In a country where good news stories about the military are few and far between, recent years had been kind to the German Navy. 

The first author of this article, John Beckner, is a Defence and Aerospace Consultant and has been living and working in Europe (Brussels/Munich) since the late 1980’s.  He has been a keen observer of European and NATO defense policy; both in industry and working for the U.S. Government.

The second, Helmoed Heitman, is an author, journalist, and independent defence consultant living in Pretoria, South Africa.

Its vessels had been participating with its allies in counter-piracy operations like Operation ATALANTA off East Africa, and its ships have been involved in refugee rescue in the Mediterranean Sea as well as weapons interdiction off the coast of Lebanon. Pictures of German Navy vessels assisting in the rescue of bedraggled refugees portrays the public face of the Bundeswehr in a way no Eurofighter or Leopard 2tank ever can.

Public perceptions notwithstanding, the mission of the Marine is to fill its NATO commitments. Unfortunately, due to poor planning and decision-making, and lack of funding, it is incapable of fulfilling its primary mission requirements. Unless changes are made promptly and quickly, its capabilities will degrade even further over the coming years.

While it is nice to blame “budget cuts,” the Marine’s problems go well beyond a lack of money. The German Navy has major problems with all its major components; submarines, surface ships, and what’s left of its naval air capability.

The Marine has six Type 212 U Boats; none of which are currently operational.  While German industry continues to sell similar vessels around the world, and some of its NATO allies operate them on very sensitive SIGINT missions into remote foreign harbors, the German Navy with its long history of submarine development and operation, today cannot even deploy a single submarine on operations – and will be unable to so for some time to come.

On one of its first missions, the new U36 was operating off Norway when it damaged its stern fins “hitting a rock during a dive,” and had to be escorted back to Germany by a vessel monitoring its test program. While mishaps like this happen, it just added to the malaise of the German navy which pioneered submarine operations and design.  Even worse U31, the first submarine of the class, has been out of service since 2014 pending completion of repairs.

U32 experienced battery damage in mid-2017 and is awaiting a berthing/repair space.  However, U-4 is ‘already in line’ for the next available docking spot which should come available early this year. Thankfully, U33 will (or has just) finished its current maintenance in early 2018 and will be released for Baltic ‘workups’ to return to service. U35, the sister ship of U-6, was commissioned in October of last year but won’t become operational until June.

It boggles the mind that the wealthiest country in the EU cannot even afford to support a U Boat fleet of six vessels. These vessels are designed for the Baltic and due to their hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion system can stay underwater for as long as two weeks.  While this sounds rather benign, operations in the Baltic are difficult due to shallow water, and even more difficult since their peacetime mission requirements involve dangerous stealthy operations to gain intelligence on Russian ports. The Type 212 U Boats are the optimal submarines for these missions, so it is a particular pity that they sit in dry dock waiting for spares that should be readily available. Today, other countries’ submarines take up this slack and perform this mission since Germany spends too little on its military to fund an adequate support infrastructure for these vessels. One shudders to think how long it would take Germany to up the readiness of its tiny U Boat fleet should the Russians become more aggressive against the NATO Baltic countries.

In 2010, the last German MPA Atlantique aircraft followed their fast-jet Tornadobrethren into retirement. To make up for the lack of capability, in 2005, Germany decided to acquire second-hand Dutch P-3C aircraft. While some grumbled that replacing an expensive to operate two-engined aircraft with an expensive to operate four-engined aircraft made little sense, there is little doubt that the P-3C is a more capable aircraft than the Atlantique it replaced. However, wouldn’t it have made more sense to consider the more modern P-8, like Germany’s NATO allies who are all retiring their P-3s.

To make matters worse, it soon became apparent that what the planners failed to account for is that the former Dutch aircraft had too many hours on their air-frames, and they needed all new wings plus a modern tactical system. Cynics claim this was behind the Dutch decision to retire the aircraft in the first place, one German Navy officer remarking that they were held together by their paint.  Then, instead of competing the expensive structural and avionics upgrades like the USN, and countries like South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand have done, the German Navy took the “easy way out,” and let industry take the lead.  Lockheed Martin is under an eight (8) year sole-source FMS contract to perform the upgrade.

The structural program consists of eight kits which include the outer wing, centre fuselage, and horizontal stabiliser.  According to naval experts, no P3C aircraft are operational today.  Isn’t there anyone at the BAAINBw HQ in Koblenz (the former BWB) who can run competitive P-3 upgrade programs like other countries do, or do the cost/benefit analysis to see if buying new aircraft makes any sense?

Read the full article here.


    • I think the same can be said about many European countries including the UK sadly, many are now nanny states who can’t actually afford their social care commitments and are cutting services that actually make a country what it is (like Justice, defence etc).

