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The German Navy has had three Sachsen-class air defense ships at its disposal since 2004. With the planned end of the service life of these three ships, there will be a capability gap in maritime air defense for the areas of formation air defense and area protection from the mid-2030s. This capability gap is to be closed by the "Next Generation Frigate" for the implementation of the NATO planning goals accepted by Germany. These ships, also known as F 127s, open up additional options for covering other NATO requirements in the area of ​​sea-based defense against ballistic and hypersonic missiles.

Unlike in the past, the requirement for the F 127 capability profile was not initiated by the Navy, but directly from the planning department of the Federal Ministry of Defense in a new top-down process "rough analysis and project outline". This is also an expression of the great importance of the F 127 at ministerial level in fulfilling various national and NATO planning goals. It is also a guarantee for a significantly faster entry into the planning phases for armament projects. From the outset, all relevant departments (PlgABw, BAAINBw, CIR, MarKdo, BAIUDBw etc.) belong to the integrated project team (IPT) set up under the leadership of the planning office. Close coordination therefore takes place from the start – and not only after the initiative has been completed. This not only saves one to one and a half years in the preliminary analysis, but also ensures the greatest possible consensus across all official levels from the outset.
The Frigate 127 is intended to help maintain the capabilities to be provided by the Navy after the F 124 has been decommissioned and to complete them in the area of ​​ballistic missile defense (BMD). With the F 127, the Navy will have a weapon system that can be used worldwide in the long term, the main task of which is to protect a task force or an area against the entire spectrum of threats from the air. In the future, the F 127 will operate in a sensor network with other sea, air, space and ground-based integrated air defense systems. In addition, the analysis phase is now to examine and determine the extent to which these future ships can contribute to territorial missile defense as part of homeland security and national defense, but also to NATO Ballistic Missile Defense as part of alliance defense.

As the first ship class since the F 124, a frigate specially designed to meet the requirements of national and alliance defense is to have capabilities for surface and underwater warfare, for working in cyber and information space and for operational tasks within the framework of international crisis management and national crisis and have risk management. F 127 is designed as an assertive naval weapon. The ship should be able to be flexibly adapted to the currently unforeseeable threat potential well beyond the middle of the century in an economically justifiable manner.

Six ships are required

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A sonar UUV could be used for the first time (Graphic: MTG)

The national ambition for the class 127 is based on permanent operational readiness for one of these ships in two task forces. This ambition is the basis of the project outline now presented for a total of six units. The future ships are therefore not only the successors of the three current air defense frigates, but also an expression of the seriousness of a stronger German commitment to NATO's strategic security precautions.While the Sachsen class after 2025 will cover the NATO requirement for a sensor contribution to defense against ballistic missiles with a new radar, the F 127 should meet the medium-term requirement for a comprehensive defense system including interceptor missiles against ballistic missiles. The arrival of the new air defense ships is scheduled for 2032. This plan is currently, however, the delayed arrival of multi-purpose combat shipsMKS 180 opposite.

Vertical launch systems decisive for ship design

Just ten months after being commissioned, the IPT was able to present the draft of the project outline to the ministry as the first "phase document". This is also based on the draft of a preliminary deployment concept, which the naval command had already coordinated across the Bundeswehr in April.

In addition to the helicopter, there is also space for a flying drone, speedboat and a container in the hangar (Graphic: MTG)

Da F 127 Fähigkeiten abbilden soll, wie sie heute teilweise schon auf Zerstörern der Arleigh-Burke-Klasse der US Navy zur Verfügung stehen, ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass erste Designüberlegungen auf ähnliche Abmessungen kommen – bei etwa halbierter Besatzung. Die Größe des Schiffes wird hauptsächlich durch die Anzahl und Dimension der Senkrechtstartanlagen für die Flugkörper und die umfangreiche taktische Sensorausstattung bestimmt. Eine konkrete Festlegung auf Systeme ist noch nicht getroffen und bleibt somit Gegenstand weiterer Untersuchungen in der Analysephase. Die Frage, welche und wie viele Flugkörper letztendlich eingerüstet werden sollen, wird aktuell im Forschungs- und Technologievorhaben „HF133 –Flugkörper für maritime Luftverteidigung“ eruiert. Aufsetzend auf eine im Rahmen des Framework Nations Concept durchgeführte multinationale Studie „Seabased Upper Layer Effector Feasibility“ werden dort die marktverfügbaren Abwehrflugkörper Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) und Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) mit zukunftsgerichteten und bedrohungsoptimierten nationalen und europäischen Flugkörperkonzepten verglichen. Ambitioniertes Ziel ist es, die NATO-Forderungen an Deutschland für die Bereiche Verbandsflugabwehr, Gebietsschutz sowie Abwehr ballistischer (innerhalb der Atmosphäre) und hypersonischer Bedrohungen mit möglichst einem einzigen Abwehrflugkörper wie zum Beispiel dem SM-6 oder dem national in der Konzeptauslegung befindlichen Ramjet abzudecken.

