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Today, national and Alliance defence once again sets the standard for the equipment and training of the German Navy. At the same time, the German Navy is equally involved in international crisis management and conflict prevention.

In addition, together with its international allies and partners, it should guarantee the freedom of the seas. And as an Alliance navy, it regularly participates in the four standing NATO Maritime Groups. However, it is impossible to predict today how the global maritime security situation will develop and what this will mean for the Navy. The Navy must, therefore, prepare itself for a wide range of possible tasks, from police-like and humanitarian tasks in the field of crisis management to naval warfare within the framework of country and Alliance defence. This brings along an increasing range of tasks and missions for the Navy, which requires more modern ships, boats, aircraft, equipment and personnel.

Growth and Modernisation of the Fleet

The German Navy can be deployed on a global scale, is highly flexible and has one of the most modern fleets in the world. This not only applies to innovative management and command systems, but also to the technologies implemented. At the same time, technological progress and digitisation are forcing the Navy’s management to continuously modernise its fleet. Today, the German Navy is subject to its most comprehensive modernisation process since it was founded. The shrinking process of the German Navy after the end of the Cold War in 1990 has come to an end. Over the next decade, the Navy will receive one to two new powerful ships or boats and new helicopters every year.
The modernisation of the fleet comprises the four Class 123 frigates (BRANDENBURG Class), the software elements of which, above all, are upgraded to become state of the art. For the three Class 124 frigates (SACHSEN Class), the radar, including the software components of the anti-air warfare system, will be replaced and upgraded. In future, these frigates will be able to locate and detect exoatmospheric ballistic missiles and transmit these target data in real time to other ships engaging the missiles.

Naval Aviation Component

The eight P3C ORION MPAs of the German Navy are being fundamentally modernised. (Photo: German Navy)

The eight P3C ORION maritime reconnaissance aircraft will be equipped with new wings and avionics. In the medium term, the plans are to develop a successor aircraft together with France. From November 2019, 18 new SEA LION helicopters (MH) will be delivered to the Navy. These brand new helicopters will replace the 21 over 40-year-old SEA KING Mk 41 helicopters. The NH90-NTH (Naval Transport Helicopter) SEA LION will be used as a search and rescue helicopter, as a transport helicopter for personnel/special forces and as a material transporter. It is equipped with a comprehensive range of sensors for the maritime environment. These include a maritime radar system, an electro-optical system with TV camera and infrared sensor, as well as a laser range finder. A system for the detection and identification of electromagnetic emissions, including the radar warning functionality, will also be available. Another sensor is the AIS (Automatic Identification System) functionality to support the maritime situational awareness. Chaff/flare decoys are used as protection components. In addition, two M3M heavy machine guns can be fitted as active self-protection components. The use of modular ballistic protection equipment for crew and cabin comes as an option.

The SKELDAR UAV is undergoing tests and evaluation on board the K130 class corvette BRAUNSCHWEIG. (Photo: UMS Skeldar)

The Mk 88A SEA LYNX helicopter onboard the Navy’s frigates is currently still the organic flying component (sensor and weapon platform), primarily for ASW deployments. These aircrafts will have reached the end of its service life by around 2025. According to the Integrated Planning Process (IPP) the procurement process for a replacement has already started.

Ships and Boats

F125 Frigates

Currently, four new F125 frigates (BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG Class) have started deliveries. The FoC BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG (F222) entered service on 17 June 2019. The second frigate NORDRHEIN-WESTFALEN (F223), is scheduled for delivery by the end of 2019. The third and fourth frigates, SACHSEN-ANHALT (F224) and RHEINLAND-PFALZ (F225), are to be delivered by 2021. The F125 frigates are built by ARGE F125 (Arbeitsgemeinschaft), a consortium of thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and Fr. Lürssen Werft.

The frigate BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG, FoC of the F125 class, entered service on 17 June 2019. (Photo: Arge F125)

With the F125 frigates, the Navy has broken new ground because they are ships designed from scratch. With their highly complex systems and approx. 28,000 sensors, they feature a very high degree of automation, which makes it possible to halve the number of crews compared with previous frigates. The F125 crew comprises 120 staff. In addition, 70 special forces can be embarked. Approximately 90 per cent of the highly complex systems on board the F125 were newly developed specifically for this class of ship. The F125’s intense usability is characterised by a high degree of automation and low-maintenance systems (extension of maintenance intervals) as well as the multi-crew concept. This allows the F125 to operate continuously for up to two years. For the first time, the Navy has introduced the CODLAG (Combined Diesel eLectric And Gas Turbine) drive on these frigates. The propulsion system consists of two electric motors each with 4,500 kW, a gas turbine with 20,000 kW and four diesel generators each with 2,900 kW. The cruising speed is 20 knots, the maximum speed is in excess of 26 knots, and the range is approx. 4,000 nm/18 knots. The sea endurance is 21 days. In addition, the F125 carry four rescue RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats) and has two spaces to accommodate containers on the middle deck. The RHIBs can carry 12 to 15 persons (special forces), reach a speed of 40 knots and have a range of 130 nm/20 knots. Depending on the mission, they can be armed with four heavy machine guns (12.7 mm) and grenade launchers. The boats are used for boarding missions, transport tasks, SAR (Search & Rescue), landings or even escort missions and patrols.

