The class was named in honor of Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea.


Vasco da Gama, Álvares Cabral and Corte Real are the names of the three warships built in Germany in the late 1980s for the Portuguese Navy. The acquisition of these frigates represented a giant leap for the Portuguese Navy, the most important renovation project of the National Fleet. They came to bring a huge technological advance in terms of weapons and sensors.

From the arrival of these ships, Portugal was able to keep up with allies in the alliances of which it is part. The frigate ‘Vasco da Gama’ was the first of the 3 naval units to be delivered in January 1991, then reached Álvares Cabral and finally the Corte-Real in February 1992.

Over the 25 years of service to the Portuguese Navy, the three frigates of the Vasco da Gama class total more than 60 rounds of the world, with around 118,000 hours of navigating missions in Portugal and abroad.

The class was named in honor of Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient.

The project for the construction of three frigates of this class was authorized by the Portuguese Government in 1985, five years after the request of the Portuguese Navy for the acquisition of new surface ships. According to Conway’s, 60% of the funding for these ships came from NATO military aid. Similar ships have been built for the navies of Greece, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.

Vasco da Gama-class frigate
Vasco da Gama-class frigate


Based on the MEKO 200 PN design, the ships were built using modular construction techniques. The basic specifications of the frigate include: overall length of 115.9m, a beam of 14.8m and a maximum draft of 5.9m.

The full load displacement of the ship is 3,200t. Vasco da Gama can complement a crew of 182 including 23 officers, 44 petty officers and 115 ratings.

These frigates are modern ships, endowed with armaments and highly sophisticated radars using point military technology. The frigates incorporate fin stabilisers and a NAUTOS 2 propulsion control system. For the first time in its history, the Portuguese War Navy will possess naval units able to face a multitude of threats on the sea.

Also, for the first time, a Portuguese naval unit will be equipped with systems capable of launching of surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles.


Vessels in the Vasco da Gama class are equipped with a combined diesel or gas propulsion system driving 2 shaft controllable pitch propellers. The propulsion is integrated with two 8.14 megawatt MTU TB92 diesel engines and two 38 megawatt General Electric LM2500 gas turbines.

These engines generate a total electric power output of 2,480 kilowatt, provides a maximum speed of 32 knots and a range of 4,600 nautical mile at 18 knots.


The ship’s main armament is a Mod68 CADAM 100mm dual purpose cannon at the bow, capable of a high rate of fire. It can fire at a speed of 78 round/min with an effective range of 17000m.

One 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon system fitted on the aft deck provide close-point defence against incoming missiles and artillery fire. It can fire 3,000 to 4,500 armour-piercing tungsten penetrator rounds to an effective range of 3.6km.

The most powerful weapon on board is two Mk 141 quad launchers for firing eight RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles with operational range in excess of 150 nautical mile.

The MK 21 guided missile launching system onboard can launch eight RIM-7 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles. The Sea Sparrow carries a 40.5kg warhead for a maximum range of 18km.

The anti-submarine warfare capability is provided by two 324mm Mk32 Mod 5 torpedo tubes in triple mountings. Each torpedo tube can launch a lightweight torpedo such as the Mk 44 or the Mk 46.

Sensor and Electronic systems

Vasco da Gama Class also incorporates innovations to the command system and weapons, radars and communications. The sensor suite consists of Thales DA08 early warning radar operating in D band, Thales MW08 3D air and surface search radar operating in F band, General Dynamics Mk 90 Phalanx fire control radar and two Thales STIR180 fire-control radars.

The frigate also incorporates SQS-510 hull mounted sonars. The electronic warfare & decoys is APECS II/700 ESM combined with SRBOC launcher countermeasures.

Two six-round MK 137 SRBOC rocket launchers can fire chaff or infrared decoys to deceive incoming anti-ship missiles. Like other frigates, Vasco da Gama has a flight deck and hangar for a single Super Lynx Mk.95 helicopter.

Currently, the Portuguese navy is in the process of modernization. The two frigates were purchased second hand from the Netherlands, where they were designated as Bartolomeu Dias arrived in 2009 and Dom Francisco de Almeida a year later, in January 2010.

As for the Vasco da Gama class, ships are in the so-called half life, a crucial time in terms of investment in modernization that will have to be guaranteed for them to remain operational for another two decades. The modernization already started – will be limited to platform systems such as propulsion system, distribution of energy and air control among other auxiliary upgrades.

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