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German navy puts frisky new frigate via paces

A buster, the new speedboat used with a F125 frigate. Its mother ship, the Baden-Wuerttemberg, the German Navy's newest frigate, is undergoing sea trials. (File photo, 18.08.2016.)


Cuxhaven / DPA

“Ten minutes of playtime for the captain!” announces Commander Markus Venker over the ship-wide loudspeaker system. Actually, it’s a warning for the crew to hold on very tight.
Then Venker, captain of the newest and most modern ship in the German Navy, shows what his big baby can do in clear weather but rough seas off the German North Sea island of Helgoland. The Type 125 frigate Baden-Wuerttemberg, with a displacement of 7,200 tons, ploughs straight through the three-to-four-metre-high waves at a speed of 20 knots.
“This frigate is definitely our most manoeuvrable naval vessel,” said Venker proudly.
The German Navy has been eagerly awaiting the new class of frigates as the four-vessel contract is running more than two years behind schedule. In July it finally took delivery of the Baden-Wuertemberg, the first vessel, from the Blohm und Voss shipyard in Hamburg.
Germany possesses none of the bigger warships like aircraft carriers, cruisers or destroyers. Its dozen or frigates, designed to operate in fleets rather than solo, are its main surface naval vessels.
Testing and crew training are now in full swing ahead of the ship’s commissioning in mid-2017. The three sister ships are to be delivered by 2020.
Intended primarily to support stabilization operations in crisis regions, the frigates – just under 150 metres long and 19 metres wide – can deploy at sea for as long as two years at a time without having to return to Germany for major maintenance.
Each is to have two 120-strong crews who will be rotated in and out by air while the vessel remains in theatre.
As the “first-of-class” F125, the Baden-Wuerttemberg has given its name – that of one of Germany’s 16 states – to the entire new class of frigates: the Baden-Wuerttemberg class.
The three other F125s have been christened the Nordrhein-Westfalen, the Sachsen-Anhalt and the Rheinland-Pfalz after three other states, and the naval home port for all is Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea.
The new frigates each come with two helicopters, four fast-response boats, five machine guns, two close-range anti-aircraft systems and a 127-millimetre naval cannon, the biggest gun currently installed on any German naval vessel.
“This isn’t a toothless shark,” noted Chief Petty Officer Alexander Opitz, in charge of the mounted guns on board the Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Including the weapons systems, the total contract value for the frigates is 3.1 billion euros (about 3.3 billion US dollars), 2 billion of which goes to the consortium comprising ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (80 per cent) – of which Blohm und Voss is a subsidiary – and Luerssen shipyard (20 per cent), both of Germany.
The German Navy currently has personnel deployed to four of those multinational operations, meaning 500 sailors, a frigate, a corvette and a tender are all operating far from home. It may not sound much, but today’s Germany Navy is not a very big force.
The spokesman for German armed forces’ naval missions, Lieutenant Commander Bastian Fischborn, complains of what he says is an “imbalance” vis-a-vis the much-bigger army and the air force.
Averaged out over the past 24 months, on any one day 3,300 German armed service personnel were taking part in foreign missions. Nearly one third were sailors.
The Navy, which is barely bigger than Australia’s, has 16,000 personnel, making up just 9 per cent of the German armed forces’ total manpower of 176,500.
Germany’s all-volunteer armed forces have to attract personnel, and one way the navy is doing this is with its two-crew plan for the four new frigates. Crews are to be changed after four months to reduce the burden of long absences from home and enhance the compatibility of work and family.
Cpmmander Alexander Gottschalk, the German navy’s spokesman for North Sea operations, says “50-per-cent availability” is planned for the four frigates. This means that at all times two will be in theatre while one undergoes maintenance and the fourth is in home or near-home waters for training purposes.
While the Baden-Wuertemberg is light years away from having a cruise liner’s cosiness, it does offer the crews more comfort than they’re accustomed to. The cabins have only four to six bunks, and each has a shower. Petty Officer Dario Goessgen, for one, is quite satisfied.
Other world navies that take part in multinational security operations are likely to be taking a closer look at the Baden-Wuerttemberg with a view to buying F125s for themselves if its
endurance is borne out in the trials.

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