The Swedish Navy’s submarines are famous for their stealth. This was amply demonstrated in 2006 when Sweden loaned one of its subs, HMS Gotland, to the U.S. Navy.
The AIP (Air Independent Power) equipped submarine repeatedly avoided detection. And it was able to score notable ‘victories’ against an Aircraft Carrier during exercises.
Sweden’s next type of submarine, the A-26 Blekinge Class, promises to take stealth to another level. And not just by even quieter AIP. One of its secret ingredients will be uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs). These are basically robot submarines that can allow the submarine to remain hidden while taking the fight to the enemy.
The UUVs can perform many missions traditionally done by the submarine itself. And also missions which a full-size submarine could not be used. The first set of missions assigned to these robots is likely to be ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance).
The use of the submarine’s own UUVs could significantly enhance its military utility. Speaking at Saab’s 2020 Submarine Seminar, the chief of the Swedish Navy, Rear Admiral Ewa Ann-Sofi Skoog Haslum, emphasized this. She pointed out that the incorporation of more capable UUVs will transform the way submarines are used. Historically submarines operated in two modes. They were either staying hidden and listening, or were shooting torpedoes. If a submarine fires its torpedoes, then it is generally detected and loses its stealth. So there were very few options in between.
This resonates with the ways submarines are used in other navies and is a basic truth of submarine warfare for the past 50 years. But the Swedish concept sees UUVs as part of the answer to this conundrum. The UUVs can act as the submarine’s eyes and ears, and be much closer to the target than the submarine. They can, for example, use active sonar which would normally give the submarine away. It might give the UUV away, but the submarine can remain hidden, quietly launching torpedoes at the targets reported by the UUV.
The A-26 design is not just for the Swedish Navy. Unlike the nuclear powered submarines built in the U.S and Britain, Swedish conventional subs are available on the export market. This has been baked in to the design, which is modular. This approach allows tailoring to a specific nations needs. The A-26 design comes in a range of sizes, from very small to the extended range version with cruise missile tubes added.
In terms of a market outlook, Lars Brännström the Chief Marketing Officer at Saab Kockums, hinted towards Canada. This is would be particularly interesting as the Canadian Navy will need to replace its Victoria Class submarines.
The Netherlands is known to be considering the A-26 to replace its Walrus Class boats. And there will be other natural opportunities in the coming years. Brännström also mentioned that some navies who do not currently have submarines are talking to Saab about gaining that capability.
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