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

December 23, 2016

Navy Recognition:

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.

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).

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….

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