GÖTTINGEN, Germany — The German and the Dutch armed forces are deepening their naval forces collaboration by planning to integrate the so-called sea battalion of the German Navy gradually into the Royal Dutch Navy until 2018.

Before the European Union Defense Ministers meeting in Amsterdam, Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen signed a letter of intent Thursday aboard the joint support ship Karel Doorman.

The German sea battalion, which has about 800 servicemen and women, consists of a naval protection force, mine-clearance divers and boarding soldiers and is stationed in Northern Germany. According to a German Defense Ministry release, the naval forces will regularly exchange personnel and conduct joint exercises. Eventually, the Netherlands will also be the Bundeswehr's main partner for long-distance sea transport.

The countries' agreement includes a provision allowing the German Navy to use the new 205-meter Karel Doorman, which is designed for the strategic transport of personnel and material plus supplying other ships. Furthermore, the Karel Doorman is suited for landing operations with heavy equipment and helicopters. Due to budget constraints, the Dutch have used the ship, which entered service last year, with a reduced crew while seeking a partner to operate it. According to a Dutch Ministry of Defense spokesman, the details of the cooperation and Germany's financial contribution still have to be negotiated.

On the ship, German soldiers will be trained by Dutch comrades, von der Leyen said. Last year, detachments of the sea battalion with their vehicles participated in a landing exercise, conducted by the Dutch Marines – the Korps Mariniers - off the Dutch coast. Due to the new agreement, the German Navy must forgo the acquisition of two joint support ships, the German Defense Ministry announced last week. Germany has no significant amphibious capacities of its own.

A technical agreement to integrate the Dutch 43rd mechanized brigade into the 1st Panzer Division of the German Army was also signed, after being announced last year. Von der Leyen had previously unveiled plans for a multinational Armored Division for training and exercise with up to 20,000 soldiers in the coming year. She described the Dutch-German military cooperation as an example for setting up a European defense union.

According to the Dutch Defense Ministry, both countries agreed last week to cooperate even more closely in matters of air and missile defense, which will lead to a joint training facility being established. Moreover, the attachment of a German ground-based air-defense unit to a Dutch command is under consideration. Both countries also want to examine options for short-range air defense. Since the sale of its anti-aircraft tanks Gepard (Cheetah) to Brazil and Romania, the German Army has no air defense at close range to protect its mechanized forces.

With Thursday's agreement, the Netherlands have officially put two of their three Army brigades under German command. Already in 2014 the Dutch 11th Air Mobile Brigade was integrated into the German Division of fast forces (DSK).

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