Tag Archives: German Navy

The Baltic Sea and Current German Naval Strategy

The following article is adapted from part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings.

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

With the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine since early 2014, the Baltic Sea is suddenly thrust back into the spotlight of naval planners, policy analysts, and students of strategic geography alike.1 This article lays out some principles of looking at the Baltic Sea through the lens of the German Navy, which – while busy conducting a host of maritime security operations (MSO) in such far-flung places as the Horn of Africa, the coast of Lebanon, and the Central Mediterranean for more than two decades – finds itself returning conceptually to one of its home waters. It was the Baltic Sea and related military contingencies that dominated Germany’s naval DNA during the Cold War. Operating in the Baltic Sea was a fundamental part of the German Bundesmarine (Federal German Navy) coming-of-age. In fact, some of the legacy platforms still operated by the German Navy stem from an era that was entirely focused on the shallow and confined waters between Jutland, Bornholm, and farther east.

BalticSea
The Baltic Sea. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Since 2014, Germany finds itself in need to return to the Baltic Sea operationally, conceptually, and strategically. However, with a smaller navy increasingly stretched for resources, manpower and vessels, Germany cannot afford the luxury of ignoring other maritime security focus areas of the world worthy of a more expeditionary navy. This spells hard choices for the German Navy and its political masters who have depleted many maritime resources while simultaneously expanding the naval operational portfolio. To underline the conceptual reorientation that this strategic challenge demands, this essay first sketches what characterizes this ‘third phase’ of the German Navy (the first phase being the coastal/escort West-German Navy period from 1956 to about 1990, the second phase the expeditionary period from 1990 to about 2014). Second, the piece will discuss a few of the current political dynamics as they relate to naval and political relationships in the Baltic Sea in particular and the German Navy in general. Third, this essay addresses some of the fundamental naval-strategic shortcomings that put a coherent and believable strategic approach at risk. Fourth and finally, a handful of policy recommendations are provided.2

Three Phases of the Modern German Navy

To put the recent challenges to the German Navy into perspective, just as the service is celebrating its 60th anniversary, it is instructive to briefly touch upon some of the conceptual and intellectual frameworks that govern German maritime and naval strategy. Problems with periodization aside, it is helpful to frame the strategic evolution of the German Navy and how it is intellectually and conceptually approaching the return of the Baltic Sea as an area of responsibility.  

The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and were a mainstay in Kiel naval base (photo: Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).
The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and a mainstay in Kiel naval base (Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).

In very broad terms, the ‘first phase’ of the modern German Navy – keeping in mind that the navies before 1945 officially hold no traditional value for the post-war service and are consequently not a point of departure 3  – ran from the inception of the Bundesmarine in 1956 to German reunification in 1990.4 After the devastation of World War II and the demise of the Third Reich, only ten years passed until Germany once again fielded a military. Before the German flag was hoisted again on a warship, a handful of predecessor organizations existed for tasks such as mine-clearing, intelligence gathering, and border patrol. When the Bundesmarine came into being, it was a product of the emerging Cold War and the bipolar world order. There was considerable Anglo-American support after 1945, both covertly and openly, for a new German maritime defense.5 In contrast to the grander aspirations of the decades before, the West German navy was limited to coastal defense (including mine warfare, submarine operations, and air defense) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. From the outset and bound by constitutional and political imperatives, the German navy fashioned itself as a territorial defense and alliance force with strict limitations on where and how to operate. Its geographic restriction was eased in the 1970s when missions such as convoy protection in the North Atlantic emerged and more trust was bestowed by NATO allies on West Germany as well as the modernized equipment its navy fielded. From 1980, the Concept of Maritime Operations (CONMAROPS) integrated German posture in the Baltic Sea into the broader NATO-led maritime defense:

“CONMAROPS highlighted the importance of containing Soviet forces through forward operations, of conducting defense in depth, and of gaining and maintaining the initiative at sea. CONMAROPS was based first on deterrence. Should deterrence fail, the strategy was designed to mount a defense far forward in order to protect the territory of the alliance’s European member nations. The concept bracketed NATO’s naval operations into five operational areas or campaigns: the Mediterranean lifelines, the eastern Mediterranean, the Atlantic lifelines, the ‘shallow seas,’ and the Norwegian Sea.” (Børresen 2011: 99)

While increasing cooperation and temporary integration into the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) became an integral part of the maritime mindset, Baltic contingencies still formed a key pillar of German strategic naval DNA. The fleet of diesel submarines, mine warfare ships, fast-patrol boats, anti-submarine and air warfare destroyers and frigates, as well as naval warplanes, reflected this.  

Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (Photo: German Navy).
Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (German Navy).

The ‘second phase’ of the German Navy began with the transition from the Cold War posture and lasted for more or less a quarter of a century. The 1990-2014 timeframe was initially characterized by the absorption of the East-German Navy and a shrinking set of assets in the wake of a dramatically changing strategic environment. Real-world crises from 1990 onward mandated a transition of the German escort navy to a more expeditionary force (Chiari 2007: 139). Consequently, the German Navy was no longer confined to waters in its near abroad. Instead, it practiced more diverse, but nonetheless challenging operations in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf (Bruns 2016a: 285-287).

Politically, the Baltic Sea, once a contested and disputed area between the East and the West, became a true ‘NATO lake’ with the accession of former Warsaw Pact member states to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and 2004, respectively. To address maritime security and safety challenges, a set of governance regimes was installed, most notably the Maritime Surveillance network (MARSUR) for maritime situational awareness and Sea Surveillance for the Baltic Sea (SUCBAS). The military integration along the Baltic littoral was complemented politically and economically by the expansion of the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.6 In the absence of the very Cold War scenarios that the German Navy had practiced for until 1990, the Baltic Sea became little more than a ‘flooded meadow’7 – a site for training and testing, or a theatre of Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives with non-NATO members. The commercial use of the Baltic Sea rose significantly with an increase in maritime traffic (both cargo and passenger vessels) and a surge in exploitation of the maritime realm for energy purposes (such as offshore wind farms and gas pipelines), but that did not nearly require as much military attention on the part of Germany as it did in the years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)
The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)

Coupled with the broadened mission set and the distance to the German Navy’s post-Cold War operating areas, this mindset fundamentally shaped how the institution and its people thought about and practiced maritime strategy as a whole. To them, it was something that was designed to address expeditionary challenges in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Africa, or in the Persian Gulf, and nothing that dealt with the ‘Fulda gap’ equivalent at sea near Fehmarn. The Cold War generation of naval leaders and a new generation of officers schooled at fighting pirates, upholding embargoes, providing humanitarian assistance, or patrolling the sea lines of communication existed in parallel for a period of time, often utilizing the very same platforms that were originally designed for fleet-on-fleet tasks envisioned for a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Whereas the warships and maritime patrol aircraft hardly changed, the German naval and maritime strategic horizon, and the public and political understanding of the role and value of the German Navy in the 21st century, did.  

The ‘third phase’ began in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the Ukraine quasi-civil war in 2014. Since Russia’s return to the world stage as a powerful actor willing to use military force rather indiscriminately for political ends, defying the Western model and conceptions about NATO-Russian partnerships, much has changed in threat perception. Spillover effects into the Baltic Sea include Russian harassment of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) as well as Scandinavian allies, the reevaluation of all bilateral and multilateral political and economic relations with Russia, and a significant rearmament of the Kaliningrad exclave. Concurrently, the ever-smaller German Navy, challenged by an unsustainable force structure trajectory which has hampered modernization, readiness, recruitment, and operations, finds itself under significant strain.

German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)
German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)

The German Navy is not the only force which needs to refocus on the Baltic Sea, as Denmark and Sweden have also reduced many of their capabilities that they no longer regarded as necessary for their own maritime transitions since 1990. Still, the German Navy finds itself as the largest Western Navy in the Baltic Sea, despite the transfer of the naval bomber arm to the Luftwaffe in 1993 (and the loss of respective capability), the phasing out of the Bremen-class frigates since 2012, the scheduled decommissioning of the remaining fast-attack boats of the Gepard-class in 2016, and the shrinking of the submarine and mine countermeasures (MCM) force. At the same time, the German Navy is forced to refashion its contribution to German defense and national security. The upcoming White Book on German defense policy (the first since 2006), a new European Union global strategy due out this summer as well, and plans to update NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy (AMS) of 2011 are the push factors that frame how the Navy must articulate its missions. Keeping in mind that strategic cultural change is very hard, if not impossible, to mandate, there are two capstone documents being planned /written to complement and operationalize the White Book. First, a dedicated top-level service vision dubbed Dachdokument Marine,and second, a more focused naval operational strategy dubbed Militärische Seefahrtstrategie. The thrust of both documents is that the German Navy is no longer afforded the luxury of choosing their maritime focus areas. It must be both, a homeland and alliance defense force, as well as a capable integrated regional power projection navy.  

