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New concepts and more capable platforms underpin German reorientation

Warship Technology: October 2015

Against a backdrop of tightening budgets, resourcing issues and personnel retention challenges arising from the suspension of conscription in 2011, Germany’s naval forces are in transition.

Post-Cold War, in addition to its commitments to all four of the Standing NATO Maritime Groups that form the maritime component of the NATO Response Force, the German Navy now conducts a wide range of ‘stabilisation’ operations and sustained maritime security operations in crisis zones far from its traditional operating areas in the Baltic and Atlantic. For the German Navy nowadays, there are three key focus areas: deterrence and warfighting (requiring a full spectrum of operations, interoperability with partners and infrastructure sustainment); military operations other than war (such as crisis response and low intensity military operations); and maritime security operations (which encompasses joint operations as well as operations with civilian partners).

Given that the majority of ongoing operations are highly visible maritime security operations, this has created a ‘perception issue’ among German politicians and the public. The major problem facing the German Navy is that there is an impression that platforms should be optimised for low intensity maritime operations, said Rear Admiral Jurgen Mannhardt, the German Navy’s Director of Plans & Policy, speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Future Surface Fleet 2015 Conference in Canberra in April. “Against a background of tight resources, we have decided on steering a slightly different course in regard to optimisation of materiel and personnel. We believe we are on a right track by following a strategy of ‘intensive use,’ modularisation and multiple crew concepts,” said Rear Admiral Mannhardt.

For the German Navy, ‘reorientation’ also means a leaner, more operationally focused structure and since the beginning of 2011 the number of major platforms has shrunk to around 63 platforms. By 2016 ­ when the majority of the ‘reorientation’ should have been completed ­ there will have been a 10% reduction in personnel, from around 15,000 today to some 13,850. In the new, leaner structure, operations take centre place. There will be a 35% reduction in base functions ­ that is, command staff and support personnel ­ but an increase of 3% in the number of operational personnel. At the same time, however, the number of major platforms will continue to decline and will be reduced to 54. “Although the navy will become smaller, it will have more capable platforms,” said Rear Admiral Mannhardt.

As of early 2015, the German Navy’s main combat and combat support force consisted of six Type 212A submarines, 11 frigates (three F124 Sachsen-class units, four F123 Brandenburg-class, five F122 Bremen-class) five K130 Braunschweig-class corvettes; a squadron of eight Type 143A Gepard-class missile-armed fast attack craft; 17 mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs); 13 major support vessels; three intelligence collection ships (AGIs); and a naval air wing comprising eight P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and a total of 43 helicopters ­ 21 elderly Seaking Mk 41 KWS units and 22 Super Lynx Mk 88As. According to Rear Admiral Mannhardt, around 50% of combatant vessels are optimised for shallow water operations, but this will change “significantly” under the long-term development plan (LTDP) for 2020 and beyond.

As currently envisioned, the LTDP calls for six submarines, 11 frigates, including four examples of the new F125 design; 4-6 units of the new MKS180 multi-role combat ship; two new Joint Support Ships (JSS), five corvettes, 10 MCMVs, 11 major support vessels; the trio of intelligence collection ships; and an air wing consisting of eight P-3Cs and 40 helicopters, including 18 new MH 90 NTH Sea Lion helicopters, which will replace the elderly Seakings.

Under the LTDP, there will be a reduction in the numbers of small combatants and two fewer support ships although the two JSS will fulfil similar roles. Crucially, there are no fast attack craft ­ long a specialty of the German Navy ­ and only 10 MCMVs. This is a “remarkable” reduction in small forces admits Rear Admiral Mannhardt, adding that “when the Berlin Wall came down, we had more than 200 small units.”

However, the doing away with the fast attack craft force and a reduction in small fighting ships “needs a rethink” said Rear Admiral Mannhardt, especially in light of recent geopolitical developments such as the Ukraine crisis and much intensified Russian naval activity. He says there is a need to refocus in regions that were of high interest in the Cold War ­ for example the Baltic Sea and its approaches. “The (Russian) threat is not yet imminent but could become serious” he noted.

New concepts, new technology
At 149m in length and 7,276tonnes displacement, the new F125 ‘Stabilisation Frigate’ ­ which is being designed by Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) ­ will be the largest frigate in the German Navy. According to Rear Admiral (ret) Jonathan Kammerman, who is senior vice president of strategic sales at TKMS, the frigate “sets the benchmark in frigate design” and is “evolutionary and revolutionary” and, most importantly, a big enough platform to allow for sustained presence, deterrence, and flexible power projection; provide a platform for a radar capable of detecting over-the-horizon targets; survive a serious fight ­ that is, take battle damage and float, move and fight; and have adequate space and weight margins ­ a 500tonnes weight margin and large space margins ­ to account for ‘unknowns’ in the projected 35-40 year service life of the vessel.

