Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The German Navy - Setting the Course for the next 20 Years

The German Navy, in the last 15 years, hasn't changed much from the Cold War NATO-contribution Navy it was. A few units have been newly built, a few capabilities reduced, but overall, so far it's only been a renewal of existing capability. Take the direct replacement of three Type 103B AAW destroyers with three new Type 124 heavy AAW frigates, a good example of that. But now, since last year, the Navy has actually started redefining itself.

For the German Military, which has been in a transformation process officially since 2003, last year was a rather crucial point in publicity, as the Ministry of Defense released its new Weißbuch. The Weißbuch - quite literally "whitepaper" - defines the threats, missions and challenges the German Military faces in the present and future, and gives a broad view of how the Military should face these.

This whitepaper actually has rather big implications for change for the Navy. The Navy is supposed to turn "expeditionary". Based upon the missions the navy currently faces, their new mission has been defined as "transforming the sea into an operation base for joint-service operations". The Navy, based upon this new task set, has worked since last year to develop an approach on how to handle this. The core concept for this new approach is called "Basis See" (Seabase).

"Basis See" is composed of several subtasks that might seem somewhat familiar:
  • - Enforcing maritime embargoes and other interdiction missions
  • - Protecting German maritime trade routes, including overseas
  • - Transporting, prepositioning, supplying and evacuating ground forces in theaters
  • - Supporting such ground forces with fire support, in particular standoff strikes
  • - Supporting such ground forces in communications, command and reconnaissance

Of course, "Basis See" won't be the sole capability of the Navy; the MoD and Navy high-ups also stress that the Navy will still need to be able to deal with underwater threats - both submarines and mines - as well as deal with conventional warfare within a regional conflict. And all that is supposed to work both within Germany's international security framework - i.e. NATO, EU etc - as well as independantly.

While the other parts - conventional warfare and surface/underwater asymmetric/terrorist threats - are well dealt with within the German Navy within existing capabilities, the "Basis See" part isn't all that clear yet. So far, mostly interim solutions have been used on existing missions, but for the medium to long term, the Navy is working on building actual plans to deal with these missions. By the end of the year, a self-analysis of the German Navy will be finished - which will outline which capabilities needed for "Basis See" are existant in the current Navy, and which will have to be newly acquired.

So how will the Navy approach this? With funding tight, and political support for new defence acquisitions always a bit shaky, the only realistic possibility is to reuse and redefine as much existing equipment as possible, and fill the holes with new procurement.

The easiest thing for the Navy is the stuff outside "Basis See". Germany has a rather large, very modern MCM fleet from Cold War times, as that was one of its primary functions within NATO. This MCM fleet will almost entirely remain, with only a few older minehunters relegated to patrol duties with a refit to serve as "guard ships" for boarding operations - the first such refitted ship for "guard duties", Bad Rappenau, has just taken part in its first FLOTEX with a 14-man Mobile Protection Element aboard on October 3rd, German Reunification Day (for those wondering: the refit apparently only includes replacing the Penguin B3 drones with RIBs, and adding a 40mm grenade MG and some GPMGs to the regular 27mm gun, plus a OP room for the MPE probably).

In addition to those four 660-ton "gunboats" backing up the current FAC fleets in patrol/interdiction operations, some additional buys have been considered lately; the Navy has experimented with using Finnish Jurmo LCVPs - which can be armed almost to similar levels as the Swedish CB90, but are considerably lighter - from its EGV replenishment ships.

The ASW solution is similar - while there will be somewhat significant reductions (F122 gone in the future, submarines halved in numbers), the future German ASW solution will still consist of a full-spectrum networked system with six extremely modern submarines, at least four updated ASW frigates and eight maritime patrol aircraft. One little downside is that the MPAs are used P-3C which are realistically only an interim solution for the next 10-15 years, and will need replacement then. And that the ASW upgrade for the F123 frigates isn't decided yet, and only Bayern has the LFASS towed array sonar fitted so far. However, all four frigates will receive incremental upgrades over the next 3-4 years, and this will hopefully include LFASS too.
For overall conventional naval warfare, these two fleets will be joined by three modern AAW frigates, as well as considerable additional multi-function assets with ASuW focus and up-to-date self-defence systems, and land-based fighter/strike-bomber cover. A compact navy with very modern assets and considerable firepower.

