Germany’s F125 Special Forces and Stabilization Frigates

There is general acknowledgment in global naval circles that many future operations are going to involve shallow littoral chokepoints for maritime trade, operations in and around failed states like Somalia, and expeditionary stabilization operations. That realization has driven a number of approaches to naval construction.
In the Netherlands, Royal Schelde’s Sigma Ships are designed in block modules, which can be added or subtracted to build anything from an offshore patrol vessel to a large frigate. Denmark is already building its Flyverfisken Class and Absalon Class ships, which pioneered the mission module concept and can be used in roles ranging ranging from mine or sub hunting, to anti-ship warfare/ land attack, to carrying troops. Sweden’s Visby Class stealth corvettes are attracting renewed American attention, and helped to inspire the American concept of the Littoral Combat Ship – which has been criticized for its cost, and for packing less punch and having less high-end armament flexibility than any competitor.
Germany’s response has been the F125 frigate, which might best be described as an “expeditionary frigate” design. It doesn’t use the Danish or American mission module concept, but does include a number of features aimed at making it a strong contributor to long international deployments in littoral environments, and to naval support for stabilization operations.

One of the F125’s most challenging demands was the benchmark of a ship that can deploy for up to 2 years away from home ports, while maintaining an average time at sea of more than 5,000 hours per year (almost 60%). The ships will use a CODAG (COmbined Diesel-electric And Gas) propulsion system that offers more distributed power generation, as well as quieter operation. Dual redundancy uses the “two island principle,” ensuring that key items are present in at least 2 different locations in case of breakdown or battle damage. The superstructure itself is split into two larger pyramidal deckhouses, as a partial reflection of this principle.
The small 120-person crew continues a naval trend, and German doctrine aims to take a leaf from the US Navy by bringing the new crew to the ship when rotation is required.
Guidance and surveillance will involve an active phased array radar, which will be divided between the 2 deckhouses. In addition to offering dual-island resiliency, an active array system offers all of its corollary improvements in reliability, sensitivity, and multi-targeting capabilities over passive phased array radars. Various electro-optical systems will be used for passive short range surveillance that cannot be picked up by enemy sensors.
Once targets are detected, the F125 frigates’ main armament will be a 127mm Oto Melara lightweight gun for anti-surface warfare and naval gunfire support, which has the ability to fire Vulcano long-range attack rounds with a range of up to 100km. Harpoon Block II missiles provide the ship’s initial set of naval and land strike punch until a successor system is chosen.

The F125 ships were originally slated to mount naval versions of the Bundeswehr’s M270 MLRS rocket launcher and PzH-2000 155mm Mobile howitzer. The MONARC system solved some of the challenges with recoil management via an intricate mounting; nevertheless, the work required to modify these Army systems to fit in a frigate sized ship, and to cope with the hostile naval environment, eventually doomed both concepts.
Two stations can mount the German-American MK44 Rolling Airframe Missile system for for short range protection against anti-ship missiles, aircraft and helicopters. For very close-in defense, each ship will mount 5 of Mauser’s 27mm MLG remote-controlled cannons, and another 5 of Oto Melara’s 12.7mm/.50 caliber Hitrole-NT RWS to counter small boats and other asymmetric threats likely to be encountered on anti-piracy and stabilization operations. A couple of manned 12.7mm machine guns will be used as a last-ditch backup in case of power failure or other issues, and the ARGE consortium is looking at mounting non-lethal weapons such as water cannons, ultra-high intensity lights, et. al.
The ships’ most unusual, and potent weapon may well be a human one. The F125 is designed to support up to 50 special forces, along with space for 2 NH90 helicopters and/or 2-4 armed small boats.
Delivery of the first frigate is scheduled for 2014, and the 4th ship is slated for delivery by 2017.

Oct 14/08: Siemens Marine announces a EUR 50 million (currently about $67 million) order from the ARGE consortium of Krupp Marine Systems AG and Fr. Lürssen Werft GmbH & Co. KG. Siemens will equip 4 German F125 Class frigates with propulsion equipment and integrated automation and control systems. The F125s will be Germany’s first ships to use a CODAG (COmbined Diesel-electric And Gas-turbine) electric propulsion system
Siemens products will be related to its SINAVY product line, and include the electrical propulsion system, consisting of 2 4.5 MW electric motors with the associated converters, the electronic control unit and the medium-voltage switchgear. For control and monitoring purposes, an integrated control and automation system for on-board ship equipment (ILASST) will be installed, including a battle damage control system (BDCS) and an on-board training system (OBTS). The firm claims that even after delivery, these systems will help them provide comprehensive life-cycle support for the frigates. Siemens release.

June 26/07: The German Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement (BWB) signs the construction order for 4 F125 Class frigates. The contract is awarded to ARGE F125, an industrial consortium formed by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Fr. Lürssen Werft. The initial batch of 4 ships is estimated to cost about EUR 2.2 billion ($2.96 billion). BWB release.

April 4/07: Finmeccanica subsidiary OTO Melara announces a EUR 80 million (currently about $108 million) pair of orders for naval gun systems to be mounted on Germany’s F125 frigates. The first contract worth EUR 70 million is for the supply of 5 of its 127/54 LW (Light Weight) gun systems: 4 for the frigates, and 1 for training. The Germans had originally looked at mounting their MONARC 155mm howitzer on the F125s, but this order appears to mark the definitive end of those plans.
Germany has also selected the remote-controlled Hitrole 12.7mm remote-control turret in the new Naval Tilting (NT) version. OTO Melara will provide a total of 25 12.7mm Hitrole-NT systems under the ER 10 million contract: 5 on board each of the 4 frigates (TL = 20) and 5 on land for training purposes. The Hitrole RWS is currently serving with the Italian finance police and the UAE and Mexican navies, among others.

March 10/06: EADS announces that the “Workgroup for the F125 Frigate” chose them to supply the command & control and weapons deployment system (Fuhrungs und Waffeneinsatzsystem – FUWES), including development and delivery of the complete software, hardware and infrastructure, and performance verification for all 4 ships.FUWES is based on the technology used for EADS’ Advanced Naval Combat System (ANCS) which is already being successfully used in Finland’s Hamina class Fast Attack Craft. It adds components that are already successfully deployed on Germany’s new F124 Sachsen Class air defense frigates and K130 Braunschweig Class corvettes.


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