Thales provides the combat system for the Germany’s MKS 180 frigate programme

By Luca Peruzzi

The Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, as prime contractor for the German MoD’s Mehrzweckkampfschiff 180 (MKS 180) multi-purpose frigates programme, has signed with Thales a € 1.5 billion contract on 17 November in Vlissingen’s Damen site (the Netherlands), for the full integration and delivery of the ‘Mission & Combat System’ on board the new ships for the German Navy.

“The third largest contract ever awarded to Thales”, said Philippe Duhamel, executive vice-president Defence Mission Systems for Thales in a press conference call, it will see Thales taking the responsibility for combat system integration and the supply of its main elements on all four MKS 180 ships, including the various third party systems and subsystems procurement, in addition to logistics and training services, and two land-based test and training sites in Germany. The contract also includes the option for one or two additional ships.

Damen was awarded the MKS 180 multi-purpose frigates design and construction contract valued € 4.6 billion by the German’s Bundesamt fur Ausrüstung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr (BAAINBw) in June 2020. Alongside Thales, Dutch-owned Damen will deliver the MKS 180 programme in co-operation with Lürssen (the latter working in co-operation with Kiel-based German Naval Yards) and Blohm + Voss. Damen will be responsible for the MKS 180 design, but the vessels will all be built in Germany under Damen’s project management. With a displacement of around 9,000 tonnes and a length at waterline of around 155 meters , the MKS 180 platforms have been conceived as large, multi-purpose surface combatant ships able to reconfigure thanks to modular bays capable to accommodate different modules according to the missions to be accomplished.

“Thales is the combat system integrator, having the responsibility for the integration of all combat system that will equip the ships”, Duhamel said. “That will include the TACTICOS combat management system (CMS) and the AWWS (Above Water Warfare System) fire control cluster incorporating the APAR Block 2 multifunction radar, in addition to other sensors and the integrated communications – part of which we will supply – and the cyber security solution. Thales will also be responsible for the procurement of other combat system elements from various suppliers, except for the government-furnished equipment involved. Activities on the package have already started by Thales”, the group representative said.

The contract will be executed by Thales’ Naval Centre of Excellence in Hengelo (the Netherlands), Kiel and Wilhelmshaven (Germany), in cooperation with a substantial number of German subcontractors, with approximately 70% of the work to be performed in Germany.

Thales will supply the latest version of the TACTICOS CMS, which is already in service in previous iterations with the German Navy, managing all the sensors and systems provided by both Thales and third parties. The MKS 180 contract marks the first production contract for the Thales AWWS and the latest generation APAR Block 2 X-band multifunction radar. Already under development by Thales Nederland for the Netherlands/Belgium Vervanging M-fregatten (M-frigate replacement) programme, the AWWS will combine an advanced fire-control suite with the APAR Block 2 radar, which four face antennas will be distributed between the two main mast superstructures. According to Thales, the TACTICOS CMS with the full integration of the AWWS will provide the capability to defeat current and future stressing multiple simultaneous threats in complex scenarios. On board the MKS 180, the latter will provide guidance support for the Raytheon Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) Block 2 local area anti-air missile, the prime air defence system equipping the new ships. The APAR Block 2 also supports the future Standard Missile family. Thales will also provide the Gatekeeper 360° non-rotating surveillance IR/TV suite with systems distributed between the two main mast superstructures as well as the Mirador Mk2 EO fire control system for observation and tracking in addition to components of the integrated communications suite, of which SATCOM multiple dishes satellite comms have been identified so far. Thales will also be responsible and provide the cyber security integrated into the combat system solution, complying with strict security standards and German national regulations.

The TACTICOS CMS will also manage the remaining sensors, systems and weapon package, which according to information provided by the German MoD and the video released by Thales, include the Hensoldt four fixed faces variant of the TRS-4D C-band volume and surveillance radar and the Rohde & Schwarz GEDIS Kora RESM/CESM suite, in addition to Lockheed Martin two 8-cell Mk 41 VLS launchers for ESSM Block 2 missiles, two RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile, Raytheon/RAM-System) guided missile inner-layer defence systems, Kongsberg NSM (Naval Strike Missile) anti-ship missiles (according to images a total of eight munitions) and the Leonardo 127/64 mm LightWeight (LW) Vulcano main gun, the latter capable to fire Vulcano long-range guided ammunitions. The ships will also be equipped with smaller caliber remote controlled guns as indicated by the German MoD. Images provided by Damen also feature Rheinmetall Defence MASS (Multi Ammunition Softkill System) family decoy launching systems. The new multi-purpose frigates will also be equipped an underwater warfare suite, which selection remains to be finalized.

According to German Government documentation, a total of around € 5.7 billion have been put aside in the national defence budget for the MKS 180 programme. The delivery of the four multi-purpose frigates for the German Navy will start in mid-2028 to be completed in mid-2032.

Images courtesy Damen and Thales