      • Maybe, but the point I was making is that Germany is held up as the shining example of Europe by lazy British journalists, who only ever report on the apparent surface gloss and never hold the country up to the same sort of cynical scrutiny as they do the UK.

        • A very good point Mac. I believe the British journalists still suffer from the days of the Third Riech, when everything German, was huge and menacing.
          This current state of German’s defences is worrying, but somehow kills the idea of a new EU Defence Force? Without a strong German military contribution, you may as well call it the ‘French European Defence Pact.’

    • Unfortunate but like britain, germany has always gone for quality above quantity, something similar to the AR.N. A quest for quality is the main reason programme costs soar out of control
      leading to procurement reductions.

    • Correct.

      The countryside is very pleasant and small towns are quite clean.

      I truth though, that is where the competency starts to run out.

    • On a UK/German tank exercise British Challengers had to provide cover for the leopards simply because the Cobham armour on the British tanks is so superior to the lightweight vulnerable German tanks.

  1. Regards the replacement of the German MPA Atlantique with second-hand Dutch P-3C aircraft.
    The author leaves out that the procurement of the P3 was meant to be a temporary measure as the Germans had decided to purchase the Global Hawk (in German hands the Euro Hawk) UAV in which to carry out Maritime patrols. Unfortunately its planned €1 billion ($1.3 billion) procurement of five Euro Hawks was cancelled , citing significant barriers to certificating the type for flights in civil airspace.

  2. The German state will need to double or even treble its defence spending over a 10 year sustained period to upgrade it’s armed forces.

    Is that going to happen? No

    Without the presence of large US forces Germany would be defenceless.

  3. Unfortunate but like britain, germany has always gone for quality above quantity, something similar to the AR.N. A quest for quality is the main reason programme costs soar out of control
    leading to procure

    • Quality?

      Is the Leopard the worlds best tank?
      Coin toss
      Is the Puma the best IFV
      Is the PZH the best howitzer?
      On paper, maybe.

      I think they are buying corporate welfare and the results don’t really matter.

  4. Mike they would be defenceless if it were not for the UK armed forces being based in Germany, US forces and the fact Germany’s lap dog, aka the French will support Germany.
    Germany simply hides behind its NATO membership and harvest the defence expenditure saved to invest in infrastructure, schools, universities and social care in short looking after their people. Meanwhile they only spend 0.35% GDP to foreign aid budget not 0.7% as in the UK.
    Summary Theseus most “powerful country” is reliant on us to defend it whilst providing no thanks or particular friendship or even willingness to acknowledge other nations contribution towards their defence or a willingness to fund monetarily NATOs forces. Maybe they should not be clamouring for a divorce bill but actually pay us back some money for all our armed forces efforts in guarding and protecting them.

    • As I understand all UK forces are to be withdrawn from Germany by 2020. Currently there are 5000 troops stationed there.

      My opinion is that all UK forces should have been withdrawn in the 90s

      • The Army brass are angling for a brigade to be kept there. Getting the army out of germany has been like pulling teeth. I’ll believe we’re out only when I see the last one board the ship or plane.

  5. I’d say this is an interesting perspective for all those who criticise the British defence industry and clamour for foreign alternatives as somehow always superior.

  6. I often joke that today would the be the best time in over a century to go to war with Germany as they are practically defenceless- sadly, this article only confirms the truth- that all Germany’s armed forces are in a terrible state after years of underfunding.

  7. A number of observations:

    The article sneers at Germany’s ‘U Boat’ fleet as being ‘tiny’. How many submarines does the UK operate?

    Is Germany at risk of invasion? If so, by whom?

    Is the author aware of pension and welfare benefits enjoyed by those resident in Germany compared to those in the UK?

    • TH wrote:
      A number of observations:The article sneers at Germany’s ‘U Boat’ fleet as being ‘tiny’.
      May I suggest you read the full article , of which the author made the effort to link into . When you do, you will find a well thought out missive which highlights deficiencies which really should have been addressed years ago.
      “How many submarines does the UK operate?”
      Currently the RN has 10 Subs on its books, however unlike the German 212 subs the RN boats are designed to operate in deep blue waters, a totally different ball game to the Littoral waters the 212 is designed to operate in. With that in mind, the question asked about the unavailability of the 212 boats due to a lack of spares is valid. That said I cannot understand why you point at the RN, when neither of the authors of this article are…British.

