Surface Forces: The Baltic Naval Arms Race

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December 1, 2016: After years of delays (political, financial, technical) Germany has approved the construction of another five K130 corvettes for the navy. These will be somewhat improved versions of the first five and cost about the same. The new K130s are to be in service by 2023. Perhaps the most important factor in this decision 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. The K130s are still basically coast defense ships, but they are also built for 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 eventually the navy would like to have a pair of UAVs on board. If the K130s have no further problems, the navy would like to have at least a dozen of them. The K130s cost about $380 million each.

The 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.

 


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