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Hans-Uwe Mergener
After approval of the programme by the German Parliament, Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding and the Federal German Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support signed the contract for the construction of the Multi-Purpose Combat Ship (MKS) 180 on 19th June 2020. According to the announcement by the Dutch shipbuilder, which operates 36 shipbuilding and repair yards worldwide and employs 13,000 people, the contract covers the delivery of initially four ships between 2027 to 2031, with an option for the delivery of two more ships after 2032. In addition, the German Ministry of Defence has scheduled the start of construction of the ships for 2023 following a construction phase of about three years. According to Damen, the construction will be carried out at Blohm+Voss in Hamburg with the involvement of other North German shipyard locations in Bremen, Kiel and Wolgast.
In the federal budget, almost €5.8bn has been assigned for the procurement of the ships in addition to approximately €4.6bn net construction costs for the units, including the land facilities for training and the external construction supervision estimated by the Ministry of Defence to last for about ten years. The conclusion of the contract marks the end of the saga surrounding the award procedure for these vessels, which began in 2015 as a European competition, taking into account the existing legal framework.

A versatile ship

Vice Admiral Andreas Krause, the Chief of the German Navy, expressed his happiness about the fast handling on Twitter: “Someone should say again that we can’t go fast. On Wednesday the parliamentary approval, today the contract is signed. I have the future firmly in my sights. I am curious to see when the “Artist Impression” will be followed by the first real photo.”

The MKS 180 is being built in cooperation between the Dutch Damen Shipyards Group, the Thales Group and the Lürssen shipyard with the integration of the German Naval Yards. Damen intends to keep a high share of added value in Germany  –  over 70 percent – applying not only to the shipyards, but also to the German subcontracting industry. In addition, it was agreed that around 30 percent of the revenue would be allocated to medium-sized companies, though details of the contract are not yet available. The Command and Control system for the ships will be delivered by Thales Group with the central sea and airspace monitoring sensor from Hensoldt. Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Defense announced that a large number of sensors and effectors will come from the USA, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, though Germany has secured extensive rights to the ship.

The German Ministry of Defence sees the project as a result of the so far very successful Dutch-German cooperation with the Netherlands integrating units into German structures – and vice versa. After the land forces, the navies should not stand back with the Seebataillon (Marine’s – equivalent) of the German Navy gradually being integrated into the Royal Dutch Navy. Since 2016, the Bundeswehr has been working together with the Netherlands on the integration into the capability development for the secure and strategic transport of the Bundeswehr. The maritime cooperation also provides arrangements for the use of the Dutch Navy’s Joint Support Ship for transport of personnel and material by the German Navy.

Nucleus for consolidation in naval shipbuilding?

The Ministry of Defence in Berlin sees the conclusion of the contract for the MKS 180 as a  way to explore further possibilities for cooperation in the maritime sector with State Secretary Benedikt Zimmer in talks with his Dutch counterpart, State Secretary Barbara Visser. Military shipbuilding is considered a key national technology in both Germany and the Netherlands, however, this does not preclude cooperation. It is precisely through joint steps that the availability of security-critical technologies and the maintaining a state-of-the-art technological development can be guaranteed. The aim of each country is to provide its own navies with modern, operational submarines, boats and ships, though both want to be able to offer competitive maritime units on the world market.

Hein van Ameijden, Managing Director of Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, explains: “It is also important to me that with the MKS 180 project, we are further advancing European cooperation in naval shipbuilding and making a joint contribution to security for Europe. ”

Damen has delivered over 6500 ships to more than 100 countries and, according to their own data, delivers about 175 ships each year to customers around the world. In addition to naval units, the portfolio of the family-run company based in Gorinchem, the Netherlands, includes tugs, workboats, coast guard units, high-speed boats, cargo ships, dredging ships, ships for the offshore industry, ferries, pontoons and luxury yachts.

MKS 180:

Length: approx. 155 metres construction waterline
Displacement: maximum 9,000 tons
Crew: 110 regular crew

70 optional embarkation

Operation time: 24 months
Employment: Worldwide
Ice Category: 1C/E1 for ice-forming sea areas
Life expectancy: 30 years
Armament: · Medium- and short-range anti-aircraft missiles

· Long Range Surface-to-Surface Missiles

· 127 millimetre Main Gun

· Water cannons, heavy machine guns, naval light guns

· Boats, reconnaissance drones, ASW-/ASuW-helicopter

Missions: · Self-defense and combat missions

· Compilation of maritime situational picture above and below water

· Monitoring and embargo control, including boarding

· Military evacuation in crisis situations

· Protection for merchant ships/Escorting

· Command and Control of Naval Task Forces/Groups