Current Baltic Sea Maritime Challenges

Such a shift of attention and focus is challenging. Until recently, German politics has been very consumed by mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. In fact, not one, but two naval missions (one in the central Mediterranean and one in the Aegean Sea) with significant German Navy participation speak volume to the size of the problem perceived by Berlin – although these missions are hardly what navies are built and maintained for.9 Meanwhile, there is a larger sense in Berlin that the German Navy is overstretched and underfunded. Given its hollow force structure, the dire human resources situation in the wake of transforming the Bundeswehr into an all-volunteer force, and the strain of ever-longer deployments with increasingly overburdened warships, the need for improved strategic guidance and more resources for Berlin’s 911-force of choice is evident.

For the time being, such political challenges cloud the deteriorating relationship with Russia over the Baltic Sea. Russia’s intimidating actions are widely seen with a grain of salt within the security community, but the wider German public is hardly critical of the shift and fails to comprehend Moscow’s motives as well as the complexities of international politics. A case in point was the recent ‘buzzing’ of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Susceptible to Russian and anti-American narratives, it was questioned why the U.S. Navy operated in the Baltic Sea in the first place.

BALTIC SEA - A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) BALTIC
BALTIC SEA – A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

German-Russian relations in the Baltic Sea realm are still fundamentally about economic ties, some with considerable personal investment of high-ranking policy-makers like former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The Northstream pipeline, which transfers Russian gas to Germany on the seabed, might offer a point of departure to exert political leverage on Moscow, but it also raises fears of a tainted German-Russian deal over Central European countries’ national interests, as has happened in the past. For the German Navy, the Baltic Sea has lost little of its ‘flooded meadow’ characteristics, at least when it comes to potential naval missions in the area. Four of the five major German Navy installations (Eckernförde (class 212A submarine base), Kiel (home of Flotilla 1 and the Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters), Neustadt/Holstein (damage control training facility), and Rostock (home of the naval command and home port to the largest German Navy surface combatants in the Baltic Sea) are located here, but conceptual and strategic innovation in terms of smart power beyond good order at sea remain scarce.

German Shortcomings

There are a number of areas where shortcomings are evident, and these need to be addressed now. While it would be easy to simply ask for more money to be poured into the Army and Luftwaffe-centric German defense budget, the more fundamental challenge is that of an intellectual kind. Little has changed from this 2013 assessment:

“The German Navy’s contributions to NATO’s maritime roles fall mainly within the lower end of the operational spectrum. Germany’s cruising navy provides little in the way of power projection but, for out-of-area operations, the fleet adds to alliance maritime security and cooperative security, and, though the sea-control capabilities resident in these platforms, it can contribute to collective defense.” (McGrath 2013: 6)

The question that begs an answer then is just what role sea power plays for the government in Berlin, and just how the German Navy can provide the necessary options to the political decision makers (including the respective price tags).

While Germany is lacking certain capabilities worthy of a medium-sized navy (such as the vaunted joint support ships capable of launching and supporting, amphibious operations from the sea), it is also lacking vocabulary for a more confrontational stance requiring hard-power capabilities on the one hand, and a clearer understanding of the roles and missions of naval forces on the other hand. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone in Berlin or Rostock who is war-gaming in earnest anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) scenarios in the Baltic Sea, or who is discussing with salience the naval side of deterrence and hybrid scenarios in the Mare Balticum. This is all the more discomforting because Germany has signed up to, but obviously not understood, NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy. This document from 2011 contains language that should inform partner nations’ naval outlook. The AMS mentions four areas for alliance naval activity: deterrence and defense, crisis and conflict prevention, partnership and cooperation, and maritime security. If one decides to focus on particular areas over others, such cherry-picking will amount in demonstrating a lack of coherence and conviction, which is both disastrous for the navy as a foreign policy tool, German standing, and for those Baltic Sea neighbors keen for alliance protection.

The challenge for any workable strategy is to prioritize. With finite resources, and certainly for a powerful country such as Germany, the task is to balance the force adequately so that it can do both. It needs to be able to conduct expeditionary operations under an international EU, UN, or NATO mandate together with other navies (think anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia or naval capacity-building such as in Lebanon), and also provide sustained territorial and alliance defense for and from the home waters. A flawed appreciation for strategy or an unwillingness to even think and act strategically is guaranteed to make such endeavors outright impossible. The objective is, to put it in the words of one analyst, “strategic flexibility and ambiguity of response” (Kofman 2016) against a changing strategic landscape in the Baltic Sea. The German government would be well-served to look into the NATO treaty, in particular Article 5, and make all efforts to provide adequate resources for its military to honor previous commitments. It would follow that the German Navy, which has all but lost its ability in many traditional naval mission areas such as anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), would require better intellectual and financial preparation. 

