COLOGNE, Germany — The German Navy inaugurated its first-ever class of officers leading the multinational Baltic Maritime Component Command on Wednesday, providing fresh evidence that military planners are seriously considering the possibility of a military confrontation with Russia in Germany’s once-pacified backyard.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Andreas Krause established the German Maritime Forces Staff in the northeastern German city of Rostock, where the BMCC headquarters is being built. The German officers, led by a Navy captain, form the core of a small planning cell that will offer its services to the militarized NATO Command Structure once fully operational in 2025 or so.
The move, though largely symbolic at this point, is something of an about-face for the German sea service, which had focused its attention on low-intensity operations in more distant waters following the Soviet Union’s fall.
Relations with Russia have become icy once again, however, with Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and an aftermath of military posturing near the borders with NATO countries. Reports of Russia bolstering its enclave Kaliningrad, which borders the Baltic Sea between alliance members Lithuania and Poland, have further increased tensions.
“The north Atlantic and the wider northern flank have returned to our attention as potential areas of operations,” Krause said at the ceremony in Rostock. “The Baltic Sea has grown to a never-seen strategic significance in the past years.”
During the Cold War, the German Navy viewed the western part of the Baltic Sea as a barrier against Warsaw Pact ships seeking to break through to the North Sea to attack supply lines from the United States. Today, “the whole of the Baltic Sea is a vital lifeline, linking allies in Poland and the Baltic states as well as our close partners in Finland and Sweden with the rest of Europe,” Krause said.
For Germany, the Baltic Sea presents a unique challenge because nowhere else does homeland defense and the defense of allies so immediately overlap, said Sebastian Bruns, head of the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the University of Kiel. It is also an area where Germany, whose governments have preferred supporting roles — or none at all — in global crises, is truly on the hook. “The United States, the United Kingdom or France don’t appear to have a lot of interests there,” Bruns said.
The German Navy’s acquisition pipeline already bears the imprint of a return to traditional naval warfare preparedness, industry executives and analysts have said.
For example, the service has plans to build four new corvettes optimized for “confined and shallow waters,” conditions found in the Baltic Sea, according to Bruns. Also on the wish list are at least four copies of the MKS 180 multipurpose combat ship, as well as a modernization of the country’s mine-warfare fleet.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News.