Saab Story: Sweden’s New A26 Submarines

Saab landed a $1 billion contract for the construction of two A26 submarines, in addition to planned upgrades to the Swedish Navy’s Gotland-class subs. The two Type A26 boats will be delivered in 2018 and 2019, with the Swedish government announcing their intention to procure the subs back in March. The announcement dispels rumours in the Swedish press last week which reported that the procurement was likely to be delayed owing to cost overruns.

The A26 was originally envisioned as a 62m boat with about 1,800t displacement when surfaced, and more when fully submerged.

It would be designed to excel in littoral operations, while remaining a capable ocean-going vessel. As a point of comparison, that size is a bit larger than the German U212A/214, and about the same as the Scorpene AM-2000 AIP, all of which are ocean-going boats.

Kockums A26 design also included a 6m x 1.5m Multimission Portal flexible payload lock system, in addition to its twin pairs of conventional 533mm and 400mm torpedo tubes. Envisaged weapons include torpedoes and mines, but not anti-ship missiles.

The lock system makes it easy for commandos to enter and exit the boat, and is large enough to allow the launch and retrieval of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles. UUVs are expected to play a larger role in future submarine warfare.

They can already provide advance surveying and sensing capabilities, and their modification toward a combat role is a certainty. This will likely begin with coordinated decoying tactics, but UUVs are expected to graduate to active combat capabilities before the A26 leaves service.

The A26 will be equipped with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) supplement to its diesel-electric systems, which is intended to allow it to remain underwater for up to 18 days at relatively slow speeds before its AIP fuel is exhausted.

That avoids the need to surface and suck air for diesel combustion to recharge its batteries, a vulnerable time that was the absolute bane of submarine operations until the USA introduced nuclear-powered boats. The A26’s AIP system will be Kockums’ Stirling, which also equips Sweden’s 3 Gotland and 2 Sodermanland Class submarines, Singapore’s Archer Class Sodermanlund variant, and Japan’s Soryu Class.

To date, Swedish submarines have been renowned for their quietness. HMS Gotland performed well enough in Mediterranean naval exercises to earn an invitation and eventual 2-year lease from the USA, which brought the boat and crew to San Diego to help train its forces against an advanced diesel-electric boat.

In return, the Swedes got a nice payment, outstanding training for their own crews, and a record of torpedo “kills” against US Navy submarines and carriers in exercises.
That reputation for stealth was dented somewhat by Australia’s much-enlarged 3,400t (submerged) Collins Class boats, which were designed by Kockums based on the 1,150t Vastergotland Class and built in Australia. For various reasons, the AIP-less Collins Class are known to be rather noisier than they ought to be.

The topic remains relevant because Australia may become a partner in the A26 program. If they do, they will demand a larger design with greater range, longer endurance, and probably missile-firing capability. Saab, in turn, will need to avoid a repeat of whatever happened to the Collins design.

Poland, which has become alarmed by recent Russian military operations to annex parts of Georgia and Ukraine, is another potential partner. They are looking to lease or buy 2 submarines by the early 2020s, with a 3rd to come by 2030.


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