The replenishment ship RHÖN was taken into service in 1974 and should be replaced by 2021. (Photo: PIZ/M)

The 149.60 m long F125 frigates displace approx. 7,200 tonnes and are capable of comprehensively countering asymmetric threats, providing extensive tactical fire support for landing units, accommodating or supporting special forces and commanding international units. The frigate is able to carry out maritime operations ranging from humanitarian aid and evacuation operations to combat operations. A novel sensor and weapon concept provides flexible and scalable options for action. The weapons and sensor systems are primarily designed for the self-protection. Almost all weapons on board are remote-controlled. In addition, there are automatic surveillance systems and extensive protection and effect capabilities against asymmetric threats. The 127-mm gun, an outstanding weapon system, constitutes the largest gun calibre in the German Navy. The gun can engage targets at sea and ashore. The standard ammunition gives the gun a range of approx. 60 km, using GPS-guided special ammunition (VULCANO) approx. 120 km. Further armament items include eight x HARPOON anti-ship missiles, two x 27-mm light naval gun, five x 12.7-mm machine gun, two x RAM air defence system and four x MASS decoy launchers.

The spacious frigate has a large helicopter landing deck with a double hangar for accommodating and operating two SEA LION helicopters.

The crews are regularly exchanged on site in the area of operation. By engaging eight crews (multiple crew concept) for four ships, the crews’ terms in the theatres of operation are only four months long. The decoupling of crew and ship derived from the intensive use and the multi-crew concept leads to a significantly higher availability of the F125 in the field of operation.

MKS 180 Multi-Role Combat Ship

Artist´s impression of the MKS 180 multi-role combat ship (Image: MTG)

As a new type of combat ship, the Navy intends to procure six multi-role combat ships Class 180 (MKS 180, possibly re-designated F126 when in service). This ship is specially designed for high-intensity naval warfare. The MKS 180 is to have a broad spectrum of basic capabilities for assertion against surface, air and submerged threats, against asymmetric threats and for survivability and self-protection. The corresponding armament (guns and missiles) and equipment should enable the engagement of asymmetric targets at very close ranges, air targets at close range, sea targets at long range and submerged targets using the on-board helicopter. The ship is a further development of the F 125, but the expanded capability spectrum is achieved, even more consistently than with the F 125, through increased intensive use, mission modularity, multi-crew concepts, increased endurance and reduced life cycle costs.

K130 Corvettes

The LUDWIGSHAFEN entered service in March 2013 as the fifth and last unit of the first batch of K130 class corvettes. (Photo: Fr. Lürssen Shipyard)

On 25 April 2019, the first of five new Class K130 corvettes designated KÖLN (2nd batch) was laid on keel at the Peene shipyard in Wolgast, which belongs to the Lürssen Group. The first five units have been in service since 2008 and have since proven themselves successfully in national and international missions. The construction of five additional corvettes worth 2.5 billion Euro, which was approved surprisingly quickly by the German Bundestag in 2017, comprises design services, manufacturing, and integration of all systems, equipment, and plants, also including the necessary land and training facilities as well as comprehensive logistics and services (technical documentation, training of crews). Delivery to the German Navy is scheduled for November 2022 and all five corvettes are to be delivered by 2026. In order to take account of the current state of laws and regulations and to keep pace with technological progress, selective changes have been made to the original designs of the first batch of the K130. For example, the 6.25-metre rescue boats will be replaced by faster 7.5-metre rescue boats that have since been introduced by the German Navy. In addition, the IT security regulations currently in force in the Bundeswehr will be taken into account and implemented. The rapid further development of the technology with associated obsolescence also requires adaptations, changes and modernisation efforts, especially with regard to the command and weapon control systems (CWCS). Finally, the corvettes are to be equipped with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for sea reconnaissance. The FoC BRAUNSCHWEIG has already been equipped with a SKELDAR UAV for test and evaluation.


The ‘German-Norwegian Submarine Co-operation’ provides, among other things, for the joint development and procurement of six Class 212 CD (Common Design) submarines (four boats for Norwat and two units for Germany), their joint operation and training of personnel.

The U36 212A class submarine. The class 212 CD design will be based on and derived from the configuration of the 212A second batch. (Photo: tkms)

These new-generation submarines are derived from the German Class 212A 2nd batch design. They have a fuel cell-based air independent propulsion system, are designed with consistent stealth technology and have the same innovative developments as the German Class 212A submarines (U35 and U36). These include, a diver’s sluice for the inward and outward transfer of combat swimmers, pressure-resistant transport containers for the equipment of special forces (Special Operations), improved sensor technology and communication (networked operations) and increased mobility. They are to be deployed worldwide, above all in Arctic waters. The submarines are to be delivered to Germany and Norway between 2025 and 2030.

Expected German Navy inventory development from 2018 (Graphic: PIZ/M/MilKom Partners)

Future Projects

Future projects of the German Navy include eleven new mine countermeasure systems developed jointly with European naval partners to replace today’s ten MCMV units, the FRANKENTHAL Class minehunters. In the European Defence Agency (EDA), the European naval partners have come together to jointly plan the maintenance of capabilities in mine warfare and to stimulate joint procurement. However, different conceptual ideas on MCM still prevent agreement on a common system. The ideas of the German Navy are based on the high protection of the MCM unit combined with modular deployment of unmanned systems (underwater drones). The procurement of far-reaching UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) for MCM missions is also planned.

In addition, the Navy will have to procure two new fleet replenishment ships, as the outdated and repair-prone Class 704 fuel transporters RHÖN and SPESSART (which were put into service in 1974) can no longer respond to current needs and requirements. In addition, as monohull tankers, they may only be used until 2021 in line with IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulations for military units. It is understood that their replacement is absolutely imminent.

The procurement of eight small combat boats for the special forces of the Navy as well as new boats for training purposes is planned. In the medium term, the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Ships and Naval Weapons, Maritime Technology and Research (WTD 71) will need new measuring and test boats. And, last but not least, the Navy’s sail training ship GORCK FOCK will not be decommissioned, but will be preserved despite the high refurbishment costs of 135 million euro incurred by the German Navy and be operational in 2020.

Capt. Navy (ret.) Dieter Stockfisch is a long-time author and naval correspondent for security policy at ESD.