The "Territorial Missile Defence" concept approved by the Inspector General in 2018 takes account of the focus on national and alliance defence. It describes the requirements for protection against a 360° threat from ballistic missiles of all range classes and the possible maritime contribution to a national overall architecture for missile defense, integrated into the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence. If a (political) decision were to be made to also provide for the F 127 to contribute to the defense against ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere (over 100 km), another missile such as the SM-3 or the "sea-based European Midcourse Interceptor ( sEMDI)" can be scaffolded.

In the area of ​​​​close and very close range protection, tried and tested but modernized products such as Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) or Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) - then Block 2 - should be used, and high-energy weapons such as a 100 kW laser are also considered. In addition to missiles to counter threats from the air, various concepts for combating sea and land targets over long distances are being investigated. A long-range weapon against submarines is also considered - in line with the threat.

Blessings and curses of digitization

The digital networking required by NATO and the concept of networked operational management of the Bundeswehr is decisive for the technical realization of modern weapon systems. The F 127 must therefore offer the possibility of carrying out fully automated situational awareness, threat analysis and combat planning, even at multinational unit level. This is the only way for the system to relieve the operator and offer the decision-maker the best possible support for the time-critical use of weapons. The implementation is to take place via the "Framework Architecture 2030+" coordinated with the partner nations with standardized interfaces and processes as well as modern IP networks. At the same time, however, in addition to the ever more intensive networking, there must also be a return to the emergency proceduresunplugged operationsallow. This means that the F 127 must still be able to use weapons effectively even in an electromagnetically difficult environment and after a failure of satellite and Internet connections. Coupled with the need for an ever-decreasing staffing approach, this seems like squaring the circle today. For this purpose, the topic of artificial intelligence for process optimization will also be considered.

Other resources in flexibly structured areas

Zur Erfüllung der Anforderungen an die in Entwicklung befindlichen Sensor-Wirkverbünde sowie zur Sicherstellung von späteren Nach- und Umrüstungen ist die zukünftige Fregatte zur Aufnahme modularer Einsatzmittel (bemannte und unbemannte Luft-, Überwasser- und Unterwasserfahrzeuge etc.) auszulegen. Dafür wurde durch die Firma MTG Marinetechnik ein flexibles Raumkonzept für den Initialentwurf F 127 entwickelt. Dieses ermöglicht in zwei voneinander unabhängigen, internen Schiffsbereichen eine flexible und einsatzspezifische Integration diverser organischer Einsatzmittel und anderer modularer Bordeinsatzkomponenten. Diese Schiffsbereiche werden nachfolgend als „Flex-Hangar“ und „Flex-Heck“ sowie zusammengefasst als „Flex-Bereiche“ bezeichnet. Die Flex-Bereiche erlauben eine flexible Konfiguration des Fähigkeitsträgers F 127 bei einer gleichzeitig sinnvollen Begrenzung des erforderlichen Schiffsraumes und der Anzahl der zu erwartenden Einsatzkomponenten. Die Einsatzkomponenten werden in der Stauposition gegenüber Witterungseinflüssen geschützt, haben keinen negativen Einfluss auf die Signatur des Fähigkeitsträgers und sind gegenüber unerwünschtem Einblick von außen verborgen. Durch die Vielfalt der berücksichtigten Möglichkeiten besteht ein hohes Potenzial zur Integration zukünftiger Systeme, die zum Entwurfszeitpunkt nur als Konzept oder Idee existieren.

The flex rear can accommodate a rescue boat, ... (Graphic: MTG)

The flex hangar is part of a spatially separated double hangar for the on-board helicopter. The hangar on the port side is designed as a "board helicopter service hangar" and, in combination with its attached service, storage and ground service facilities, is optimized for the stowage, care, maintenance and repair of the embarked onboard helicopter.

... alternatively also mines ... (Graphic: MTG)

The flex hangar, which is arranged parallel to the service hangar on the starboard side, enables the following equipment to be accommodated and operated:

  • a second on-board helicopter (here exclusive repair)
  • small to medium-sized unmanned aerial systems (UAV), including maintenance and repair
  • a rescue boat or unmanned surface vehicle (USV) up to about twelve meters in length, alternatively several smaller types
  • various underwater vehicles (UUV)
  • ISO containers (1 x 40 ft and 1 x 20 ft)

The flex stern is located near the waterline in the center of the stern below the BHS flight deck and is flanked on both sides by spatially separated mooring decks. Among other things, it enables the recording and operation of the following resources:

  • Emergency boat or USV up to about twelve meters in length
  • containerized modular towed sonar (TASS)
  • UUV and compatible launch and storage systems
  • other containerized mission components
  • Sea mines and storage and dropping rails compatible with them
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... or a modular towed sonar (Graphic: MTG)

Boat or USV are stored in a trough-like sloping rear drag set into the ground on friction-reducing rollers or rollers. These can be adjusted in angle to different fuselage geometries. The stern tow can be covered with profiles carried on board in the flex stern. This creates a level storage area of ​​approx. 15 x 5 metres. This stowage area can accommodate either two parallel lanes for two 20-foot ISO containers each or three parallel mine rails.

