BERLIN, June 10 (UPI) -- The German navy surprisingly decommissioned more than half of its submarines, a move observers say is part of a larger effort to cut costs.
The six 500-ton U-206A-class diesel-electric submarines were retired last week and could be sold or scrapped. Their retirement date had been set to 2016 but in light of increasing pressure to cut the German defense budget by around $1.3 billion per year, the decommissioning might have been advanced. That means Germany has four U-212A-class subs left for international missions.
The Kieler Nachrichten newspaper said the decommissioning has dropped Germany from second to sixth among nations that operate non-nuclear submarines. In Europe, Turkey leads the pack with 14 subs, followed by Greece (eight), Italy and Norway (six each) and Sweden (five).
The six retired vessels were to take part in several international training and military missions, including the anti-terror Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean.
The U-206As were built in the 1970s and modernized in the late 1980s by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft and Thyssen Nordseewerke. Small and agile -- they're just more than 150 feet long -- the vessels were designed to operate in the shallow Baltic Sea, the main theater for a potential Cold War conflict with ships from the Warsaw pact.
Germany is left with a small but excellent sub fleet. The 183-foot-long U-212As, built by HDW in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are the successors of the U-206As. They're among the world's most modern non-nuclear submarines, banking on a new hybrid drive with a hydrogen fuel cell that allows them to operate fully submerged for up to three weeks. The fuel cell propulsion system is said to be vibration-free, extremely quiet and virtually undetectable.
The U-212A is especially capable of executing covert operations as it is capable of operating in depths as shallow as 55 feet, allowing it to operate much closer to shore than most contemporary submarines.
Two additional U-212As will be commissioned next year and in 2012 and enter service no later than 2015, a Navy spokesman told Defensenews.com.
Germany is one of the world's major arms exporters. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the country is No. 3 in the global market, trumped only by Russia and the United States.
Companies including ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann develop high-quality submarines, ships, armored vehicles and tanks. And European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., a multinational giant producing all kinds of airplanes and helicopters, has a strong German profile.