The F125 builds upon the company’s proven modular MEKO A-200 and F124 frigate designs to incorporate new operational, engineering and logistic design features in a larger platform for sustained, distant, intensive-use operations and multi-role, concurrent-role capabilities at the task force/task group level notes Rear Admiral Kammerman. “It gives the German government options for graduated lethality.”

In essence, the F125 will provide staying power in littoral crisis zones (with graduated lethality). Its primary weapons systems are not guns and missiles but rapidly deployable embarked special forces teams, however, the ships will also have a 127mm Vulcano gun system with a range of 100km, circular error probable of 2m and high rate of fire. It will also have separate embarked task force command and control facilities. It has been designed for ‘lean manning’ with a basic crew of 110 people ­ half of current frigate crew size ­ and for minimisation of daily maintenance workload for the crew but with full battle damage control manning levels. Up to 70 additional specialised mission crew can be embarked. According to Rear Admiral Kammerman, key elements of the F125 frigate are: enhanced survivability to keep floating, moving and fighting after sustaining damage; full embarked CTF; and large special forces facilities and capabilities.

The F125 has been designed to serve far from Germany for up to two years in theatre without the need to return to its home port for routine maintenance under the ‘intensive use or utilisation’ approach. This calls for up to 5,000 hours of operations annually. This is twice as much as current generation frigates according to TKMS.

The ships have also been designed for what TKMS describes as “very high” level of reliability, availability and maintainability. “We have to prove this to the German Navy as part of the final acceptance test of this ship,” said Rear Admiral Kammerman. For example, the F125’s COmbined Diesel eLectric And Gas turbine (CODLAG) propulsion system is described as an “energy and maintenance-efficient solution” by TKMS. The CODLAG system comprises a 20MW gas turbine, two 4.7MW electric motors powered by four 3MW medium-speed diesels. Up to 20knots is possible on diesel-electric only and 26+knots with the gas turbine.

For the first time, the German Navy will do away with the concept of dedicated ship crews and the quartet of F125 frigates will have a total of eight crews with each crew being ‘rotated’ every four months to maintain morale and increase availability. “At sea crew changes during long deployments will become the new standard,” said Rear Admiral Mannhardt. The first F125 is slated for a later-than-anticipated delivery in 2016, followed by a year-long operational suitability testing ­ the ‘intensive use’ verification test period. The fourth and last F125 is slated for delivery in 2019.

The MKS 180 (MRCS 180) moves this concept a step further, noted Rear Admiral Mannhardt, by incorporating intensive use, multiple crew concepts along with mission modularity. Core capabilities will enable the MKS 180 to be used at the lower end of the operational spectrum whereas mission modularity will facilitate operational employment across a wide ranging set of tasks. “By reducing core capabilities and relying on mission modules, the MKS 180 will comply with budgetary challenges that we all have to cope with in the foreseeable future” said the Rear Admiral.

In June 2015, the German Defence Ministry announced bidding plans for a ‘transparent and open competition’ for the MKS 180 and has opted for the larger of the two frigate-sized concepts, which will be capable of meeting all the requirements of a 3D naval warfare completely. Initially, four ships are to be acquired for planned budget of €3.9 billion (US$4.3 billion). They are due to enter service from 2023 onwards. An option for two more ships may also be pursued in due course.

It is likely that the MKS 180 will be larger than the F125 with crew of up to 180 people and, crucially, more extensive, mission-specific modular combat systems fit which “will allow the MKS 180 to be optimally adapted to the requirements of each deployment,” according to the German Defence Ministry.

The need for a pair of JSS units for the Bundeswehr has already been confirmed in ministerial level conceptual guidelines, said Rear Admiral Mannhardt, but the project is still “at a very early stage in the planning process.” If the process passes through the budget, the earliest in-service date will “be the middle of the next decade,” he explained. It is unclear if the concept selected will be a ‘flat top’ with a well dock or a more conventional design with well dock.

Rear Admiral Mannhardt notes that while these platforms ­ particularly the F125 and MKS 180 ­ will address future challenges, they will probably not be enough, “so we will enhance our cooperation with international partners as well,” he said, noting that the German Navy sees international cooperation as a ‘toolbox’ to build and enhance multinational capabilities.

“Based on the assumption that fewer navies are able to cover the entire range of military capabilities, we focus on individual national strengths and multinational effort, and thus achieve synergetic effects to each other’s mutual benefit,” he concluded.

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