Window of Opportunity: A Few Policy Recommendations

A popular saying notes that in the long-run, the pessimist may be proven right, but the optimist has the better time on the trip. In that spirit, there is a window of opportunity.

First, now is the time for a broader and more focused German maritime and German naval strategy. Self-evidently, these documents would need to carry the thrust of the government and in their scope and relevance not be limited to a particular service or department. They would also need to be deconflicted with the White Book and with relevant emerging EU and NATO strategies, while also honoring commitments from previous national and multinational capstone documents. Such a German naval strategy can focus on high-end design for its forces, extrapolated from its defined naval missions in support of Germany’s security and defense policy.

Second, it would embrace temporary integration with its allies beyond the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) to finally provide teeth to the concept of shared and pooled resources. Third, low-end maritime security operations on the side would still be in the portfolio, but ships and aircraft would do these on the side, so to speak, rather than this being the chief strategic concern.

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)

Fourth, it would address the intellectual gaps that have emerged in Germany on the role of naval forces as a foreign policy tool, speak on contemporary maritime scenarios such as hybrid or asymmetry, and provide a sense of direction for the navy. This would definitely strengthen the European pillar of NATO. A return to the ‘bracketing’ approach of CONMAROPS could serve to connect areas of alliance maritime interests. Fifth, it would give the service and its political masters the sense that the maritime challenges of the 21st century are not entirely new. In fact, such a capstone document could address some of the constants of naval issues and initiate a hard look at recent (Cold War) history to address the dynamics of a forward-operating focus, and the role of maritime power for Germany.

Sixth, a capstone document would give allies (and opponents) the opportunity to read about what Germany is up to in the maritime domain. It would sketch avenues to engage with the German Navy. This could mean more exercises, also in the Baltic Sea and beyond such established annual events as BALTOPS. Eventually, it would also provide a sense of direction for those countries in the Baltic who feel most threatened.

It should not come as a surprise that the Baltics are determined to defend against Russia, but they seek German leadership as a responsible lead nation in the Baltic Sea area. Germany should take this seriously.

Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK). He recently published the edited volume Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security (London 2016) together with Joachim Krause. Dr. Bruns, a former Congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., is also one of the project directors of the Kiel Conference on maritime security challenges, soon in its third iteration. This article is part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings, available upon request by e-mail or online (www.ispk.org).

Endnotes

Børresen, Jacob (2011), Alliance Naval Strategies and Norway in the Final Years of the Cold War, Naval War College Review Vol. 64 (2), 97-115.

Breyer, Siegfried/Lapp, Peter Joachim (1985), Die Volksmarine der DDR: Entwicklung, Aufgaben, Ausrüstung, Bonn: Bernhard & Graefe.

Bruns, Sebastian (2016b), A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 March 2016, http://cimsec.org/a-call-for-an-eu-auxiliary-navy-under-german-leadership/22385 (18 May 2016).

Bruns, Sebastian (2016a), Elements of Twenty-First-Century German Naval Strategy, in: Joachim Krause/Sebastian Bruns (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, London: Routledge, 283-295.

Bruns, Sebastian (2005), “The Role of the United States Navy in the Formation and Development of the Federal German Navy, 1945-1970”, Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/the-role-of-the-united-states-navy-in-the-formation-and-development-of-the-federal-german-navy-1945-1970.html (18 May 2016).

Chiari, Bernard (2007), Von der Escort Navy zur Expeditionary Navy: Der deutsche Marineeinsatz am Horn von Afrika, in: Wegweiser zur Geschichte. Horn von Afrika, im Auftrag des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes herausgegeben von Dieter H. Kollmer und Andreas Mückusch, Paderborn et al.: Schöningh, 126-139.

Kofman, Michael (2016), “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia”, Warontherocks, 12 May 2016, http://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/ (26 May 2016). 

McGrath, Bryan (2013), “NATO at Sea: Trends in Allied Naval Power”, National Security Outlook No. 3, Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute.

Peifer, Douglas (2002), The Three German Navies: Dissolution, Transition, and New Beginnings, 1945-1960, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Pfeiffer, Ingo (2014), Seestreitkräfte der DDR. Abriss 1955-1990, Berlin: Miles.

