Germany reconsiders co-funding Israel’s future OPV fleet

Israel MOD calls off an international tender worth half US$0.5 billion after Germany said it will reconsider sharing the construction costs if the contract is handed to a German shipyard

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ARC 20 de Julio on Seatrials is the first of five 80 m' OPVs Fassmer is building for the Chilean Navy. It was commissioned in 2011. Photo: Fassmer
The OPV designed by TKMS was based on the MEKO 80 OPV, a shorter version of the MEKO 100 class corvette. Photo: TKMS
The OPV designed by TKMS was based on the MEKO 80 OPV, a shorter version of the MEKO 100 class corvette. Photo: TKMS

The Israel Ministry of Defense has called off an international tender for the supply of four Offshore patrol Vessels for the Israel Navy. The OPVs were intended to bolster the security of Israel’s offshore oil and gas drilling rigs that are operating in the eastern Mediterranean, within the Israel’s Economic Exclusion Zone. By stalling the tender, IMOD officials hope a new German offer to co-finance the project could be reached. Otherwise, the tender will be republished by late 2015.

IMOD has been shopping for these boats for several years, addressing the Navy’s demand for new assets needed to respond to the increased responsibility. IMOD has been trying to acquire these boats with extra-budgetary funding, such as requesting German funding of the hulls (in a similar format they supported the construction of the Dolphin submarines for the Israel Navy). The Israelis also considered the procurement of the much more costly Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) if it could be covered by the U.S. foreign military support. They even planned bundling the frigates with procurement programs discussed with South Korea. However, none of those creative ideas materialized.

After years of deliberation IMOD published an international tender for the four vessels. The tender raised considerable interest among seven shipbuilders invited to participate. Likely competitors include Dutch, French, German, Italian, Israeli, Korean and Spanish shipbuilders.

ARC 20 de Julio on Seatrials is the first of five 80 m' OPVs Fassmer is building for the Chilean Navy. It was commissioned in 2011. Photo: Fassmer
ARC 20 de Julio on Seatrials is the first of five 80 m’ OPVs Fassmer is building for the Chilean Navy. It was commissioned in 2011. Photo: Fassmer

At this stage, the Germans decided to reconsider their refusal to support the project and are now offering to share some of the construction cost if the contract will be handed to a German shipyard. [ismember]Among the shipyards building such crafts in Germany are the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH (TKMS), formerly the Blohm + Voss company, building the MEKO class OPV and Fassmer, both are offering 80m OPVs of different classes. TKMS has built MEKO class vessels for a number of navies. The shortest was the 100 meter Kedah class vessel sold to Malaysia. Larger MEKO frigate variants are currently in construction for the German Navy (F125). Since 2011 Fassmer has delivered three 80 m OPVs to the Chilean and Colombian navies and has nine additional planned. The company has also designed larger versions including 98 meter OPVs. Addressing to the same opportunity Israel Shipyards has designed a stretched version of its Saar 4.5 missile boat as well as a new 72 m’ variant of the Saar class.[/ismember]

The construction of the four hulls is expected to cost about US$550 million, in addition, a similar amount will be required to equip the boats with a full combat system, including radars, sensors, surface and air attack capability, command, control and communications systems. A comprehensive set of defensive means including area defense systems such as the IAI Barak 8 or other weaponry, such as the ‘C-DOME’, a variant of the combat proven ‘Iron Dome’ introduced recently by RAFAEL.

[ismember]As they are required to address specific missions, the new boats are not necessarily positioned to be as capable and ‘multi-mission’ as the current Saar Vs operated by the Israel Navy. The three Saar Vs are undergoing modernization, along with the fleet of Saar 4.5 missile boats. Among the changes are the introduction of missile launchers, to better support ground operations, enhancing the combat information system to improve joint operability and upgrading of existing radars and Barak I missile systems with elements of Barak 8 weapon system, extending the current close-in point defense to an area defense capability, defeating advanced threats such as the supersonic Yakhont missiles that were transferred from Syria to Hezbollah.

These missiles could be launched from coastal batteries in Lebanon against offshore rigs along the Israeli coastline. Such capabilities pose a different threat than the conventional surface and sub-surface threats faced by the Israeli Navy in the past.[/ismember]