German Frigate the 'Baden-Wurttemberg during a ceremony as the first of a total of four frigates of the class F125, enters service in Wilhelmshaven. Germany, 17 June 2019. EPA-EFE/KARSTEN KLAMA


Design fault blows hole in new German frigates – they ‘cannot defend shipping’


The German Navy’s new frigates have a critical flaw – no third-party defensive rocket capability.

That leaves them incapable of executing one of their main tasks: preventing attacks on merchant shipping.

German newspaper Die Welt, speaking of a “Frigate Fiasco”, reported that the four brand-new German frigate-class Baden-Württemberg vessels, designed for peacekeeping missions, lack a crucial component for countering missile fire directed at other targets.

These F125 frigates have their own air-defence weapons but they are solely used to defend against incoming guided missiles. The ships crucially lack a Vertical Launch System (VLS) or long-range missiles to target those fired at other vessels.

That severely limits their broader defensive effectiveness, military experts say.

The chink in the ships’ armour is said to be down to the designers operating under incorrect assumptions.

The F125-class frigates were originally planned to have been commissioned in 2014. They are now regarded by experts as technologically outdated, which only complicates the situation.

In December 2018, the German Navy refused to commission the first of its new Baden-Württemberg class Type 125 after it failed sea trials. The decision was due in part to what were described as “unresolved hardware and software integration problems”.

With new military crises unfolding internationally, such as those in the Red Sea amid the war in Ukraine, the deficiency in defence capabilities on the German frigates represents what many see as a glaring vulnerability.

The first Baden-Württemberg ship is already at sea. It left in October for its inaugural mission in the Mediterranean and is now off the coast of Lebanon. It is participating in the UNIFlL mission to monitor maritime traffic.

Moving onward to the Red Sea through the Suez Canal would likely be relatively straightforward and the F125 frigates were explicitly designed for long peacekeeping missions such as off the Horn of Africa.

Rebel groups including the Yemeni Houthis, who target Western ships, have capabilities for air attacks, meaning the need for swift and effective naval response – and defence – is paramount, experts point out.

The Yemeni attacks on merchant shipping have long had economic repercussions. Apart from risking being targeted if they do transit the region, many trade ships avoid it altogether.

The price of oil has climbed following several incidents targeting oil tankers. If the Yemeni rebels are successful in closing the route to or through the Suez Canal, they will further disrupt global trade supply networks.

NATO forces have already intercepted several rockets launched at merchant shipping. The US Navy destroyer USS Carney and the French frigate Languedoc are also reported to have recently successfully brought down incoming drones and missiles.

Older German frigates are being modernised and their missile systems and launchers are being updated but the country can currently only offer three ships to engage in effective defence, Die Welt noted.

The new F125s will be likely be phased out of service as early as the mid-2030s, analysts say. First delivery of its replacement class, the F126 is not scheduled for delivery until 2028 at the earliest.