1. A selection of further reading (of only the very recent analyses) includes Lucas, Edward (2015), “The Coming Storm. Baltic Sea Security Report”, Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), Washington, D.C.; Lundqvist, Stefan & Widen, JJ (2015), “The New US Maritime Strategy. Implications for the Baltic Sea”, The RUSI Journal, 160:6, pp. 42-48;  Kramer, Franklin & Nordenman, Magnus (2016), “A Maritime Framework for the Baltic Sea Region”, Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Washington, D.C.

2. This chapter is based on a presentation given in Arlington (Virginia), United States, on 21 March 2016. The author wishes to acknowledge the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), sponsor and facilitator of that roundtable discussion, for its support.

3. See Douglas Peifer (2002) for an interpretation which pushes back against the perception that there were little continuities from the Kriegsmarine in the post-World War German navies. Quite the contrary was the case. 

4. The East German Volksmarine (People’s Navy) was disestablished in 1990 with much of its materiel decommissioned/sold; the majority of its officers and enlisted personnel were laid off. The service thus remains but an episode in German naval history without much resonance in its post-1990 DNA and is therefore not subject to deeper consideration for this article. For (German-language) introductions to the Volksmarine, see Siegfried Breyer/Peter Joachim Lapp (1985) and Ingo Pfeiffer (2014).   

5. See Bruns (2005) for an annotated bibliography of U.S. Navy influence on the development of the West-German navy for the 1945-1970 timeframe.

6. The EU has fielded its own Baltic Sea Strategy which focuses entirely on environment and good governance aspects.

7. The Baltic Sea is frequently referred to as little more than a flooded swamp, in particular by members of the German naval community. This affectional characterization is based in the shallow and confined hydrography of this particular body of water and the strategic geography it entails, making it a unique area for naval operations and the political use of sea power. 

8. Full disclosure: This author has been part of the group that was tasked with conceptualizing and writing the drafts of that document.

9. For a pledge to consider establishing an auxiliary navy to address low-end maritime missions (a European Coast Guard by another name), see Sebastian Bruns (2016b).

Featured Image: Corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein ( F 264 ) in magnetic surveying at the Wilhelmshaven Wiesbaden Bridge (Ein Dahmer)

MFP 6: The Fleet of the Future

What will your Navy/Coast Guard look like in 5/10/25/50 years, and how is it different from today?

This is the sixth in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click hereNote: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
In 25 years we will not use aircraft carriers.  Manned jets will also be obsolete.  Helicopters will be manned for logistical flights only.  Pods of “gamer-like” unmanned aerial system (UAS) operators will rotate out for round-the-clock patrol and surveillance.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:

New additions to the hanger bay.
New additions to the hanger bay.

I will take on only the 50-year horizon, and I will start by saying that YES, the aircraft carrier will still be in existence.  Not just because they last for decades, but because of their continuing utility.  At some point in the next two or three decades, we will collectively make the switch to a predominately unmanned carrier air wing.  This will then lead to the construction of a totally new aircraft carrier, one built from the keel up to project unmanned power.  In essence an assembly line whose product is combat power, this vessel would launch (primarily) unmanned platforms on missions, recover them, harness them to an assembly line in which the aircraft receives required maintenance, fuel, new mission planning and new armament—and is then redeployed almost immediately.  Diagnostics would pull aircraft off the line at pre-programmed locations for maintenance that would remove them from the immediate flight cycle.  These aircraft would essentially be a wing, a bomb, fuel, and a computer.  Manned aircraft would fill C2/ABCCC (airborne battlefield) type missions, to include flight following/control of unmanned aircraft of all types.  More combat power will be submerged.  The U.S. mastery of the undersea domain will continue and increase.  Hybrid warships will operate both on and beneath the ocean’s surface.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:
I’m bullish on unmanned systems, which will become increasingly pervasive in the U.S. Navy over the next few decades.  Within 10 years, virtually every surface platform from patrol boats to CVNs (aircraft carriers) will carry one or more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  UAVs in the inventory will likely become more numerous than manned aircraft in the next half-century.  Over a decade of combat has demonstrated that unmanned aircraft are capable of conducting a great many of the missions that have traditionally been performed by manned aircraft, especially scouting and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).  Strike will be the next mission-area to benefit from long-endurance UAVs, then airborne electronic attack (AEA), and eventually air-to-air combat.  The impediments to these changes are more cultural than technical.

