The German government’s 2016 defense whitepaper picked up on the fragility and volatility of the political and security landscape around Europe shown in recent years and provided a new strategic outline for the German armed forces and the German Navy. Strategically we have to equally balance collective and national defense with the tasks of international crisis management.
Germany’s spheres of interests in the maritime domain were defined as well. They range from the northern flank, i.e., the north Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, down to the Mediterranean, and extend into the wider Indian Ocean region.
Following the whitepaper, the “Capability Profile of the Armed Forces” was released in September 2018. This classified paper defines the capabilities and main adaptations until 2031 and requires increased defense expenditures to realize it. Based on this, the German Navy will — inter alia — add at least one surface or subsurface combatant to the fleet per year until 2030. Among these additions to the fleet are the new F125-class frigates (the first one joined the fleet in June 2019), the multipurpose combat ships MKS 180, new submarines currently under development together with Norway, and new helicopters — with the first Sea Lion having been handed over to the armed forces in October 2019.
In order to foster NATO’s command-and-control capabilities, the German Navy stood up DEUMARFOR earlier in 2019, providing the nucleus for a Baltic Maritime Component Command, or BMCC. Reaching full operational capability by 2025, BMCC can be added to NATO’s Long-Term Rotation Plan as a maritime headquarters with a focus on — but not limited to — the northern flank.
While the north Atlantic and North Sea as well as the Baltic Sea region are of particular interest with regard to the national and collective defense obligations as part of NATO and the European Union, safe and secure sea lines of communication are of vital interest to Germany as a nation engaged in worldwide maritime trade.
The most important trade routes run through the Mediterranean Sea, along the Arabian Peninsula and through the Indian Ocean. Hence, Germany has a vital interest in the stability in the wider Indo-Pacific region. It is the German Navy’s intent to have a frigate sailing in the wider Indian Ocean region in 2020 in order to underline the German interest in this region visibly and to foster practical cooperation.
At the same time the German Navy has to continue its commitment in international crisis management operations. This requires a German fleet being able to provide brown- and blue-water capabilities at the same time.
The German Navy is currently engaged in international crisis management operations in the Mediterranean Sea and in multinational operations to protect and secure the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean. Simultaneously, its ships are involved in the standing NATO groups as well as in a multitude of international forums and projects in order to strengthen cooperation and stability in the region.
In the eastern Mediterranean, the German Navy is regularly providing forces to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Since 2006, Germany has been actively engaged in the only maritime U.N. operation, preventing the flow of illegal arms into Lebanon, thus contributing to the overall stability.
Looking at the Indian Ocean and the wider region around the Arabian Peninsula, the German Navy has been an integral part of the European Union Naval Force Operation Atalanta since 2008 and is still contributing a maritime patrol aircraft to the operation on a regular basis.
Alongside a regular presence in international crisis management operations in the area, the German Navy is supporting U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and is regularly participating in the International Maritime Exercise using its naval shipping authority, training the protection of shipping lanes in this region.
In order to promote maritime security, friendship and cooperation within the region, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, or IONS, was founded in 2008. The German Navy has been granted observer status in 2016 and is actively engaged in the forum ever since believing in the strategic meaning of this important region.
Besides IONS, the German Navy has established a number of structured forms of cooperation within the region, mainly focusing on training and education as well as on expert talks on subjects of mutual interest. In addition, regional navy-to-navy staff talks are conducted regularly, and the German Navy frequently takes part in regional defense exhibitions.
In summary, the German Navy is set on its way to face current and future security challenges with a closer focus on the wider Baltic area and the northern flank, but also with a 360-degree readiness. Germany and the German Navy are willing to take on more responsibility and are ready for the challenges ahead.
Vice Adm. Andreas Krause is the chief of staff of the German Navy.