German Navy to Modernize its F124 Sachsen-class Frigates with New Radar to Join NATO BMD

Naval Forces News - Germany
German Navy to Modernize its Sachsen-class Frigates with New Radar to Join NATO BMD
The German Navy (Marine) announced that the Bundeswehr (armed forces) has taken an important decision on NATO ballistic missile defense: The three F124 Sachsen-class frigates will be upgraded with a new radar and will become a building block of the complex sea-based system for the protection of Europe against weapons of mass destruction.
German Navy FGS HAMBURG Sachsen class frigateThe Sachsen-class Frigate Hamburg at sea. Picture: German Navy
"Thus the Bundeswehr fulfills a fundamental expectation of the alliance ", explains Commander (Fregattenkapitän) Andreas Uhl, director in the planning department of the naval command in Rostock. Since 2010, NATO has been building a complex system for the defense of medium and long-range missiles called "Ballistic Missile Defense", which is designed to protect the alliance and its populations against increasingly widespread missiles with weapons of mass destruction.

In the future, the German Navy will therefore supplement this NATO anti-missile system with a sea-based radar. The basis: On 1 December 2016, General Volker Wieker, General Engineer of the German Armed Forces, decided on the possible solution in the project "Obsolescence removal and ability expansion in the air defense frigate F124".

Since their commissioning, the three Sachsen-class frigates have been equipped with the SMART-L search radar from Thales Nederland. Its range of around 400 kilometers covers, for example, far more than the entire German coast from Emden to Usedom. The system, however, will become obsolete from about 2020. The Dutch Navy, which also uses the SMART-L, will then upgrade its four equipped ships to a newer version. The Danish Navy's three most modern frigates are equipped with SMART-L as well and the Danish Navy is considering a BMD upgrade as well for one vessel.

In order to remove the obsolescence of the radar and at the same time to fulfill NATO's missile defense - the Bundeswehr decided not only to modernize the long range radars of the Sachsen-class, but also to expand its range of applications. The vessels will no longer be limited to prosecuting attacking aircraft and rockets in the airspace around around the ship, but it will also warn against ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere (in space).
SMART L EWCOutput from a SMART-L EWC radar. Note the sattelite tracks. Picture: Royal Netherlands Navy Chief's twitter account.
Navy Recognition undestands that the Bundeswehr is looking for an "off the shelf, immediatly available" technology. The natural choice appears to be the SMART-L Early Warning Capability (EWC) by Thales Netherlands. Contacted by Navy Recognition, a representative refused to make any comment regarding the German Navy plans. Asked about the differences between existing SMART-L and the EWC variant, we were explained that it is "not just a software upgrade". The two variants may look similar from the outside but their hardware is actually quite different. For starters, the first one is a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) while the EWC variant is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar designed to detect air, surface, and high-speed exo-atmospheric targets. It uses Gallium Nitride technology known to improve radar reliability, range, and coverage.
NATO bmd def architectureThe architecture of NATO ballistic missile defense, as of 2016. In a few years, the frigates of the Sachsen-class will be part of the sea-based radar. Picture: German Navy
A new contribution to the European NATO BMD

The Ballistic Missile Defense role mainly relies on US destroyers today. From about 2025 it could also involve Belgian ships. The country joined a NATO missile defense project group at the end of October, to which Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands belonged so far. At the same time, it has committed itself to contribute to the group's ability to actively defend itself - in addition to the pure sensors on Dutch, Danish and soon German ships. The Belgian naval forces already cooperate very closely with the Royal Netherlands Navy and, together with their new frigates, are equipped with extensive interceptors, "exo-atmospheric interceptors".

The focus of this project group, under German leadership since May 2015, has been the early warning for NATO air defense with the so-called target assignment for American interceptors. The performance spectrum of the European Alliance partners will significantly expand with the new German and the new Belgian contribution - and will substantially strengthen the defense of NATO as a whole.

Ballistic Missile Defense "against mass destruction weapons

Experts have warned of the global spread of long-range missiles. According to estimates, more than 30 countries around the world now have the technology to build missiles of 1,000 kilometers range or more - from the so-called mid-range to intercontinental rocket. Such missiles follow a ballistic trajectory, that is, they leave the Earth's atmosphere in a high arc for a part of the route to their destination before they strike.

These missiles are particularly dangerous because they can potentially be equipped with weapons of mass destruction. If their "payload" is nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, they are not only threatening punctual military targets, such as the runway of an airfield, but the whole airfield and all the inhabitants in its neighborhood.

Among other Alexander Vershbow, Deputy NATO Secretary General, described the military counter-measures of the Atlantic Alliance at an international conference in May as purely defensive: "Our ballistic missile defense is designed to defend our territory, our populations and our troops against a range of threats , which come from outside the European-Atlantic area. "