The View From Olympus: Building SMS Pinafore

An article in the January 13-14, 2018 issue of The Wall Street Journal, “Germans Engineer Faulty Warship”, reported on the debacle with the lead ship of Germany’s new F125 class frigate.  In December, 2017, the ship failed its sea trials.  The Journal wrote that

The 7000 to Baden-Wurttemberg frigate was determined last month to have an unexpected design flaw: it doesn’t really work.

Defense experts cite the warship’s buggy software and ill-considered arsenal – as well as what was until recently its noticeable list to starboard – as symptoms of deeper, more intractable problems: Shrinking military expertise and growing confusion among German leaders about what the country’s armed forces are for.

The problem of poor warship design is not limited to Germany.  The United States is currently building the first Fordclass aircraft carrier, which also doesn’t work.  The new-design, hi-tech catapult and arresting gear not only do not work, they cannot be replaced with the tested and proven steam catapults used by other carriers because the ship’s power plant cannot deliver the required steam pressure.  The U.S. Navy bet the ship on an untried system and lost.  Perhaps it’s just as well; the main combat aircraft the Ford is intended to carry, the F-35, has been found “unsuitable for carrier operations” by Navy test pilots.  So we have the perfect Leibnitzian monad: a plane that cannot be flown from carriers for a carrier that cannot launch or recover aircraft.  But don’t worry: Congress has already approved two more Fordclass ships.  The money will keep flowing even if it’s straight down the toilet.

The German F125 class frigate is emblematic of a type of warship built all around the world that is useless for combat.  Its armament is tiny – one gun, a few missile launchers and no torpedo tubes for a 7000 ton ship.  It has essentially no armor and no ability to take hits, especially with its tiny crew of just 120 men, too few for damage control.  It is to cost 650 million Euros, which means only four can be built to replace eight F122 class ships.  It adds up to SMS Pinafore, a comic-opera ship best suited for snapping its fingers at the foeman’s taunts while riding at anchor.  The Kaiserliche Marine would have laughed at such a “warship”.  Today’s German Navy would be better off building Mackensen-class battle cruisers.

As Senator Gary Hart and I argued in the early 1980s in our book America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform, the modern warship is a commercial hull and propulsion plant with modularized weapons and sensors.  Such ships can be large and survivable; merchant tonnage is cheap, and most of it can be filled with something fireproof that floats.  Merchant ship propulsion plants can give you any speed you want.  With modularized weapons and sensors, these ships can fill any role and quickly adapt from one role to another.  The ARAPAHO program showed they can easily serve as aircraft carriers with VSTOL aircraft.

The Wall Street Journal rightly goes on to look beyond ship design to the issue bedeviling not only Germany but all European countries: what are state armed forces now for?: “But experts say military efforts have also been hampered by the lack of a strategic vision for Germany’s armed forces, resulting in vague, hard-to-execute briefs.”

The strategic environment for which Germany’s armed forces and those of the rest of Europe should be designed will be defined by a new era of Volkerwanderung, of the migration of whole peoples.  Germany has already found itself in this new era, and could not have handled it worse.  Thanks to Chancellor Merkel Germany welcomed a million foreign invaders.  It is now paying the price in a million ways, including the loss of safety for Germans in public places.

But Germans, with other Europeans, are rebelling against the cultural Marxism that demands they invite in the new barbarians.  So what should be the mission of the German armed forces when Germany gets a government that wants to defend the country?  Obviously, preventing Volkerwanderung from rolling over Germany.  For the German Navy, that means ships for sinking the migrants’ ships and boats and a strong amphibious capability for sending home those who get through.  The strategic picture could not be more clear, and the tactical capabilities are easily met with adapted merchant ships so far as surface warships are concerned.  Germany will also need long-range U-boats; it will sometimes be useful for migrants’ ships to be spurlos versenkt.

Maybe the F125 class frigates can be sold to China.  The Chinese appear willing to buy anything.


Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

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