The German Navy – The Way Forward?

One of the largest fleets in NATO, the Ger­man Navy appears to have escaped most of the recent cuts imposed by the government’s aus­ter­i­ty plan, since con­struc­tion of the new ves­sels and upgrades for exist­ing plat­forms seems to con­tin­ue. How­ev­er, the planned reduc­tion of 60 per­cent in its defense bud­get could have neg­a­tive effect in the future, if the gov­ern­ment decides to press on with the cuts. To con­tin­ue oper­at­ing under these restrict­ed bud­getary con­straints the Navy may have to reduce its mis­sion sets, whilst assum­ing a reduced ‘asym­met­ric’ role focused on counter-pira­cy, peace­mak­ing and peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions, rather than full scale, high inten­si­ty oper­a­tions.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defense Update

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RBS15 Mk3 is the main sur­face offen­sive weapon car­ried on the new K130 mis­sile corvette

In addi­tion to tak­ing part in cur­rent NATO activ­i­ties the Ger­man Navy deploys rou­tine­ly at the Baltic Sea and is tak­ing part in many inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions, includ­ing peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions, secu­ri­ty and counter pira­cy activ­i­ties, as far as Africa and the Indi­an Ocean. In total, there are about 90 com­mis­sioned war­ships in the Ger­man Navy includ­ing 43 aux­il­iary ships; the total dis­place­ment of the navy is 220,000 tons. In addi­tion to this, the Ger­man Navy and the Roy­al Dan­ish Navy are in coop­er­a­tion in the “Ark Project”. This agree­ment made the Ark Project respon­si­ble for the strate­gic sealift of Ger­man armed forces where the full-time char­ter of three roll-on-roll-off car­go and troop ships are ready for deploy­ments. In addi­tion, these ships are also kept avail­able for the use of the oth­er Euro­pean NATO coun­tries. The three ves­sels have a com­bined dis­place­ment of 60,000 tons. Includ­ing these ships, the total ships’ dis­place­ment avail­able to the Deutsche Marine is 280,000 tons.

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F219 Sach­sen, the lead F124 class frigate ger­man navy fires an ESSM air defense mis­sile.

The Ger­man Navy oper­ates two flotil­las, the sur­face fleet which includes 15 frigates of three types and Type 212 subs, with a squadron of ten fast mis­sile boats oper­at­ing in the Baltic sea. In recent years the Ger­man Navy went through major mod­ern­iza­tion, with the field­ing of the F-124 class frigates, K130 corvettes and Type 212 sub­marines, all local­ly built by the Blohm & Voss, Lürssen, ThyssenK­rupp Marine Sys­tems (TKMS) and Howaldtswerke Deutsch­land Werct (HDW) ship­yards.

The seem­ing sta­bil­i­ty does not reflect years of decline in new orders, which almost brought the HDW sub­ma­rine builder to a stand­still and drove TKMS to sell most of its naval and com­mer­cial sur­face ship­build­ing assets to the UAE in 2009. The com­pa­ny agreed to estab­lish a “close strate­gic part­ner­ship” and Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing with the Abu Dhabi MAR (ADM) group in the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. The pro­posed sale fol­lowed relat­ed pur­chas­es in Ger­many by Abu Dhabi MAR, and oth­er recent ship­yard sales by TKMS. The net effect was a restruc­tur­ing of Germany’s naval ship­build­ing indus­try.

The envi­sioned agree­ment involved a 50/50 joint ven­ture to build naval sur­face ships, with TKMS retain­ing a lead role and know-how in all projects with the Ger­man Navy and NATO part­ners, while ADM was respon­si­ble for the Mid­dle East and North Africa. At the same time, how­ev­er, Abu Dhabi MAR would acquir­ing 80% of TKMS’ key sur­face ship firms: Blohm and Voss Ship­yards, Blohm and Voss Repair, and Blohm and Voss Indus­tries. That deal has large­ly fall­en through in 2011, leav­ing TKMS naval assets “in play” again.