New ways of implementation should ensure rapid availability

A complex project like that of the class 127 frigate is extremely risky. This is due to the fact that new technologies are being used here, some of which are still to be developed. In order to make these risks manageable, a gradual increase in skills is expedient. Based on past experience with large, sometimes year-long gaps between the delivery of the ships and their operational availability, operability and usability for the fleet, two fundamentally new approaches to implementation are proposed in connection with the class 127.

AMD Testbed

The "Air & Missile Defense Testbed" upstream of the F 127 project represents a first step in reducing risks. In order to make the development risk and complexity manageable for the new class, a timely, successive build-up of sub-capabilities on this was planned in Wilhelmshaven Land installation recommended early on by the integrated project team F 127.

The aim is to prepare both the threat-based capability maintenance in the field of air defense and air defense and the capability growth to defend against ballistic and hypersonic missiles. This should be decoupled from future platforms together with multinational partners and in a joint armed forces context. At a later point in time, the results are to be submitted to the F 127 project. In addition, the AMD testbed is intended to provide results for other projects in connection with the F 124 and MKS 180 classes in advance, for which system and project dependencies also exist with F 127.

In the meantime, the Federal Ministry of Defense has instructed the preparation of the phase document "Capability gaps and functional requirements" (FFF) to set up the AMD testbed.

Inflow in manageable skill levels

In order to make the arrival of such a complex warship and its operational system integration manageable, the proposal for a gradual build-up of capabilities is also reflected in the arrival of the individual ships. From ship 1 to ship 6, the complexity of the skill levels increases successively. They follow attainable and verifiable milestones and thus provide the fleet with ships that are ready for action, supply and operation right from the start. While ship 1 goes into service as a pure anti-aircraft ship with an initial operational capability (capacity replacement AAW F 124), the remaining points of this initial capability level from acceptance and operational testing are eliminated and finally proven on ship 2. Ship 3 will implement and qualify an initial ballistic missile defense capability in the lower interception layer. The integration and proof of further capabilities (lasers, deployment modules, etc.) is carried out via ships 4 and 5. In order to make the decision to equip the particularly complex (cost and risk-related) last capability level "BMD Upper Layer", an exo-atmospheric missile defense capability, To be able to hit as late as possible, this skill level was deliberately placed on the sixth ship.

Units 1 to 5 are generally upgraded to the higher capability levels during the routine repair phases.

Conclusion

The Class 125 was conceived at the beginning of the century as a stabilization unit with new ideas for intensive use and MKS 180 based on the operational needs of the beginning of that decade. The basic idea for the F 127, on the other hand, is based on the reorientation of the Bundeswehr to national and alliance defense and represents the associated maritime component. Assertiveness in intensive naval combat and against attacks from the air and from land, the protection of civil and military units at sea and facilities near the coast and the contribution to the defense against ballistic and hypersonic threats make previously unknown demands on the technological design of the ships. A particular challenge will be the interaction of the internal processes on the ships with the external sensor and active networks.

The time horizon to be taken into account for the developing threats and technologies is between 2030 and 2075. This requires planners and architects to look into the crystal ball.

It is precisely for this reason that it is important to make specifications for the specific equipment of the F 127 as late and as flexibly or modularly as possible. With these ships, the German Navy will have a future-proof and assertive platform that has the potential for flexible adjustments to changing threats. F 127 will be the backbone of the fleet by mid-century.

The article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of the journalMarine Forum, the publication of the Navy Officers' Association (MOV).

Author: Commander Andreas Uhlis authorized representative F 127 in the naval command Rostock in the planning department.

The author became ship operations officer of the destroyer Mölders in 1997. Since then he has accompanied the development of air defense capability in various posts
of the German Navy and its ability to grow. When the frigate Sachsen was commissioned, he was its first officer. Since January 2019 he has been the authorized representative of the Navy for the pre-analysis phase of the Next Generation Frigate (F 127). From the mid-2030s, the F 127-class frigates are intended to maintain the capabilities of the F 124 frigates, which will then have reached the end of their service life, against contemporary threats - and in addition to provide additional new capabilities against ballistic and hypersonic threats as required by NATO.