amphibious transport dock platform.[4]

See also


  1. Keith Campbell. "South Africa's small but modern fleet attracts global interest". Engineering News. Archived from the original on 2010-11-10. Retrieved 2010-01-21.
  2. DefenceThink. "Navy Fact File". DefenceThink. Archived from the original on 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2010-01-21.
  3. "MEKO A Class Combat Ship Family". Naval Technology. 2011-06-15. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  4. Engelbrecht, Leon. "Fact file: Valour-class small guided missile frigates". DefenceWeb. Archived from the original on 16 February 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  5. "Valour-class Frigates". Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  6. Rory Carroll in Johannesburg (2002-12-07). "Warship named after Zulu victory | World news". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-08-26. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  7. "Fact file: Valour-class small guided missile frigates". DefenceWeb. 2010-02-08. Archived from the original on 2016-02-16. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  8. Christopher Munnion (22 December 2002). "South Africa names ship after Zulu victory over British". Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 June 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  9. "SS Mendi History". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  10. "Memorial Wreathlaying". Archived from the original on 2013-06-05. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  11. The Military Balance 2013. International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2013. p. 531. ISBN 978-1857436808.
  12. " - MEKO A Class Corvettes / Frigates, Germany". Archived from the original on 2004-02-20. Retrieved 2004-02-24.
  13. "South Africa - 5th Frigate Cancelled, OPVs Moved Up [AMI Hot News, 2009-03-30]". 2009-03-30. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
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