The approach to "Basis See" is a mixed one. The latest signed contract for the F125 frigates, which are focussed on land attack and maritime interdiction scenarios, show part of the direction this is going. However, the F125 for quite some time will remain the only units that are as focussed on "Basis See". Other tasks within "Basis See" can be solved by existing units, with some upgrades. The main problem is in interfacing navy systems and doctrines with those of the Army and Airforce. To this end, the Navy has performed a couple maneuvers - for command functions with the Army, for AAW coordination with the Airforce - in the last two years, which have highlighted some problems on the Navy side especially regarding command systems and logistics. Most of these can however be solved by "soft" upgrades - integrating and interfacing command systems, upgrading policies and changing doctrines in some regards. We'll see some experiments in this regard over the next few years, probably.

Regarding organization - and concept planning - the Navy has already implemented an effective scheme there as part of the overall Bundeswehr transformation. Within this new organizational scheme, two flotillas have been formed: The "littoral" 1st Flotilla, containing all smaller units up to the corvettes, and the "open-ocean" 2nd Flotilla, containing the frigates as well as the auxiliary units. The Navy has placed connection points to other services - medical and logistics - at the appropriate points, and has centralized training under a single agency operating all Navy schools (except for submarine-specific training). Also, the Navy has deepened its involvement in NATO cooperative concept development, with the NATO Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters recently placed in Kiel as part of the 1st ("Littoral") Flotilla Command. This Center will contribute by developing and testing policies and technologies for littoral warfare, which the Navy will be able to directly apply within ongoing deployments.

Other parts in "Basis See" are already established, even though some adaptions have to be implemented. Within the next 12 months, the Navy will commission five new K130 corvettes, in reality light ASuW frigates, which will considerably lower the workload of existing units, especially in regard to escort and ocean patrol roles. Reconnaissance is addressed by two existing Navy assets - submarines and the Type 423 ELINT/SIGINT ships, whose "coincidental" presence around UNIFIL has been giving Israel some headaches. Additionally, for future conflicts, recon/surveillance support will also be lend by the Luftwaffe's yet-to-be-introduced EuroHawk surveillance UAVs as well as the recon satellite network that's currently being launched - five German radar sats networked with two French IR sats will provide both nations with quite some capability there. The naval role in recon, according to the Navy, will be to provide an asset that can operate even when legal or tactical reasons exclude other means.

Some of the above tasks however will need "creative thinking". For joint command roles that include deployed ground troops - which can easily go to several thousand even in peace-keeping missions - the existing staff rooms aboard F123 and F124 class frigates simply won't be big enough. Those are big enough to implement the necessary staff for a naval taskforce - for example a F123 is currently commanding the naval component of UNIFIL with over a dozen ships - but with staff for ground forces added, something bigger will be needed. There have been suggestions in Navy Staff to go a similar route to the French Navy in that regard - that is, converting AORs into "Command Supply Ships".
With existing units, this is actually a solution that could be implemented pretty cheaply - the Berlin class EGV are equipped to handle containerized modular systems, with currently a 26-container hospital usually mounted on deployments. We might even see such a system procured for or rather with the third EGV, to be commissioned around 2012, as there isn't really a need to procure a third hospital set.

The land attack task mentioned above is also not that much of a problem as it might seem. The 127mm Vulcano guns as mounted on the F125, while capable for this role, aren't the main component, nor are guns in general. The Navy approach emphasizes immediate, flexible escalation against high-priority targets from the seabase at standoff
ranges, meaning the primary system will be missiles. As the current missile outfit of the Navy - Exocet MM38 and Harpoon Block 1C - is considered outdated, the Navy is currently looking for a new "common" missile, which will be mounted at least on the twelve F122 and F123 frigates, and will also outfit the F125. The prime candidate for this "common land-attack/anti-ship missile" so far is RBS-15 Mk4, which is being developed jointly between Germany and Sweden. Since the RBS-15 Mk3 is already fitted to the five new K130 corvettes, this would be a rather prudent move, as that would allow simply switching components to upgrade those to the same standard.

This is not to mean that the 127mm guns just bought will go unused. However, i'm seeing these more used in other roles than simple land-attack. As the Vulcano system will give these guns considerable range with possibility for a non-overkill strike, i could see it given some good use in covering the boats the F125 will deploy in boarding missions (see HMS Cornwall?), or to cover evacuation missions against point targets, something that proved somewhat tough for German troops in Albania in 1997, for example. Of course, for a good number of these applications, integration with the Army's and Luftwaffe's future Joint Fire Support Teams will have to happen first.

