Information technology (IT) and digitisation have had a huge impact across the armed forces sector. From future soldier projects to the interoperability of vehicles, technological advances are of increasing importance. Naval fleets are no different; IT infrastructure is becoming a critical part of the modern-day vessel, as are the threats posed by ‘enemies’ to the safe and secure operation of them.

Like other arms of the military, however, the pace of innovation brings with it its own challenges, one major concern being the ability to upgrade the likes of weapons systems as they become available. Rear Admiral Ulrich Reineke, chief of the German Navy’s Planning Division, said the capability of flexible adaptation must be a “precondition of future navies”.

There are an array of other issues modern navies are having to address today: water superiority; the growing use of submarines and subsea operations by hostile states; advances in training; and ever-improving detection and surveillance, to name but a few. Reineke shares his thoughts on the future of the world’s navvies, in particular the German Navy, which still has work to do in conveying its importance.

To what extent is technology shaping many of the developed world’s navies?

As technology develops at an incredible speed, especially in respect of IT, automation and miniaturisation, it is important that future navy platforms are designed in a way that helps to enable them to keep pace with developments. A higher degree of standardisation and modularisation is necessary to allow faster integration of new weapon, sensor and propulsion systems throughout the entire life cycle of future platforms.

Naval mine warfare is a good example of how technology development influenced naval operations. Today, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), used for more than 20 years, can covertly observe the seabed, searching for naval mines as a long-range sonar carrier without interruption by sea state and surface traffic. Smaller, portable AUVs can support mine clearance divers in confined and shallow waters and pre-determine objects that are possible explosive ordnances or sea mines.

At the moment, the German Navy, in conjunction with the Bundeswehr Technical Center, is testing and validating long-range AUVs.

With regard to the use of artificial intelligence, operational applications and procedures in the maritime domain can be supported and optimised in the future.

An example of this is the considerable potential of automated pattern analysis, pattern recognition and pattern prediction, which can be of great importance for operative tasks in the maritime military spectrum. Robots can be used to automate dangerous activities, such as mine detection.

With increasing digitisation and the use of IT networks, the handling of big data is becoming increasingly evident as well. Thus, collected data is used for pattern analysis, recognition and prediction, and must be exchanged with headquarters. However, this is a particular challenge, especially for maritime units that are flexible and mobile almost anywhere in the world, because the transmission capacities on the high seas are very limited.

The national commitment to standardisation is the baseline for the German Navy to exercise and fight together with allies and partners.

What has been the single biggest development?

There is no such thing as the one single biggest development, as technology changes in many fields. I would like to point out a couple of fields in future development, which constitute our focal areas.

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW): based on our operational expertise, particularly in confined, shallow and littoral waters, the German Navy currently builds up a more regional footprint – and stronger. Within our territorial waters, we are building up a responsive command and control organisation – the Baltic Maritime Component Command – with the German Navy forming the nucleus.

Together with an appropriate command and control structure, we develop modern-day ASW tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), preparing for the state-of-the-art ASW technology that will enter service by 2025. Those latest TTPs include bistatic and multistatic detection, intelligence, reconnaissance, and communication methods enabling three-dimensional ASW performed by coordinated air, surface and sub-surface assets. The aim is that Germany hosts and coordinates a multinational ASW capacity that is capable of conducting, supporting but also commanding and controlling alliances operations in the Baltic Sea and adjacent waters. This includes future capabilities to facilitate and perform permanent staggered underwater surveillance; for example, in the context of NATO theatre ASW operations within our Area of Responsibility, hopefully with substantive international participation and support.

Submarine U212 Common Design (CD) is when Germany recognises the submarine as a strategic asset, and its vital importance for a maritime nation. Based on the MoU regarding ‘Joint development, procurement, operations, maintenance and in-service support of naval defence materiel’, Germany, in cooperation with Norway, will build up and maintain a submarine capability for deterrence, defence and – if needed – projection of impressive force within the maritime domain worldwide. In the frame of submarine cooperation, a total of six U212CD submarines would be procured.