The outcome of two programs, in particular, will be critical determinants of whether unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) are introduced into the fleet to the same extent as unmanned air systems.  On the surface side, SAIC’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is an interesting concept, which if successful, will reverse some of the asymmetry associated with the proliferation of quiet diesel submarines.  On the undersea side, the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Innovative Naval Prototype (LDUUV INP) will demonstrate whether the physical limitations inherent in unmanned submersible propulsion and endurance can be overcome to produce a useful and flexible combat capability.

Unmanned systems are not a panacea and will never replace the dedicated, capable Sailors that make our navy the most powerful in the world.  These systems and their associated concepts are untested, and it remains to be seen if they can take over, or at least complement, the roles of manned platforms.  Even so, unmanned naval systems will reduce the risk to our Sailors in many mission areas, and if acquired smartly, will realize savings in defense.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:
0-5 Years:  Pretty much the same fleet.  More drones and hybrid-electric drives.  It will be interesting to see what direction the U.S. Navy goes with upcoming design selections on new amphibious ships, and even more so with what capabilities they – and the next batch of destroyers – must have.  Most likely the nation’s economic crunch will place the emphasis on modernized versions of what we already know works, but hopefully not at the expense of finding ways to facilitate cheaper upgrades in the future (for example through modularized components).

5-10 Years:  Early afloat experimentations with directed energy/electric weapon systems (DEEWS), especially for ships’ self-defense.  More ships reach the fleet with drone use integrated into their designs.

10-25 Years:  DEEWS starts to be incorporated into ship design.  Drones increasingly play a greater role, not only performing ISR, but many other forward missions.  If battery capacity and non-traditional energy-generation development trends continue, a lot more widely dispersed, self-sustaining drones that can loiter for months or years deploy on and below the waves.    Specialized Arctic drones and Arctic modifications for manned vessels are developed for operations in the opening and warming, but still harsh, far north due to climate change.

 

Are you in my network?
      Are you in my network?

25-50 Years:  Drones start to factor into presence requirements in ship numbers at the beginning of this time frame as manned vessels (surface or subsurface) become primarily motherships/command and control (C2) network nodes.  Additive manufacturing (3D printers) capabilities are integrated into a number of vessels that serve as mobile production facilities.  These might either be larger manned auxiliaries or dispersed aboard the motherships to facilitate drone production.

The large networks of naval drones increase the Navy’s MDA capabilities to an almost unimaginable level during this time, but the missions of maritime interdiction (boarding) operations, ballistic missile defense, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and of course, showing the flag (good news for waterfront bars worldwide), remain the domain of manned vessels – but they are empowered by their naval drone and mobile production facility capabilities.

In the latter part of this timeframe and beyond, key nodes of unmmaned drone production facilities are located at naval bases and maritime hotspots around the globe and aboard mobile and themselves unmanned and automated.  Some of these may be based on, or tethered to portions of the sea bed that can be exploited using new mining techniques to support the production activities (as well as those aboard vessels with the facilities).  Most manned naval aviation will be over by the end of this timeframe.

One key variable will be whether the militarization of space occurs.  If it does, there will be more emphasis placed on the subsurface drones and undersea production facilities outlined above, as well as a greater push for acceptance of increasing levels of drone autonomy.  In the event of satellite communication disruptions, the network-node motherships can disperse new relay drones to regain control of their network of drones.  For those drone unable to relink to the network the level of autonomy automatically increases upon loss of the connection, allowing the dispersed platforms to continue to carry out their missions.

Rex Buddenberg, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School:
Reread my answer to question 4 – the best clues to a 50-year-ahead question may be found by looking back an equal amount of time.  A lot of the ‘maritime domain awareness’ data exists already.  I’ve seen the yammer about sensors over the years too.  But the extant data is tucked away in some stovepipe.  The big change is that this awareness will increase through integration of information systems.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” (Attributed to, among many other people, Yogi Berra)

The Optimist

2018:  The last of the four new Baden-Württemberg-class frigates is delivered on time and on budget.  Plans for three more frigates are in the making.  The versatile K-131 (MKS 180) corvette is being put into service since 2015.  Eight instead of the planned six vessels are procured.  A marked rise in maritime awareness throughout Germany has led to an increased budget and the establishment of a coordinating position in the Office of the German Federal Chancellor (head of government).  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2023:  The first of the new Joint Support Ships is already in service, the second is on the building ways.  Plans for the replacement of the F-123 and F-124 frigates are on schedule and on budget.  Seapower has been officially recognized as a key tool for German foreign policy by way of a Quadrennial Defense and Security Strategy.  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2028:  The Joint Support Ships and Germany’s strong leadership role in NATO’s Pooling & Sharing Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) project have allowed Germany to play a wider role in international expeditionary operations.  Although the threat level for Germany and German maritime units has steadily increased over the past 15 years, no warship has been lost to enemy action.  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2063:  The German Navy has been fully integrated into a larger North-Central-European Maritime Force.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.  The effects of climate change have long been added to the toolbox of naval forces.