The big thing is of course the "transport" task. One can easily mistake that statement for a need for amphibious forces, and this is why implementation will prove tough - especially politically. However, amphibious insertion isn't what the Navy means here. What's meant is pure sealift, with the capability to transport troops even into low-grade ports overseas, and to keep such troops - or their equipment - at sea in a readiness state until the go-ahead is given at a political level. So, no LPDs for Germany really. The Navy is tentatively working on a concept they've called "Joint Support Ship". No relation to the identically-named Canadian replenishment/sealift ship project though, and i'd be surprised if something close to the Canadian concept would be realized - simply because the needs aren't the same, as Germany has dedicated AORs. A straight cargo/sealift ship, maybe with the same module support as on the Berlin AORs, is more likely for Germany. However, this is a project that's far in the future - the Navy doesn't expect this to come anytime before 2020, simply for funding reasons. Politically, this will be a tough one - and a lot of people doubt this will ever come along - but in my opinion that really depends on how they sell it to parliament.

An initial sealift capability has already been introduced - as far as I know without parliamentary approval due to low costs and due to that also not very public. Don't think I've read a single line in German newspapers about it. This initial capability is formed by a joint contract with Denmark signed in December 2006 which will provide both nations with three commercial RoRo ships "on demand". Joining with Denmark here is a good move here as both nations have identical requirements - both operate similar or identical Army equipment - and already cooperate on the Army level with the Multi-National Corps East (along with Poland) within NATO.

"After 2020" is also the date given for another procurement: The Navy is finally looking for an alternative replacement for the ten Type 143A FACs. The originally planned replacement by another batch of K130 corvettes hasn't been possible for cost reasons, and building another batch when funding becomes available would mean procuring a then already old design. So, the Navy will kick off the K131 project with the 2009 funding plan. Of course, since this is a
rather long-term acquisition, the Navy doesn't have any details yet - and doesn't even know what to use these for. I'd say the K131, if realized, will probably be used to stuff holes found in the "Basis See" concept by then. Around the time this would be up for decision, the Navy will have a clearer idea - and some experience - in what it lacks, and can use these new corvettes to address them. The only details - rather tentative - that have been in the rumour
mill by now is that the K131 class will involve six ships, and that they're likely to be smaller (and therefore cheaper?) than the - for a "corvette" - rather oversized K130.

Overall, while the Navy will face some cuts in certain areas - the submarine going down from 12 to 6 subs for example - replacements in almost all those areas are more capable. And better suited to the new "vision" of the Navy. And all this without really "big" investment, as all that has already been done and approved. Due to the submarine cuts, as well as the long-term replacement of FACs with a lower number corvettes, fleet numbers will lower somewhat. Currently the Navy employs 73 "floating weapon systems", with the new corvettes this will rise to 78 by the end of next year. In the long term, due to above cuts, this will be lowered somewhat - say to around 70 maybe - but the German Navy isn't really facing the same huge cuts in numbers that other European Navies are potentially facing over the next 10-20 years.

That brings us to the industry situation. In the short term, there isn't much military work to do in the yards. The K130 have been delivered, and the only ongoing military project is the second batch of Type 212A submarines being built at HDW. This won't change for at least 2-3 years, at which point building for the new F125 frigates and the third EGV will start. However, on the overall situation, the German shipyard industry is doing quite well - because it's not as dependant on the military as sometimes said. Order books on the commercial side are pretty full - about a dozen mid-sized container ships and a dozen mega-yachts are currently under construction in German yards. Additionally, the German Coastguard - an umbrella organization for several different government agencies actually - is currently having four new large ships built in those yards, which will significantly enhance the Coastguards standing in the North Sea.

The German shipbuilding and other naval industry nevertheless will continually try to enhance and apply its military know-how, in particular through exports. New systems are continually developed for this purpose to fit customer markets, like the U210mod submarine design shown by TKMS at SubCon 2007 last month. The government attempts to curb some exploits that have popped up over the last few years - in particular in regard to major foreign shares in German defence industries. This happened in light of unapproved technology transfers (in submarines, in particular) as well as some corruption issues with weapons deals in the 90s. In the reverse direction, that is import of equipment and technology, a similar protectionism is applied though: Production of systems almost exclusively happens locally - missiles generally at Diehl BGT Defence for example - and for to-be-procured systems, German companies are almost always part of joint research. Notable exclusions in the naval field in recent years have been light torpedoes acquired from EuroTorp, naval guns from Finmeccanica, or electronics acquired from Thales - but in general, German procurement attempts to "buy local" and, if that's not possible, at least "build local". While this kind of protectionism might gall some free-market people, I'd say it's a needed tool to keep up a viable defence industry in all fields.

As a whole, the Navy seems to be doing pretty well lately, though. Although it has been bumbling around a bit in the past years without clear concepts (the K130 didn't make much sense in 1998, but fits the picture pretty well today, for example), it seems to have regained some of its wind. While some of the concepts the Navy will be operating under are considered somewhat controversial, the Navy has actually so far managed to put together the puzzle of transformation to an "expeditionary" form to a coherent image that makes sense within the framework and situations it's operating in.

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