Norway is to receive a total of four submarines, commencing 2025. Germany will receive a total of two units in 2027 and 2030. The U212CD-class submarine will combine the reduced signatures, quietness and target echo strength of the class 212A with extended range, speed and endurance, with improved fuel cell and battery technology, enhanced sensors, and an updated command and control system. It will have upgraded capabilities in all previous warfare capabilities of the U212A-class submarine such as covert ISR, ASuW, ASW, MIO and SOF support.

The Germany-Norway partnership is envisaged as a potential starting point for a broader cooperation between European states in the procurement and in operating submarines.

The further enhancement and expansion of our defence cooperation would significantly strengthen NATO’s European pillar and contribute to the burden-sharing within the alliance. Therefore, we encourage other conventional submarine operating nations to join.

Naval mine warfare (NMW), with regard to the technology of unmanned systems presently on the market, needs to be further mature in order to become a reliable asset in the toolbox of the mine countermeasures (MCM) commander. Yet, the so-called AUVs are lacking the autonomy.

They are rather automated and remote controlled unmanned surface vehicles (USV) in different MCM roles, like towing side-scan sonars or magnetic and acoustic shipfield-simulators, requiring more bandwidth, reliability and stability in data transfer and communications.

Those developments will lead the way in keeping the sailor out of the minefield and to the more efficient use in concerns of maintaining large area coverage in view of fewer MCM assets. Future UAVs are foreseen as relay stations for two-way communications to unmanned systems and, in a search role, looking for sea mines in shallow water and close to the surface.

With integrated air and missile defence, the air battle reaction time becomes extremely short, as current threats achieve speeds of 1,000m a second. In order to optimise the processes between detection of a threat and the intercept, various sensors of different platforms need to be integrated into a sensor network. Future sensors will communicate directly with each other and provide the defender, much earlier, with correlated, engageable tracks compared with today’s concepts.

The enabler for sensor netting will be the Framework Architecture 2030+, which is currently developed in the 11-nation Maritime Theatre Missile Defence Forum. In addition, enhanced automated Force Track Evaluation and Engagement Coordination tools will support the human decision-making process to save time in the engagement-planning process.

In order to synchronise security demands with the strong need to have a reliable command and control structure, a high level of standardisation and international synchronisation is needed.

Is interoperability essential, and if so, how are you achieving it?

Indeed, it is the key for joint and combined operations and for exercises in preparation for those. Consequently, the German Navy is represented in different NATO working groups to develop and evolve its doctrines and procedures. In parallel, we use agreed NATO standards and specifications in our system development programmes and procurement processes. This ensures a full interoperability in the technical and technological domain.

The national commitment to standardisation is the baseline for the German Navy to exercise and fight together with allies and partners. The successful participation of FGS Hessen within the Carrier Strike Group or FGS Erfurt in the NATO Standing Maritime Group is a sign of interoperability across all previous mentioned domains.

We are obviously facing a big challenge in cybersecurity with respect to the interoperability of forces. In order to synchronise security demands with the strong need to have a reliable command and control structure, a high level of standardisation and international synchronisation is needed. It is apparent that any ‘stand-alone solution’ will not meet the full scope needed.

The use of unmanned vehicles above the surface has been around for a while – now it’s below the surface that is getting the interest. What do you think that offers?

The use of underwater unmanned systems and AUVs represents a proven technology and the introduction of these systems has already taken place in MCM and will continue in the coming years. With their on-board, high-resolution SONARs and other sensors, they provide a detailed picture of the seabed and the water column; they offer significant support in making MCM more effective and successful. In its future MCM concept, the German Navy relies on a mix of unmanned surface and underwater systems. In the area of underwater systems, we are going to introduce mine-hunting capabilities up to and including identification. We do not see, and do not want, autonomy in the use of weapons by those systems.

Additionally, it might be possible in the future to make use of unmanned systems that provide valuable date in the field of bistatic and multistatic ASW.

Do you believe falling costs of technology are aiding those wishing to do harm?

Of course, new technologies, especially cheap systems, can be used by non-governmental and governmental organisations as well as by terrorists. However, systems ‘from the shelf’ do not pose the biggest threat. Unfortunately, several terrorist organisations prove to be very ingenious in their use of self-produced improvised unmanned systems or modified systems from the shelf.