Today, the Ger­man Navy main­tains two oper­ates 15 frigates of three types – the Bre­men (8), Bran­den­burg (4) and Sach­sen class (3), which is also the newest (F124 class) air defense frigates. In Novem­ber 2011 Ger­many laid the keel of the first of four F125 next gen­er­a­tion frigates ‘stealth design’, like­ly to be one of the world’s largest class of frigates with a dis­place­ment in excess of 7,200 tonnes, expect­ed to enter ser­vice in 2016 in time to replace the first Bre­men class frigates. Although the crew is to be reduced to 120 sailors, instead of the planned 235 crew, the ves­sels will oper­ate with the “two crew con­cept”, as the ves­sel is capa­ble of long endurance at sea. Com­ple­tion of the F125 fleet is antic­i­pat­ed by Decem­ber 2018.

The Ger­man frigates car­ry MBDA MM-38 Exo­cet anti-ship mis­siles, Raytheon RIM-162 Evolved Sea-Spar­row Mis­siles devel­oped under a multi­na­tion­al NATO coop­er­a­tion and RIM-116 Rolling Air­frame Mis­siles built under a German-U.S. coop­er­a­tion also led by Raytheon with Diehl BGT Defence as its Ger­man part­ner. The ves­sels are also equipped with advanced radars, sophis­ti­cat­ed com­bat infor­ma­tion sys­tems built by EADS and com­bined ESM/ECM sup­plied by the UK.

New Ship­build­ing Pro­grams

There are three ongo­ing naval con­struc­tion pro­grams: Type 212 sub­marines (two of a total six boats on order are yet to be deliv­ered), four F125 frigates, the keel of the first one was laid this month, and three K130 corvettes yet to be deliv­ered.

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The first of four F125 class frigates is sched­uled for deliv­ery by 2016.
Pho­to: TKMS
Click to enlarge

While all ship­build­ing pro­grams are exclu­sive to Ger­many, the weapon sys­tems, parts of the radar and oth­er elec­tron­ics sub­sys­tems are being devel­oped as part of inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tions, to reduce devel­op­ment cost.

The F125 pro­gram will deliv­er four ships between 2014 and 2018. The pro­gram focus­es on long endurance ves­sel opti­mized for asym­met­ric war­fare and peace­time oper­a­tion far from its home port. As such, the 5,500 ton ves­sel will have a crew of up to 120 per­son­nel, about half of the crew that were required to oper­ate pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion frigates. The ves­sel will also be able to sup­port spe­cial forces teams of 50 per­son­nel.

The navy is in the process of induct­ing the first two of five new Braun­schweig Class K130 corvettes, based on the MEKO A design, with three more under con­struc­tion. These corvettes are sup­ple­ment­ing the squadron of fast mis­sile boats and will bet­ter sup­port typ­i­cal oper­a­tions assumed by the Ger­man Navy, includ­ing anti-pira­cy sup­port. K130 is also designed for a lean crew, oper­at­ed by a com­ple­ment of 65. These corvettes rep­re­sent a mix of sys­tems and tech­nolo­gies from dif­fer­ent Euro­pean and Scan­di­na­vian mak­ers – the radar is made by EADS in Ger­many, as well as the ESM and coun­ter­mea­sure sys­tems. The com­mand, con­trol, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and optron­ic fire con­trol sys­tems comes from Thales Nether­lands; the 76/62mm gun is an Ital­ian sys­tem from Oto-Melara while the main weapon sys­tem is the Swedish RBS15 Mk3. The lat­er is a sur­face launched fire-and-for­get long range anti-ship and land attack mis­sile, devel­oped by the Saab Group. To gain econ­o­my of scale and share the program’s life cycle cost, Ger­many, Poland and Swe­den have decid­ed to col­lab­o­rate and equip their new ves­sels with the new mis­sile. Mar­ket­ed joint­ly by Diehl and Saab, RBS-15 Mk3 is being offered as a future arma­ment of its frigates and poten­tial replace­ment of ear­li­er Exo­cet and Har­poon mis­siles.

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The ger­man Navy will oper­ate five K130 Braun­schweig class corvettes. The ves­sel in the pho­to is the fourth ship, F263 Old­en­burg.
Pho­to: TKMS.

A squadron of ten Gepard class Fast Mis­sile Boats, equipped with MM38 Exo­cet anti-ship mis­siles is also oper­a­tional, but the num­ber of boats has being reduced grad­u­al­ly. Under the 2010 announced bud­get cuts, the Navy will retire its Gepard class fast mis­sile boats. The first ves­sels, Nerz and Dachs will be retired by March 2012. Oth­er Type 143A boats retained as oper­a­tional per­formed train­ing in the Baltic Sea in Novem­ber 2011.