Murphy's Law: Why We Fight

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October 5, 2017: After an unexpected additional year of delay because of yet another lawsuit from a disappointed firm seeking some of the work, Germany has finally approved the construction of another five K130 (Braunschweig class) corvettes for their navy. These lawsuit delays have become increasingly common in the West since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and subsequent major cuts in defense spending. This has been worse lately in Europe because more nations are developing the ability to build modern warships, some for export. This is often part of export deals, where the buyer wants some, or most, of the work to be done in the buyer’s country. This K130 deal was supposed to have been finalized in 2016, and that was after years of political, financial, technical delays. The most recent (and maybe the last) delay was because one of the major shipbuilding firms left out of the deal went to court to get included and did so.

These five new ships will be somewhat improved versions of the first five K130s and cost about $410 million each (8 percent more than the first five). The new K130s are to be in service by 2023, unless there are technical problems similar to what the first five encountered. Perhaps the most important factor in this purchase is the growing threat from Russia, and the K130s were built mainly to protect German coasts, including the one on the Baltic Sea. Another factor is the desire to avoid the technical problems encountered with the first five K130s.

The German Navy commissioned the first of its 1,800 ton K130 ocean-going corvettes in 2008. The K130s were to replace S143/148 class coastal patrol boats, which were designed only for combat along the Baltic Coast. The K130s are designed for moving long distances to support peacekeeping missions, or any other type of mission NATO might have outside of Europe.

The K130 is based on the MEKO-A100 frigate, which is built for export customers. MEKO was a 1970s German shipbuilding concept that created many variants (in terms of size and equipment) from one basic configuration. The K130s can remain at sea for seven days without replenishment, and 21 days if they receive some resupply via helicopter or support ship. The K130s are still basically coast defense ships, but they are also modified to survive long ocean voyages, and are able to proceed at 25-30 kilometers an hour in heavy seas. Top speed is 46 kilometers an hour. The crew of 65 operates a highly automated ship. Actually, crew size can be as small as fifty. Armament consists of a 76mm gun, two 27mm autocannons, two 21 cell Rolling Airframe Missile systems (for missile defense) and four RBS-15 anti-ship missiles. There is a helicopter pad, but only for landing and refueling helicopters. The ships can carry a small helicopter, and the navy has had success in putting two Camcopter helicopter UAVs on board. Camcopters have been around since 2006 and proved very popular and reliable operating off small ships. They weigh 200 kg (440 pounds) each, have six hours endurance and carry the usual day/night vidcams.

If the K130s have no further problems, the navy would like to have at least a dozen of them eventually. The first five K130s didn’t enter service until 2010 because it was found that there was a serious problem with the first ones delivered. It seems that the gearbox for the diesel engines were defective. Some screws came loose, fell into the gears, causing them fail. The gearbox was manufactured by a Swiss firm, and the Swiss reputation for flawless engineering was believed to have made a problem like this nearly impossible. But it turned out that the Swiss subcontracted much of the work to a Polish firm, which did not have the same Swiss standards of engineering excellence. The Germans demanded that the Swiss clear up this mess and delayed the first K130s entering service until 2010. The first two K130s were commissioned in 2008, but were soon decommissioned until the gearbox problems were addressed. Three more K130s were not commissioned until they had any needed modifications to their gearboxes and five were in service by 2013.

 

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