Monday, December 17, 2007

NoCo 2007 - New Name, Same Thing

The German Luftwaffe's Operational Staff Airforce just completed exercise "Kalkar Sky 2007".

This was a comparable small exercise by numbers of people involved, however a somewhat important one - the task was to install and operate a Combined Joint Forces Air Command HQ (no, you don't want to know the German term for that), command forces enforcing a simulated no-flight-zone, coordinate tactical air transport, SAR, MEDEVAC etc pp. The usual things. Primarily a test of newly acquired C3I IT equipment and "deployable HQ structures", btw.

The interesting part? The scenario.

It involves Amberland and Beachland, a former war leading to a just-beginning peace-keeping & -enforcing EU/NATO mission, a no-flight zone installed over the disputed territories,
a fundamentalist separatist group in the disputed territories operating with terrorist tactics, the whole thing turning into a limited asymmetric war zone...

Right. That's exactly the Northern Coast 2007 OPGEN scenario, with the focus here being on the airforce assets instead of the Navy.

I'd actually love to see this scenario develop. Update it a bit, say every 3 or 4 months, with OPFOR info from Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon (all three of which are in there), as well as other intel, and let it run its course with regular maneuvers over the next couple years. As long as there are good storyboard writers in the background, this could turn out interesting.

Fully Operational?

Since their commissioning, the three Type 124 AAW frigates have been wrought with one little problem - their FCS software is incompatible. This is the result of ordering the ships from three different yards, and splitting FCS installation along with the contract (something that will not be repeated with Type 125). The incompatibility isn't visible at first - each ship funtions perfectly well, as long as it's on its own. However, the three ships are not able to share battlefield information among each other beyond standard Link-11 datalink messaging. Which effectively means that they cannot form a joint AAW battlespace.

The problem has been known for over a year now. It pretty much popped up after the second Type 124 commissioned. And they're still working on fixing it, with about any attempt short of ripping out the entire system on all three ships. What adds time to is that the three frigates are doing their regular training; the Marine just keeps them "close" and doesn't send them on deployments. By most accounts, the problem "should be solved" next year.

Last week, the Type 124 frigate Hamburg completed the German Operational Sea Training. The GOST is held in a NATO framework at Plymouth under Royal Navy auspices every year. It lasts 6 weeks and effectively trains every part of the ship's crew in full wartime operations; this includes live-fire exercises, firefighting/damage control, and other scenarios, and is finished with the "Weekly War", a full War scenario for a flotilla.

Now, both her sisters, Sachsen and Hessen, completed the same in the years before as flagships of small flotillas. What's different about Hamburg is that she's now actually going to be deployed next year. Not to one of the full deployments (UNIFIL and TF150), but as leader of the EAV - the German training cruise flotilla, which will also include Type 122 frigate Köln and a AOR. In previous times, when a Type 124 lead the EAV, such cruises were short due to above software problems - North Sea, North Atlantic, Mediterranean perhaps.

This time, the three ships will "visit three continents, do live-fire exercises in South Africa, and do joint maneuvers with the South-African and Indian Navies as well as navies of other NATO partners". In short: It'll pretty much revisit SNMG1's cruise around Africa - with a stint across the Indian Ocean as well.

It'll be interesting to see how Hamburg will perform on this cruise. And how much it will be covered publicly. Especially when it enters the TF150 AoR.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Modern Naval Fire Support

TKMS, in its latest release on the F125, has confirmed planned integration of ADLER-II/ASCA into the ship's FCS. A little thing that popped up somewhere in the middle of the text, without much fanfare. And as I understand it, the integration is not just for a proprietary system with an ASCA interface, but full-scale ADLER-II integration.

Now what does that mean? Simple - ASCA is an interface protocol for NATO artillery C2I systems, here in particular the German Army's ADLER-II artillery combat network. ADLER-II provides information distribution, establishment of the battlefield situation, full fire direction and fire control capability for all connected units, and the necessary calculation routines regarding weapon and ammunition selection based on target, weather, geological information and other parameters.

ASCA itself is a joint protocol also allowing the ADLER-II network nodes - and the F125 - to be networked with other Artillery C2I systems, such as the US AFATDS system.
This integration is on some levels similar to the USN Naval Fire Control System (NFCS), although NFCS requires some more complicated local problem resolvement.

This integration will allow a F125 offshore to act within the battlefield network as "just another" artillery gun - available to the artillery network without complication, and capable of providing naval fire support as directed by standard Army forward artillery observers.

What will be interesting is whether they'll integrate the RBS-15 Mk4 missiles into the network as well - it's currently being done for GMLRS missiles on Germany's MARS launchers, so guided systems are definitely not out. Shouldn't be that much trouble, as the Mk4 system is still under early development, and would be a real force multiplier on a tactic-strategic level.

Where are the Corvettes?

The new German K130 "corvette" class (at 1,840 tons, they're light frigates in reality) has received a lot of hype from the German Navy.

However, it seems as though their introduction is turning into a long, drawn-out affair. Originally, it was planned to commission the first two corvettes in 2007, with the other three following in 2008.

To be more exact, F260 Braunschweig was supposed to commission in May 2007, F261 Magdeburg sometime around July. Then May came around, and the Navy pushed commissioning dates back to "Summer 2007" for both ships. Understandable, as Braunschweig did have some problems during her early sea trials - including damaging her screws on a high-speed run.

Then "Summer 2007" rolled around. And where are the corvettes? Well, on trials. Still. They were also not commissioned in Autumn '07. F260 Braunschweig was originally planned for the Northern Coasts 2007 exercise, back in late October (and this was still the plan in September, one of the backposted potential commissioning dates). As she apparently wasn't ready, she was struck from that exercise.

Actually, they're nowhere around their future squadron's homeport, Warnemünde on the Baltic Sea, even - both ships tend to hang around Kiel and in particular Wilhelmshaven lately, the sites of the two Marinearsenal navy yards. Sometimes in other ports for trials, e.g. in Eckernförde (the German submarine force homeport). Occasionally they seem to go to sea for trials, or are used in port shows - but not much else.

There are some rumours that F260 Braunschweig is still supposed to commission this year - though, considering there's only like two weeks left of that year, that's really rather doubtful.

The construction goes on nonetheless. All five corvettes have now been christened and launched, the last one (F264 Ludwigshafen) on September 26th. All corvettes already carry their armament - even Ludwigshafen is being shown with her forward RAM and 76mm displayed proudly.

And even the training of future crews is ongoing. This is done "dry" on a full replica of the stations at the Marinetechnikschule in Stralsund. This has been going on since at least July with two technical crew being trained.

So where's the delay? Some critical failure in building? Engine problems? One can only wonder...