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The German Navy abruptly decommissioned more than half of its submarine fleet on June 1, well ahead of the planned 2016 retirement of the six 500-ton U-206A-class diesel submarines.
Now the German sub fleet consists of four U-212A-class vessels. The 1,830-ton boats, among the world's most modern conventional submarines, have a new hybrid drive with a fuel cell that allows them to operate fully submerged for several weeks.
All four were commissioned between 2005 and 2007; the Navy is expecting the delivery of two more slightly modified U-212A-class subs by 2012 or 2013.
"At the moment, we expect their operational readiness not later than 2015," a German Navy spokesman said.
The spokesman did not say whether the decommissioning was related to recently announced government plans to cut defense spending.
The newspaper Kieler Nachrichten said the decommissioning of the U-206As has dropped Germany from second to sixth place among nations that operate non-nuclear submarines.
Between 1973 and 1975, Germany commissioned 18 U-206-class submarines. In the early 1990s, the service modernized 12 of them to the U-206 A standard, when they were the smallest operating armed submarines in the world, according to Navy officials.
The crews of the decommissioned boats will be retrained to serve on the U-212A subs.
"Until now, every crew was assigned to its own boat, but we will change this to a two-crew concept," the spokesman said.
That way, the submarines themselves can remain longer in an operational area while only their crews will have to be changed. Germany's planned F125 frigates also will use this approach.