Germany: the MKS-180 viewed from France

While DefenceChronicles released its new article on the fierce German debate around the MKS-180, the famous Mer&Marine webzine published an article on the same topic [1]. This kind of French articles is rare, so we decided to translate it and publish it.

« MKS 180: a question of sovereignty for the German shipbuilding industry »

Posted on 21/11/2019 by Vincent Groizeleau

« It is the largest naval procurement program that Germany plans to launch since the Second World War. A contract of €4 to €6 billion for the development and construction of four to six high-tonnage combat ships, very versatile and designed to support lvery long-range operations against all types of threats, including high intensity conflicts.

These units will look like frigates, but with extensive capabilities in many areas and a particularly large size, related to the capabilities required by the Bundeswehr for large deployments, and will retain the possibility of significant upgrades. We are talking about ships about 160 meters long, more than 25 meters wide and with a displacement heavier than 10,000 tons. They will be equipped for air defense, land attack and the projection of special forces, anti-surface, anti-submarine and asymmetric threats, as well as assistance in humanitarian operations.

First European project of its kind submitted to an international competition

 

A program as complex as major that also shakes the walls in Germany. Because with MKS 180, the German industry specializing in surface military ships plays its position and, probably, much of its future.

For the first time in an EU country with the necessary national capacities, Germany has chosen, when the MKS 180 procurement procedure was launched in July 2015, to open the competition at a European level. A surprising decision, because for contracts as strategic as the MKS-180, Germany and other European countries with a powerful naval industrial base and strong export challenges (France, Italy and Spain in particular), have never put their own manufacturers in competition, thus facing the risk of a defeat. This decision was probably related to the setbacks experienced by the German Navy with its last two combat vessel programs, the K130 corvettes and the F125 frigates, which encountered serious technical problems, additional costs and significant delays.

By launching an international procurement procedure, the German authorities have probably wanted to slam their fists on the table in order to force the country’s industrialists, especially TKMS, to take the measure of discontent and fix the problems in the future.

The message has apparently been received, but now the program must remain  into German hands. Indeed, if the proposals of the Italians, French and other Spaniards have been gradually removed, the Dutch are today in the final, and apparently, have all their chances. Thus, the Damen group, allied with the German shipyard Lürssen, cleverly managed to maneuver to the final stage of the competition, with an offer based on one of its design and industrial assembly shared with Lürssen.

Alliance between German Naval Yards and TKMS

The threat was considered sufficently serious enough that in the summer of 2018, TKMS, which has been ousted by the MoD, announced its alliance with the German Naval Yards in Kiel (where is also the  submarine construction site, the two companies sharing part of the site).

 

For the record, GNY is the successor of the former division of HDW specialized in surface buildings, an sold with part of the sites of Kiel in 2011 by TKMS to Privinvest, the holding of Iskandar Safa who also owns the German shipyards Nobisbrug (yachts) and Lindenau (ship repair), as well as the French yard CMN Cherbourg (corvettes, PBs and FACs). Since then, TKMS has always been present in the surface unit market, but has retained only engineering.

This alliance, in which GNY is leader and TKMS subcontractor, has recently submitted an offer which intends, with the support of very powerful regional and local governments, to lobby with a maximum pressure on the Federal State and the Parliament in the face of the Dutch solution.

German industrialists also point out that their attempts to contribute to the project of future Dutch frigates have been dismissed, the Netherlands apparently not intending to consider any other solution than Damen’s one.

This explains why in the competition for the future Dutch submarines, the chances of TKMS would be reduced at this stage against the two offers considered as having the best chances: Damen allied with the Swedish Saab, and Naval Group in cooperation with the Dutch shipyard Royal IHC.

Export customers waiting for the outcome of the competition

 

Behind all this case, there is also the fact that, since the setbacks of the K130 and F125, many foreign customers are waiting to see what will be the position of the German authorities on the MKS 180.

Damen would achieve a great leap forward if its design was retained, and would therefore be able to compete with German positions in the heavily armed combatant segment.

On the contray, the scenario seeing a defeat of GNY and TKMS would be a serious blow for the two German manufacturers, with potentially catastrophic consequences on the export market. How can one remain credible when one’s own government chooses a foreign solution? The very future of GNY and TKMS in surface combatant ships (where consolidation is still hoped by some in the long term) would be at least very fragile, if not threatened, since missing a program like MKS 180 would be a crucial lack, not only in production, but also -and above all- in engineering and therefore maintenance and development of skills in German design offices.

The choice should be announced early 2020

Viewed from countries like France, such a scenario would be unthinkable, and it is hard to imagine that Germany is heading towards this direction. But in the aera of Kiel, as Mer& Marine could see it last week on spot, the fears are very real.

At the initiative of local and federal politicians, work is also underway in the German Parliament to change the law so it could protect the strategic activities such the Naval surface construction.

To come back to MKS 180, last July, the manufacturers made their best and final offer. If all goes as planned, the German government should select the winner in the first months of next year. The construction of the first MKS-180 should then begin in 2021, with the completion of the program at 2028.

More programs to come for the German Navy

After the MKS 180 program, there are  crucial issues for both domestic and export markets. The MKS-180 will start the full modernization of the German Navy: replacement of two old tankers/oilers of Type 704 dating from 1974/75 by double-hull tankers. Then there will be the succession of five Type 404 multi-purpose supply ships commissioned in 1993/94, the replacement of the three Type 423 intelligence-gathering vessels operating since 1988/89 and the ten fleet-Type 332 between 1993 and 1998. The whole plan (F-125 included) represents an investment valued at more than 17 billion euros. ».

[1] : https://www.meretmarine.com/fr/content/mks-180-une-question-de-souverainete-pour-lindustrie-navale-allemande.

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