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Germany Modernizes Brandenburg-class Frigates with Saab RBS15 Mk3 Anti-Ship Missiles

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Germany Modernizes Brandenburg-class Frigates with Saab RBS15 Mk3 Anti-Ship Missiles

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German Navy Frigate Brandenburg (F215)
German Navy Frigate Brandenburg (F215)

German Navy is in the process of modernizing its Brandenburg-class frigates, a significant step towards enhancing its naval capabilities. This development comes as the German Ministry of Defence (BMVg) has awarded Saab, the Swedish defense company, a contract for integrating the Saab RBS15 Mk3 anti-ship missile (AShM) with the Saab 9LV combat management system (CMS). The contract, based on a document published on the EU-platform for tender announcements (TED), entails a comprehensive analysis aimed at merging the RBS15 Mk3 missile with the combat management system. The analysis will culminate in a final report that will include the technical specifications required for the implementation of the proposed solutions at the shipyard. This missile is known for its long-range capabilities and the ability to target both surface and air threats, making it a versatile addition to the German Navy’s arsenal. The RBS15 Mk3 also possesses land-attack capabilities, further expanding the frigates’ operational scope.

The selection of the RBS15 Mk3 missile for the Brandenburg-class frigates marks a shift from the earlier Exocet MM38 AShMs used on these vessels. This change can be attributed to Saab’s role as the prime contractor for the F123-class modernization, responsible for integrating the 9LV CMS and relevant sensors, such as the Sea Giraffe 4A and 1X radar systems, along with CEROS 200 fire control equipment. This established relationship with Saab likely streamlined the integration process, making it a more efficient and cost-effective choice compared to alternatives. The RBS15 Mk3 missile is a product of Saab Bofors Dynamics and boasts several upgrades, including a new turbojet engine with increased thrust, extended range, and improved accuracy thanks to integrated GPS technology. This missile has been produced in cooperation with Diehl Defence of Germany and is exclusively ship-launched. Germany’s decision to equip the Brandenburg-class frigates with the RBS15 Mk3 complements their existing use of the same missile on their K130-class corvettes.

The “Oldenburg” fires its main weapon. The RBS15 guided missiles are scaffolded in four containers on two ramps between the superstructures of the ship.
German Navy Braunschweig-class corvette Oldenburg (F260) fires its main weapon. The RBS15 guided missiles are scaffolded in four containers on two ramps between the superstructures of the ship. (Photo by Marcel Kröncke/Bundeswehr)

Originally, the K130 class was supposed to be armed with the naval version of the Polyphem missile, an optical fiber-guided missile with a range of 60 km (37 mi). The Polyphem program was cancelled in 2003 and instead the designers chose to equip the class with the RBS-15. While the RBS-15 has a much greater range of 250 km (160 mi), the current version mounted on the ships, Mk3, lacks the ECM-resistant video feedback of the Polyphem. The German Navy had ordered the RBS-15 Mk4 in advance, which is a development of the Mk3 with increased range —400 km (250 mi)— and a dual seeker for increased resistance to electronic countermeasures. For the first time, the German Navy fired RBS15 Mk3 anti-ship missiles at a land-based target in Norway on 18 May, 2022. The anti-ship missile has been in service with the German naval forces since 2008, together with its weapons platform, the Type 130 corvettes. During previous missile exercises, the vessels had so far only fired the RBS15 at targets at sea.

The Brandenburg-class frigates, commissioned between 1994 and 1996, play a pivotal role in anti-submarine warfare and contribute to local anti-aircraft defenses, tactical squadron command, and surface-to-surface warfare operations. These frigates have recently undergone an upgrade program to enhance their combat management system, with Saab’s Sea Giraffe 4A, Sea Giraffe 1X, CEROS 200 Fire Control Radar, 9LV combat management system, and IFF system replacement. The integration of the Saab RBS15 Mk3 AShM with the Brandenburg-class frigates is poised to provide the German Navy with a more potent and versatile maritime defense capability, reaffirming their commitment to strengthening their naval forces in the face of evolving security challenges. This development marks a significant step forward in Germany’s efforts to ensure its naval fleet remains modern, adaptable, and effective in safeguarding its maritime interests.

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