The new German F125 frigate underscores the Navy's focus on littoral capabilities. (ThyssenKrupp Maritime Systems concept)
BONN — As global geopolitics evolved over the past decades, the German Navy has shifted from a Cold War footing to a focus on littoral and expeditionary warfare capabilities. Instead of chasing submarines in the Atlantic, the Navy awaits a new frigate, scheduled to join the fleet around the end of 2016, able to provide a sustained presence in almost any crisis region in the world.
The change in thinking and hardware is already apparent as old fast-attack boats are replaced by a larger, more capable corvette.
The F125 frigate, at 149 meters long and with a displacement of about 7,100 tons, is due to be introduced in the next two years, offering the Navy new capabilities in a warship that is one of the largest of its type in the world, according to company information.
Problems with a flame-retardant coating on the hull has delayed construction of the first ship.
The new frigates are optimized for missions such as littoral operations, peacekeeping and stabilization and evacuations. For these missions, the ships offer room for up to 50 special operations forces and their equipment in addition to heavy conventional weapons.
Troops can be put ashore by two helicopters or four 10-meter speedboats. The ships are planned to be outfitted with the NFH90 type naval helicopter.
“The design of the new frigate class reflects everything that is important for littoral warfare,” said German naval expert Sebastian Bruns, a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University.
For example, while there is no plan to install conventional on-board anti-submarine sonar, the ships will have diver and swimmer detection sonar to counter possible asymmetrical or terrorist underwater threats.
A two-island superstructure concept splits critical C3I, sensors and effectors, allowing the ship to continue fighting even after severe damage, according to builder ThyssenKrupp Maritime Systems.
The traditionally blue-water German Navy is increasingly preparing to project power into the green and brown waters.
Based on the 2011 Defense Policy Guidelines and the 2006 White Book, Germany now sees the greatest threats to its security from failing states, terrorism, organized crime and restricted access to resources.
“This also [has spurred] a transformation from an escort Navy toward an expeditionary Navy,” Bruns said. “The first step on that road had been the development of the K130 corvette.”
Those 1,500-ton class ships replace the smaller P143 A Gepard-class fast-attack boats developed during the Cold War to fight Warsaw Pact ships in the Baltic Sea, with the first commissioned in 2008.
Besides their greater range and endurance, the K130 carries the German-Swedish RBS 15 heavy anti-ship missile with a range of about 200 kilometers, which can also attack static land targets. This weapon gives the German Navy its first land-attack capability. The K130 has already paticipated in international missions such as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon in the eastern Mediterranean.
The new F125 frigate will further improve the Navy’s land-attack capability. It can provide tactical fire support on shore with a 127mm Oto Melara main gun. In addition, it carries eight Harpoon Block II missiles, which are planned to be replaced with a new version of the RBS 15 missile.
“Both ship classes are a clear reflection of how the German Navy is building up its littoral warfare capability and a limited land attack capability,” Bruns said. “It is no longer only about protecting convoys, but about power projection.”
Besides its main weapon systems, the ships will have 10 automatic and manned 27mm and 12.7mm gun systems, also for defense against air and surface targets.
The crews will have the ability to tailor their response as the ships will possess nonlethal weapons, such as water cannons and strong searchlights.
“With the F125 you have all possibilities,” Bruns said.
High levels of automation will allow for a reduced crew size of only 120 sailors compared with the F122 Bremen-class frigates, with a crew of more than 200, they are replacing.
Conflict prevention, crisis management and stabilization missions can require lengthy stays on location, Bruns said, so to minimize long transits, the F125 class will be capable of staying in an area of operation for up to two years and being at sea for up to 5,000 hours a year. The crews can be exchanged on location.
The Navy has additional plans to improve its ability to respond to littoral and expeditionary capabilities, if budgets allow. In addition to the F125, of which the Navy will introduce four ships for about €2 billion (US $2.72 billion), future fleet intentions include multipurpose combat ships and joint support ships.
Germany has no Marine-type forces such as found in the British and US militaries, but the Navy wants to start a joint sea-basing concept with other military branches.
The Bundeswehr did not respond to questions in time for this article.
“If the joint support ships are procured, those kind of ships would be long overdue,” Bruns said. “You have to keep in mind that future conflicts will primarily take place in littoral waters or near the coastlines and we have to be ready for it.”
Still, the Navy must keep in mind that a conventional conflict still remains a possibility. ■