We must think about effective protective measures against these new technologies. We are already working on solutions to counter this particular threat. Surveillance systems such as SIMONE (Ship Infrared Monitoring Observation and Navigation Equipment) increase the situational awareness and reacting time on our new Type F125 frigates. In future, fast-reacting energy weapons, such as high-energy lasers, will be able to engage a variety of unmanned systems in a short period.

Technology seems to be advancing the type of weaponry used by navies. Where do you see that headed?

One thing we can observe are increasing fighting ranges and capabilities for much more precise strikes, if looking at the high-value weapon systems. The step from Exocet to RBS15 was a huge technology leap for the German Navy – but still it was more an evolution rather than a revolution.

My perception is that we are still on a normal path of development of weapon systems and I can’t see developments with a fundamental, changing, impact on the basics of warfighting.

Nevertheless, we have to adopt our sensor and weapon systems to be current and keep a sharp lookout for future threats. We have to continuously improve our picture compilation capabilities with the aim of increasing reaction times and to raise the precision of our weaponry. The evolution to hypersonic poses a threat, especially to Carrier Strike Groups, therefore stateof- the-art weapon systems require a reliable and effective sensor-to-shooter network to counter those threats.

On the other hand, early and long-range detection is not only achieved through capable sensors. We have to take into account that sensors and effectors are interacting with each other, not limited to a single ship but extendable to a multinational force in a network-centric warfare environment. Consequently, the German Navy would not only modernise its light and heavyweight torpedo portfolio, but look for contemporary engagement solutions that keep the enemy at risk. Hence, long-range, and especially stand-off, weapons are not only a NATO capability requirement for its allied navies, but a national precaution for appropriate self defence at sea.

What do you feel the threats are today from rogue states and terrorist organisations on or beneath the sea?

Terrorist organisations prove to have great ingenuity in the use of systems off the shelf, or self-produced, improvised unmanned systems. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot exclude any dimension, neither above nor underwater. Additionally, we need to be prepared to counter cyberattacks as well as any kind of insurgency, using means of improvised explosive devices or more sophisticated weaponry that may be available on the world market.

Furthermore, it is possible that state actors will use unconventional tactics and irregular methods. It is therefore decisive to analyse the capabilities of all actors to obtain a concise description of the threats we are confronted with. The key phrase here is ‘hybrid warfare’.

As a global operating navy, we will have to protect our units against multidimensional threats posed by different actors.

Technology has clearly advanced naval capabilities; is it fair to say that with this comes concerns?

Modern-day systems will always be more sophisticated. This produces effects on different levels when it comes to naval systems, so the German Navy faces different challenges to operate these systems properly. There are three challenges that are the most important ones, from my perspective.

The first is complexity of a naval system and impact on personnel, training and an organisation. As an example, the intellectual and artisanal capability of personnel trained for an automated system differs substantially from personnel trained for a manual system. That means we have to adjust our recruiting process and training efforts. Simultaneously, smaller crews are required to run highly automated platforms. This, of course, influences the on-board organisation and structure; fewer personnel are required to fulfil more tasks, but they need to be highly trained.

The second is the high demand of data exchange and analysis capacities in order to ensure full functionality of the complex systems. Besides the required bandwidth, the data security and electronic emissions are issues that have to be taken into account in modern-day warfighting scenarios. With the advantages of today’s systems and high-end technologies, we are facing lots of vulnerabilities. Complex and powerful systems that meet naval needs place high demands on the industry, plus support and maintenance on the operator, and are closely related to higher costs for procurement, maintenance and training. A lot of these systems are permanently online and have to operate a huge amount of data, mostly via satellite. The bottleneck of satellite communication is still the download and upload rate. There is room for improvement to fulfil our demands in information exchanges.

The third is not a military one but more a political and economic issue: funding. It is in the nature of things, that the more complex a system is, the more funding is needed. In times on economic stringency, it is the task of the German Navy, in cooperation with multinational partners and industries, to find ways and means of how to best utilise pre-set circumstances in order to maximise the effort.