German, Norwegian officials huddle over joint submarine program

Senior German and Norwegian defense officials met in Munich on Monday to plot a path for the two countries’ multibillion-dollar joint submarine program.

Officials said the meeting by the naval chiefs and defense-acquisition leaders was meant to push toward an agreement on the timing, cost and performance characteristics of the 212-CD program. The plan, these officials said, is to have the program on contract with lead vendor ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in 2020, with the first vessel delivered to Norway in late 2026.

A deal with the German shipyard was previously envisioned for this year.

The design of the new boats has yet to be locked down, which may reflect a last glimmer of hope in Berlin and Oslo that other countries in the market for submarines — namely Italy, the Netherlands or Poland — could join the effort.

Germany and Norway inked a strategic cooperation agreement on submarines in 2017. The idea is for TKMS to produce six identical boats — two for Germany and four for Norway. Norwegian missile-maker Kongsberg, in turn, will outfit German Navy ships with an upgraded variant of its Naval Strike Missile.

The stakes are high for the program, as any delays in fielding the submarines would throw off military plans in either country. The German Navy has seen years of delays in its F-125 frigate program. According to the service, an industry consortium led by TKMS is to blame.

The German military, which is seeking a budget boost beyond what is on the books so far, is under pressure to field equipment on time and on budget. The idea is to prove that the defense-acquisition apparatus can convert additional money into additional capability. As a result, officials are increasingly tight-lipped about details surrounding big-ticket projects beyond rosy statements.

“After a successful meeting: We are convinced that we want to make #U212CD a success story,” German Navy chief Vice Adm. Andreas Krause wrote on Twitter late Monday. “We will act and speak as if we were ONE Navy. Both navies need the new submarines delivered in time, cost and quality. Everyone involved in this project should never forget its relevance.”

Sebastian Bruns, a naval analyst with the University of Kiel in northern Germany, said the interplay between the German and Norwegian defense bureaucracies will be crucial as the program progresses.

“This type of integrated process is new for Germany,” Bruns told Defense News. That is because everything from spare parts to training and operational aspects is designed to be bilateral from the start, possibly tying the two sea services together for decades.

“We are talking about a time frame through the 2060s,” he said.

Bruns added that questions remain about Germany’s future defense budget and whether the submarine program will have to compete with other national priorities.

According to a Navy spokesman, the program is reflected in the Defence Ministry’s broad budget outlines. Lawmakers are expected to get details for debate next year.