The Pessimist

Bye Bye Baden
Bye Bye Baden

2018:  The F-125 frigates will be delayed by years.  Budget cuts and the sudden demise of the German shipbuilding industry have led to a dramatic loss of building capacity. Politics demand a very isolationist approach to international politics, and the last of the four Baden-Württembergs is subsequently cancelled.  After more than a decade of development, plans for a corvette of the K-131 (MKS-180) class are scrapped.  Only one unit of the planned eight ships has been delivered.  Facing increasingly scarce resources and questionable political priorities, Germany continues to support a Common European Security and Defense policy, or what is left of it.

2023:  Not a single Joint Support Ship has been delivered after inter-service rivalry and broader political trends have torpedoed the whole program.  Facing a dramatic loss of reputation after years of dragging its feet in dealing with the Euro crisis, Germany has lost all of its influence within NATO.  The F-124 and F-125 are pulled out of ballistic missile defense (BMD) roles in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.  The effects of climate change wreak havoc on many countries and regions of the world.

2028:  The German Navy increasingly returns to being a coastal force, integrated with what remains of an ambitious project to organize a German Coast Guard much like the U.S. model.  The North and Baltic Sea with occasional visits to European allied nations are the major operational tasking.  Germany has pulled out of NATO SNMG-1 (-2).  International maneuvers and exercises largely by-pass Germany.

2063:  In the interest of not ending up writing fictional absurdity, I will choose not to answer this question.  My major fears have all been mentioned in the other three pessimist predictions.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:
In 5 and 10 years, our navy will not look different from today.  However, the known unknown is the impact of the Euro Crisis.  Ever-more pressure on our federal budget could lead to the cancellation of projects like the Joint Support Ship or the de-commissioning of several surface vessels.  In terms of operations, nothing will change.  Germany will continue to contribute to maritime UN, NATO, and EU missions as it does now, because it is the most palatable way for Germans to show themselves as an active ally.  Contributing ground troops to missions is highly unpopular over here; hence, sending ships is more comfortable for our decision makers.

How our navy looks in 25 years (2037) and in 50 years (2062) depends on the success or failure of European integration.  If the EU handles its economic crisis and, thereafter, pursues a track to deeper integration, our armed forces will gradually integrate further with those of other European countries.  The more European integration in politics, the more integration follows among European armed forces.  However, the huge question mark is the political will among European governments to pool sovereignty on such a level.  At this time it is highly unlikely.

If European integration fails and Europe turns back to the nation state, Germany is likely to give up all blue water ambitions and focus on coastal defense in the North Sea and the Baltic.  In 2060 Germany is projected to be only the 10th largest economy in the world with a population of around 65-70 million (1/3 older than 60).  Thus, due to its demographic and economic decline, Germany is likely to pursue a much-less ambitious foreign and national security policy, and may even be reluctant to use force abroad.  In this scenario, the German Navy may spend most of the time in its shipyards.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
Unfortunately the U.S. Coast Guard will not look different enough, if the relatively low level of capital investment continue.  Ships being planned now will not be built for 5-10 years.  The last of the Offshore Patrol Cutters, expected to replace our medium endurance cutters, will not be fully operational until approximately 2029, and all will likely still be in the fleet in 50 years.  The oldest of them will only be 44 years old, younger than ships we are replacing now.

I do believe we will see less distinction between search aircraft and rescue aircraft.  Other systems are likely to replace the pure search functions of our fixed wing aircraft, while rescue aircraft will gain greater speed and range as they employ newer technology.  Hopefully in 25 years we will see a new generation of rescue aircraft that have sufficient range and speed to eliminate the separate requirement for long-range search aircraft.

