Unsuccessful submarine buoy project only stopped after 19 years

Submarine U35 at its commissioning in 2015

The originally planned communication buoy was never completed.

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin When Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) talks about expensive misplanning in the Bundeswehr, she likes to talk about the backpack. For eight years, a research project tried to develop the world’s best backpack for the troops, until they finally stopped the project, Lambrecht then says. Instead of complex new developments, they want to rely more on products that are available on the market.

But the backpack is by no means the longest project in the series of bankruptcies, bad luck and breakdowns in the Bundeswehr. After all, the unsuccessful development of a communications buoy for submarines was stopped only after 19 years. The Federal Court of Auditors points this out in a comment that it forwarded to the Bundestag this Tuesday.

The “Callisto” buoy was to be attached to submersible submarines with a cable and then be able to rise to the surface from there. There she would have sent and received radio signals. The aim was to ensure radio communication between submarines without them having to surface for it.

From 2003 to 2007, a supplier to the shipyard that built the class 212A submarines initially carried out a study on communication from deep-dipped submarines for 2.7 million euros. The final results were not yet available when the Bundeswehr commissioned the two new submarines U35 and U36 in 2006. However, the “Callisto” project was to be further developed in parallel with the construction of the submarines and was included in the total price of 824 million euros.

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As a result, however, there were repeated delivery delays and technical difficulties, so that the responsible federal agency (BAAINBw) accepted the submarine U35 in September 2014, initially without a functional test of the buoy system. “Callisto” should now first be tested with the submarine U36.

The end of “Callisto” had been announced for a long time

However, the Federal Office gave the shipyard an ultimatum to a certain extent by amending the contract, to submit the complete proof of function for “Callisto” by mid-2015 or – with a grace period – by mid-2017 at the latest. When the first deadline was torn, the project manager for submarine procurement at the Federal Office proposed the termination of the project, but was unable to get his way through the Ministry and the Navy.

After the period of grace had expired without success, the contract was extended again and the manufacturer was again given the opportunity to provide proof of functionality within a certain period of time.

Christina Lambrecht

In the future, the defense minister wants to rely more on solutions that are already available.

(Photo: dpa)

However, the Federal Court of Auditors had already suggested considering alternative systems during audits in 2017 and 2018, which the Ministry of Defense also agreed to. Because military experts had already advised a wireless system anyway, because the wired buoy on the surface could otherwise allow conclusions to be drawn about the position of the submarine.

Despite urgent warnings from the project manager at the Federal Office to cancel the project and despite critical inquiries from the Federal Court of Auditors, “Callisto” was only stopped in June of this year – without proof of functionality being available. According to the ministry, one of the reasons it failed was that no submarines were available for this purpose.

Read more about the Bundeswehr and procurement:

The Ministry of Defense also justified the end by saying that the Navy had now announced that the system would not be used even if acceptance was successful, because the Navy considered other solutions to be safer.

“The Federal Court of Auditors sees in the ‘Callisto’ project an exemplary case for armaments projects of the Bundeswehr, in which years of development ultimately lead to unsatisfactory results with avoidable expenditure,” write the budget watchdog.

In their view, the Bundeswehr should therefore focus more on solutions that are available on the market in the future, as Defense Minister Lambrecht announced.

In the case of in-house developments, the procurement office must also “contractually agree on effective exit clauses and apply them consistently in the event of poor development progress,” according to the report by the Court of Auditors. Because that didn’t happen, the Federal Office will probably have to forego part of the eight million euros that it had withheld because of the problems with the project.

More: Department of Defense – No Crisis in Procurement of F-35 Jets

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