The Portuguese naval forces and the Netherlands-based international shipbuilding group Damen Shipyards Group entered into a contract on November 24, 2023, for the technical and working design, in addition to the construction, of the Plataforma Naval Multifuncional (PNM), an innovative multifunctional vessel. The designated designation of the vessel is A 888 Don João II. The Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, and the Minister of Defense, Elena Carreiras, attended the contract signing ceremony. Portugal anticipates the vessel to enter its fleet during the latter part of 2026.
In June 2022, the Damen Shipyards Group was awarded a contract by the Portuguese Navy for the design and construction of the PNM ship. Of the 132 million euros specified in the contract for the Plataforma Naval Multifunctional (PNM) vessel, the Portuguese government allocated a mere 37.5 million euros. The majority of the funding, 94.5 million euros, is provided by the Recovery and Resilience Fund of the European Union.
The PNM ship is intended to serve as a carrier for unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater vehicles, and, as a result, it features a unique aviation architecture with a continuous flight deck for UAVs and helicopters. The flight deck with a ski jump is expected to be 94 meters long and 11 meters wide, with the ship’s overall length being 107.6 meters. The ship’s total displacement will be over 7000 tons.
The PNM ship, despite its overall “carrier” aspect, does not function as an amphibious assault vessel. Per the Portuguese Navy’s specifications, it is becoming a multipurpose vessel combining patrol capabilities with hydrographic and oceanographic operations. These responsibilities include protecting the maritime economic zone, surveillance, search and rescue operations (including underwater operations), oceanographic research, underwater exploration, and aid in natural disasters.
The ship’s official duties are focused on research functions; these include monitoring the biogeochemical state of the ocean and atmosphere, inventory and assessment of mineral resources and other non-renewable resources on the seabed in Portugal’s maritime economic zone, ongoing monitoring and assessment of biological resources (renewable resources), responding to technological mishaps and natural disasters, mitigating harmful human activities in the ocean (fighting the effects of pollution, such as macroplastics), and increasing the total volume of hydrological and oceanographic information.
The vessel is anticipated to be outfitted with a diesel-electric power plant that functions with dual-fuel diesel engines and electric motors that are low-speed and low-noise. For propulsion, there will be two azimuth thrusters. Fourteen knots will be the maximum speed, whereas 10 knots will be the pace at which the economy can be maintained. Several high-speed boats, a remotely operated underwater vehicle that is capable of operating at depths of up to 6000 metres and performing drilling, several unmanned surface vehicles of various types, autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles of several (at least four) types, and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles composed of both fixed-wing and helicopter (quadcopter) types are all designed to be carried by the ship. The vessel must be equipped with hydroacoustic instruments to accommodate helicopters and have a comprehensive communication and control centre.
The preliminary design of the ship for the Portuguese Navy is characterised by its aircraft carrier architecture, which incorporates a continuous flight deck and a bow ski-jump to assist in the launch of large fixed-wing UAVs. This feature allows the ship to accommodate a wide variety of UAVs. This design is intended for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with combat capabilities (early deck renderings portrayed two UAVs resembling the General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle). Different varieties of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may be equipped with arresting and forced landing devices and catapults. No hangar is available to store major aviation equipment. Additionally, helicopter operations (NH90 and AW101 classes) are permitted on the deck. A modest hangar for unmanned aerial vehicles is located on the starboard side of the island-shaped superstructure of the vessel.
For a substantial portion of the vessel’s length, a closed hangar shall be built to provide accommodation for unmanned surface and underwater vehicles and additional containerised cargoes, with a capacity of up to twenty standard containers. In addition to accommodating a maximum of eighteen vehicles, the hangar features side access entrances for loading purposes. Additionally, the hangar can be outfitted with swiftly deployable cubes that can house 100 personnel. In certain cases, distinct hangars are furnished for submerged vehicles.
A mooring compartment measuring 20 by 10 metres will be equipped on the vessel to facilitate the deployment of large autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) capable of diving to depths of up to 6000 metres and with a maximum displacement of 30 tonnes. A 50-ton lifting crane, a stern A-frame, and side lifters for propelling submerged vehicles are anticipated to be among the equipment. A distinct bridge will be used to regulate unmanned systems. The vessel is unarmed, and most of the personnel probably consists of non-combatants. The standard crew will comprise 48 members, of which 42 will be designated operators and maintenance staff for unmanned aerial vehicles and surface and submerged vehicles. For forty-five days, the vessel will be autonomous.