There will also, hopefully, be more information-sharing with other agencies, including comprehensive vessel tracking.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
I can’t imagine.  Drones and missiles versus potential laser-based kill systems and airborne reflectors for over-the-horizon (OTH) interception or deflection.  Ships of increased size due to fuel and power draws for laser systems, if they work, coupled with a mass of smaller automated ships.  Autonomy all depends on what our level of acceptance is for the independence of the machine versus the level of risk we’ll accept from interference, interception, and hijacking.  Of course, perhaps it’ll merely be a pile of rusting LCSs hiding in Singapore.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
I see the U.S. Navy as a little more contracted from what it is today.  With other country’s navies growing, they will want to control their own waters surrounding their country and not as easily permit the United States to do so.  This will impact the size of our fleet overall.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:
If I’m being cynical, I’m not really sure that the future U.S. Navy won’t just be an incrementally better version of today’s fleet (probably smaller due to fixed/smaller budgets and cost growth, and without any major changes in strategy calling for a drastically different kind of fleet).  The current focus on Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) will hopefully bear fruit in a fleet that is stealthier, capable of striking from greater range, and has a better ability to detect threats and manage that command and control/threat data within an afloat task force.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
The signs are clearly pointing to a smaller U.S. Navy, despite the growth in worldwide maritime commitments.  We are already at our smallest point in the last hundred years and show no signs of reaching our goal of a 313-ship Navy anytime soon.  The Navy faces a choice on force structure:  we can attempt to mitigate our smaller size by improving the quality of our limited number of platforms (which are becoming ever more expensive), or we can rethink how we fulfill our maritime mission by producing more platforms with more limited capabilities.  A smaller force demands that we will not have a presence in many areas of the world, and our influence there will wane.  We have to accept that.  Or we can rethink our platforms’ design and mission to mitigate costs and allow the U.S. to maintain a maritime presence in regions critical to national security.  We will have to accept the commensurate risk associated with platforms with more limited (and less costly) capabilities.

Anonymous, USN:
The U.S. Navy will be smaller and weaker at the rate that budgets and policies are going.  Just the other day I openly questioned whether or not we’ll be able to call America’s Navy the finest Navy in the world in 10, 25, or 50 years.

Poland’s Heightened Defense Priorities

           The NSM Coastal Defense System

As national defense gains more attention in Poland, the Navy should benefit after years of neglect.  Specifically, the renewed focus raises hopes that all of the projects laid out in Poland’s recently published modernization plan will receive political support.  During only the last 2 months Poland has declared its intent to participate in NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance project and announced it would join the European Space Agency, mindful that:

Poland’s presence in the ESA will simplify cooperation within international projects that have already started, e.g. the satellite defense agreement with Italy and participation in Multinational Space-based Imaging System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Observation (MUSIS).

The latest news (in Polish) says delivery of the first 12 Naval Strike Missiles (NSM), for the coastal defense battery called NDR (Nadbrzezny Dywizjon Rakietowy), is expected to take place at the end of the month.  Further deliveries will continue until 2015, based on the contract valued at 924M PLN ($280M). 

In the background is a series of political meetings.  On November 12th, the Foreign Ministers and Ministers of Defence from Poland and Sweden held talks about military cooperation and regional security.  As an official MoD newsletter says, it was an “historic first”.  The meeting also highlighted the dual role of navies in war and peacetime, as the Polish Navy plays a role in international cooperation focused on maritime security that is equally a matter of defence and foreign affairs.  In another series of bilateral meetings with the German Minister of Defence, the importance of the Navy was directly raised. 

During the meeting the Ministers talked about bilateral military cooperation and international affairs.  Modernization of the Armed Forces, including modernisation of the Navy, was among the topics as well. 

“Besides air defence and missile defence, modernising the Polish Navy is very important for us.  We carefully observe Germany and its solutions for modernisation of mine-hunters,” Minister Siemoniak said.

Another source (also in Polish) gives a handful of details about the fruits of these engagements, and mentions that specific directives have been issued for the Chiefs of Polish and German Navies, including joint patrolling in the Baltic.  Cooperation with Germany on the industrial level is also highly probable as the Polish Navy prefers austenitic steel for construction of its new mine-hunters and such technology is offered by Luerssen only.

However, intentions remains just intentions without correct financing.  The good news is that project of the 2013 military spending is 6.74% higher compared to 2012, and 12% higher in the case of equipment modernization.  After joining NATO, the Polish navy significantly increased its participation in multinational exercises.  Operational tempo grew, but this was not seen as important tool of diplomacy.  Only recent shift in government interest promise that old and worn out navy platforms will be replaced and properly recognized for the diplomatic role they play.

 

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country