Germany: surface shipbuilding is a strategic assets!

In a recent article[1], The Guardian has shed the light on a very fashionable topic inside German naval circles: are the technologies used in Naval surface ships a strategic asset? Is German Naval surface shipbuilding key or not for the Standort Deutschland ?

For the British daily, ‘the national security-related argument cited by those favoring a domestic advantage remains murky. It comes down to the interpretation of the term key technology, and whether the surface shipbuilding segment is covered by the definition’.


The 2015 position paper of the Mod: surface shipbuilding is not strategic for Germany!


The article by The Guardian refers to an official document published by the German BMVg and BMWI on the 8th of July 2015 and called: ‘Strategiepapier der Bundesregierung zur Stärkung der Verteidigungsindustrie in Deutschland[2].

It quotes the passage contained in a chapter covering civilian economic objectives for the new government. As for military applications, the coalition agreement defers to a 2015 strategy document released by the Defense Ministry and The Minister for Economy.

This document weights key technologies differently (‘Festlegung von nationalen verteidigungsindustriellen Schlüsseltechnologien’, pages 3 & 4).

According to that document, only the construction of submarines is considered a key technology in the shipbuilding arena: surface ships are to be sourced Europe-wide. Thus astonishing decision is illustrated by the chart (see left).



The 2015 position paper: an astonishing exception in Europe in surface shipbuilding


The battle over the key technology status for surface shipbuilding is far from being over and is at the very heart of the disputed MKS 180 competition. The minimum one can say is that the apparent German doctrine of excluding surface vessels as strategic is quite isolated in Europe: a paradox for country whose naval sector is one of the most powerful in Europe and renowned in the world….

Let us see why.


First and foremost, the current German doctrine is somewhat in contradiction with some passages of the Koalitionsvertrag of March 20183 which forms the very basement of the current Government:

  • Wir bekennen uns zur Industrie: Strategische Industrie- und Innovationspolitik. Ausbau der Industrie 4.0-Aktivitäten. Unterstützung von Schlüsseltechnologien, insbesondere Luft- und Raumfahrt, Maritime Wirtschaft, Mikroelektronik, Batteriezellfertigung, Leichtbau, neue Werkstoffe’ (page 13).


  •  ‘Für ein außenhandelsorientiertes Land wie Deutschland ist eine leistungsstarke, international wettbewerbsfähige maritime Wirtschaft von großer gesamtwirtschaftlicher Bedeutung. Die Ziele der Maritimen Agenda 2025 wollen wir umsetzen und Förderungs- sowie Finanzierungsinstrumente ausbauen.’ (page 58).


Then, the 2015 position paper of the BMWI and BMVg stands against of all European policies in that sector, largely dominated by a wise safeguard of sensitive military national technologies:


In France, the strategic review (October 2017) highlighted the national ambition of a the strategic autonomy in the industrial sector: ‘Maintaining the vitality of this ecosystem is a matter of national sovereignty. Ensuring reliable procurement and support for our armed forces, particularly those with a role in nuclear deterrence, is a prerequisite for France’s freedom of action, making this activity a pillar of its strategic autonomy. More generally, this industrial and technological base feeds the economy and extends France’s influence around the world. Consequently, the DITB must be supported and sustained at all levels (from start-ups to large companies and groups). This support is provided via long-term policies in areas such as research and investment, cooperation, support to exports, acquisitions, and protection with regard to foreign investment.’[4].

If certain domains can be shared with European partners, others are kept under national control. For example, the DGA has issued a European-wide tender for 6 patrol boats for overseas missions, because this domain is not strategic, but for the ‘Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire’ (FTI) which will form, along with the FREMM, the backbone of the surface Fleet of the marine National, will be designed and produced in France by Naval Group and be not open to competition….

In UK, the T-45 and the T-26 are pure national products with key equipments from UK manufacturing supplier’s basis. The MoD will open the competition for the T-31 but only to UK companies (BAES or Babcock UK);

In Italy, the Legge Navale 2014-2015 benefits only to Fincantieri….and the current coalition has clearly stated that the Naval sector is strategic:


In Sweden, the ‘forced buy-back’ of Kockums from TKMS (July 2014) was a direct protectionism of key sensitive technologies, and not only on submarines…;

In Spain, the future frigate ‘F-110’ will be only Spanish with no tender planned…

And last but not least, in the Netherlands, in his interview with De Telegraaf( 4th of May): “As a first customer for innovations, the Navy has always been essential to the Dutch maritime sector (…) And we will continue to do so. This is crucial for the survival of the Dutch military-maritime industry.  » (De marine is als eerste klant bij innovaties altijd essentieel geweest voor de Nederlandse maritieme sector (…) En dat blijven we. Dat is cruciaal voor het voortbestaan van de Nederlandse militair-maritieme industrie.”). The title of the press article was crystal clear: “Marine wil ’eigen’ boten” ( “the Navy wants its own ships”). 

Consequently, the replacement of the “M” frigates will be made on a pure national basis (at Damen) with the Belgian Navy following the Dutch leadership. The Dutch Defence White Paper released on the 26th of March gives a legal basis of this national procurement: “In the case of tendering processes, we will interpret Article 346 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) broadly and thereby take the security interests of the Netherlands into account” (page 15).


German Surface shipbuilding is a strategic asset for Germany


All these European examples (indeed the Treaty on European Union itself!) illustrates that the Naval domain is, whatever the sector (surface or submarine), a vital strategic asset both for the domestic Navy and industry.

Is Germany, surprisingly , the sole exception of this European rule?

In regard to national policies in Europe, the 2015 position paper stands against all the practices and is therefore a ‘curiosity’. At issue are thousands of jobs in northern Germany, plus, a threat to the capability sector so critical to national security that it deserves an exemption from European acquisition requirements.

The government should recognize that beyond the much publicized technical problems encountered by TKMS and Lürssen in the previous orders (K130 and F125), the technologies used for designing and producing a sophisticated surface ship by Germans in Germany is a national strategic asset for Germany.


[1] 1st September, ‘German shipbuilders push for government favor against European rivals’.



[4] Strategic Review, English version, France October 2017, pages 62 & 63.

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