      Back to the full article, the authors quite rightly ask salient questions which are anything but sneers:
      The F-130 Corvette is a strange beast, perhaps the naval equivalent to the ‘horse designed by a committee,’ too small to be useful ‘out of area’ and too large to be agile and fast. It seems to have been the result of a compromise between the FAC community, who wanted something small, fast and agile for inshore operations in the Baltic, and the frigate community, who wanted a ship large enough for Atlantic operations and further afield. One result of the compromise is an 1,800-ton, 89 m ship that cannot carry a manned helicopter (!), a major disadvantage in almost any type of operation. Moreover, an endurance of only one week without a support ship in company hardly suits it to operations outside the Baltic or the North Sea. And, of course, they were delivered with self-destroying gearboxes and a gas problem in the machinery spaces. Worse, each of these ships costs the German Navy more than the 3,700-ton, 121 m Meko A200 frigates built for the South African Navy.”

      And:” the Marine’s F-125 frigate program has been in the news since the new 7,000-ton Baden-Württemberg failed its acceptance trials. An article in the Wall Street Journal which cataloged its design problems even went so far as to say, “it really doesn’t work.” Aside from its seaworthiness and software issues which one presumes will be solved, they have managed to turn the F-125 into a nice 7,000-ton target by omitting to fit a SAM system – ‘they will only be used in “stabilization operations” (read “good news” refugee rescue and counter-piracy), and where there will be “no air threat.”

      In answer to your question:
      ” Is Germany at risk of invasion?
      That would be a big no, that the only states in both the EU and NATO at risk are the Baltic states. Maybe not a full invasion but a partial annexation along the lines of the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine in which to safeguard ‘Russian peoples’ you do know that the city of Narva in Estonia is 83% Ethic Russian , which is a higher % than that what was found in the Crimea before Moscow annexed it. (68%) as a member of the EU and NATO, Germany is obliged to help defend the Baltics. Which funny enough the authors of the above article mention:
      “One shudders to think how long it would take Germany to up the readiness of its tiny U Boat fleet should the Russians become more aggressive against the NATO Baltic countries.”

      You then finish the article with:
      “Is the author aware of pension and welfare benefits enjoyed by those resident in Germany compared to those in the UK?
      Why should they, neither is British.

    • Are you not embarrassed by commenting on a subject you have not read and know absolutely nothing about? Wow rather sad but expected as TH has a history of waffle and whining.

  8. The whole of Europe relies heavily on the USA for defence. It has done since the end of WW2. I find it quite amusing that someone talked about paying the UK for the defense it has supplied. If that were the case the UK would owe the USA a good chunk more. As for the submarines issue. Not to long ago the USA congress had to pass a law to let the Electric boat company of the USA teach the UK how to make submarines again because As a country we decided not to bother to keep or invest in this critical skill.

    • I think there is another way to look at this, Germany has spent within its means and as interest rates start to raise and the resulting cost of paying the insane UK debt raises, Germany will be able to maintain its armed forces numbers, whilst the UK will need to keep cutting them.

      Ok, it seems their gear is currently in a bad state, but ours is not exactly much better, considering on the surface we look decent, but below it it is clear that our ships are sailing without adequate missiles, we appear to be sharing CIWS between vessels rather than having sufficient for the fleet and we have multiple ships in port training due to lack of sailors. Tanks/helicopters/planes are being used to keep others going, hiding the real numbers of available equipment. Combined with the mess that become obvious during Afgan/Iraq, where we didn’t have basic items available in numbers required for a small/medium deployment.

      • Are you sure that you have read the same article as me? What forces do you anticipate Germany being able to maintain? They haven’t any to maintain. As for our own equipment I would suggest that you read about what we are doing around the world.

      • Are u having a laugh, Germany spending within its means on Defence. It “means” are more than the Uk and France together, further more to whine we spend only what we can afford is not a defence against an agressor, you spend what is necessary.

  9. Ironic fact about Germany? Despite its reputation since it’s creation it’s lost every war its entered. And it’s that reputation thay the modern military has coasted on to prop themselves up in the eyes of the world. Yet as recent events have shown if you look beneath the surface it’s rotting away from within and puts the problems we all moan about to shame.

    Submarines laid up in port.
    Using sticks painted black in place of guns
    Most of its air force inoperable
    Half it’s tanks inoperable

    And that’s just it name a few. And the defence Secretary who is supposed to be leading the charge to fix all this? She’s more concerned about right wing supporters in the army and having a flat screen tv in every barracks.

  10. I love the fact that the German navy until recently mocked our type 26 frigate programme and lauded their new F125 frigates as being examples of German efficiency and lean manning.
    No SAM, 150 tons overweight. Listing +1.5 degrees to starboard on sea trials that necessitated taking on 150 tons of water ballast. Then the F125 class cannot incorporate anything into its mission bay due to too much top weight.
    Excellent, well done.
    The type 26 programme has been delayed, cut back and an utter disaster but the outcome should be better than that, once they finally enter service. We just need a governmental change and reinstate the intention to order 13 not 8 of the type 26s. No I do not mean get Corbyn in, anyone even May and Hammond are better than he would be on defence.


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