NEWTOWN, Conn. -- After years of waiting the German Navy has finally commissioned into service the first of its new-generation "super frigates", the F125 Baden Wurttemberg, on June 17.
The tortured path of bringing the new-generation F125 into service dates back to the mid-2000s when defense planners sought a type of ship to partially replace the German Navy's eight legacy Bremen class F122 frigates.
Seeking a multi-mission platform to reduce the need for a like-for-like ship replacement - thereby ensuring lower maintenance, operational and personnel costs during a time of declining defense investment - the German military opted for the world's largest frigate design at 7,000 tons.
The thinking behind this selection was the idea that these ships would ostensibly be able to deploy far from home waters for up to two years with minimal port calls - all while being operated by smaller crews than those serving on the F122 predecessors.
In June 2007 the project got underway with contracts worth EUR2.27 billion ($3 billion at the time) inked with the ARGE F125 consortium (comprising ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems as lead contractor and Friedrich Lurssen Werft and Blohm + Voss as supporting contractors) for four ships.
Production of the lead ship Baden-Württemberg began in June 2011 and its christening followed in 2013. Delivery of the ship was originally scheduled for 2014-15. This was then pushed out to 2017 as problems cropped up during construction.
By May 2017 a report emerged that the much-delayed F125 class of frigates were overweight and slightly listing by 1.3 degrees starboard. The German Defense Ministry responded to the leaked confidential report by saying that all design and performance parameters would be met and that some initial degree of listing is a common occurrence in a new ship line, but that industry would rectify the issue with appropriate countermeasures.
Yet in December 2017 the ship was determined to be un-seaworthy by the German Navy following a trial period, marking the first time the service had rejected a warship for failing to meet minimum operating standards. Having failed its sea trials German naval officials essentially returned the ship to its builder. Indications at the time were that the ship's central computing system, radar, and electronics and the flameproof coating on its fuel tanks all proved to be problematic or insufficient.
While ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems' insisted that all issues would be corrected and the ship delivered in 2018, official entry into service continued to be delayed.
And despite the news of the Baden-Württemberg's commissioning there remain concerns in some corners that the entire F125 class represents an expensive, unworkable naval surface warfare platform that will prove expensive for the German Navy to maintain and incapable of tackling Russian submarines due to the absence of anti-submarine sonar and anti-submarine warfare weaponry (the ships are, however, capable of carrying two NFH90 Sea Lion helicopters aboard).
Lacking area air defense capability - just two 21 cell RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile close-in weapons system turrets for point defense - the ships are also potentially susceptible to enemy attacks. And the ships are slow - capable of achieving top speeds of no more than 26 knots (30mph).
The F125s are primarily intended for low-threat environments with stabilization, crisis-management and conflict preventions missions once in service. Hence, despite their large size the new frigates are more suited for tackling lower-intensity operations - such as defending against asymmetric threats, providing tactical fire support for troops on shore, plus support for Special Forces and for evacuation missions - than for high-intensity surface warfare.
Rather than acting as true warships these ships therefore appear designed more for diplomatic (showing the flag and port calls) heft and counter-piracy missions - a distinction which no doubt suits the German political and foreign policy establishment just fine.
With the Baden-Württemberg having finally entered service the German Navy now awaits handover of the remainder of the class, with second ship North Rhine-Westphalia slated for delivery this year and the other two ships, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt, following successively through 2021.