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MarinefliegerkommandoThe Marinefliegerkommando [Naval Aviation Command] is one of the three major formations of the German Navy, along with Einsatzflottille 1 and Einsatzflottille 2. All naval air forces of the Bundeswehr are subordinate to it. Their tasks include the surveillance of large sea areas as well as maritime warfare from the air against targets above and below water, but also the search and rescue service SAR in addition to the transport of personnel and material.

On the one hand, the naval aviation cooperates closely with the fleet: the long-distance aircraft P-3C Orion, Sea Lynx Mk88A helicopter and frigates make up the Navy’s submarine hunter team. On the other hand, the Orions, as maritime patrol aircraft, can independently control huge maritime areas. The Sea King Mk41 and its successor NH90 NTH Sea Lion are used either as transport helicopters for the fleet or as rescue helicopters for the SAR service off the coast of Germany.

All naval aircraft are stationed in Nordholz on the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony. They are organized in two formations, both of which are subordinate to the larger formation of the Naval Aviation Command: the fixed wing aircraft in Naval Air Wing 3 “Graf Zeppelin”, the helicopters in Naval Air Wing 5. Around 2,500 naval airmen work for the Naval Aviation Command. The command staff itself is the control centre for all aircraft in the Navy and pools the expertise of naval aviators. It enables them to carry out their daily tasks by providing the necessary material and organizational support.

The word “maritime patrol” is misleading, as it suggests that it is only about gaining extensive information about the sea. The so-called aircraft can do much more. In order to make this clear, experts have repeatedly given such aircraft new names to emphasize different capabilities. The most appropriate term is probably the Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS). This translates roughly into German as “airborne maritime combat system”, ie an aircraft that is suitable for various aspects of naval warfare. However, since MAWS stands for a single concrete German-French armaments project, for the sake of simplicity most stick to the most common English-language term: Maritime Patrol Aircraft, MPA for short.

Unveiled at Euronaval 2018, Airbus’ A320M3A in its MPA variant appeared to be a natural candidate for the MAWS program. This project is still ongoing, but the naval aviators now need an alternative for the years before that.

MPA were originally conceived as an extension of warship units during World War II. They helped allied troops and supplies to reach Europe protected from the latent submarine threat to the enemy. During the war this opponent was Germany, later in the Cold War the potential enemy was the Warsaw Pact. In addition, these aircraft should track submarines in a group or independently in seas bordering their own sovereign territory in order to keep the sea routes freely accessible for their own and allied navies such as shipping.

From 1958 the German Navy initially operated 15 British Fairey Gannets for submarine hunting, which they exchanged for 15 Breguet Atlantic from 1966 . From 2006 these were again replaced by 8 used P-3C Orions of the Dutch Navy. All German Maritime Patrol Aircraft belong to Naval Aviation Squadron 3 "Graf Zeppelin", their home base is Nordholz near Cuxhaven.

The P-3Cs were initially intended to prevent a capability gap by 2025, but their availability always fell short of expectations. In the meantime, however, the Bundeswehr has decided to allow the aircraft to continue operating beyond 2025. The modernization is currently slow and further reduces the availability of the few MPA.

With the P-3C Orion, the German Navy has an essential tool in the fight against submarines. Their modern sensors with an immense range enable extensive clarification of both surface and underwater contacts. Effective protection against submarines can currently only be ensured with far-reaching, airborne capability carriers like a Maritme Patrol Aircraft. An essential skill for maritime operations, which is in short supply in NATO. To receive them, the naval aviators are waiting for an interim solution after the German P-3C Orion has ended.

Fighting submarines is a difficult task. Because the environment under the water surface is very complex: different water depths, currents, salinity and temperatures create an environment under the sea surface in which submarines can easily hide. Technological development does the rest: Modern submarine classes are getting quieter and quieter. Their other performance parameters such as the performance of their sensors and weapons as well as their operational ranges increase from decade to decade.

It is therefore essential for the maritime alliance NATO to develop its own anti-submarine warfare capabilities , or ASW for short - Anti-Submarine Warfare - and in German called U-Boot-Jagd, also to increase. Maneuvers offer a double opportunity for this: soldiers train their tactics, planners and developers can test new processes and technologies.

The North Atlantic is home to the sea routes that connect North America and Europe. Dynamic Mongoose takes place every year from bases in Iceland and Norway. The island of Iceland is strategically located between Greenland and Great Britain. Here there is an imaginary separation between the North Sea and the open North Atlantic: the so-called Greenland Iceland United Kingdom Gap, GIUK Gap for short.

Because the Dover Strait between the North Sea and the English Channel is narrow and flat, it can be easily monitored in an emergency and thus blocked for submarines. The better ways for a potential opponent of NATO to reach the Allied lines of communication across the Atlantic from the north and east are north of the British Isles.

The German Navy, for example, had sent its battleship "Bismarck" through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland during the Second World War to infiltrate the North Atlantic. The same route and sea routes between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Great Britain took Soviet submarines during the Cold War to get to the same strategically important area. The importance of the GIUK gap has only decreased slightly since then; the route to NATO's “backyard” remains.

But because weapon ranges have increased, especially that of guided missiles that can be launched from submarines, NATO is also practicing submarine hunting in front of the GIUK Gap: in the waters to the west and north of Norway. The Northern European Sea lies between Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Svalbard. It borders the Barents Sea in the northeast and the North Sea in the south. Like the open Atlantic, the North Sea is extremely deep, sometimes up to 4,000 meters. Even the most modern submarines cannot fully exploit such depths, but they have a lot of maneuvering space here - in contrast to the North Sea, for example, which is mostly shallower than 200 meters.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:14 ZULU