Sweden’s small submarine fleet is undergoing a major update. In the coming years, it is planned to build and commission two diesel-electric submarines of the promising A26 project. With their help, the oldest ships of the Södermanland Ave., which have already exhausted most of their resource, will be replaced. It is curious that work on the A26 started 13 years ago, but the fleet has not yet received the desired boats.
Currently, the Swedish Navy has five diesel-electric submarines of two projects. The oldest boats are Södermanland and Östergötland, built according to the Västergötland project and commissioned in 1989-1990. In 2003-2004. they were modernized according to the new Södermanland project and continued to serve. In 1996, the Navy received three Gotland-class diesel-electric submarines.
Already in the middle of the 2000s, the command came to the conclusion that diesel-electric submarines of the “Södermanland” type, despite the recent modernization, were becoming obsolete and would require replacement in a few years. In this regard, in 2007, the procurement department of the Ministry of Defense, Försvarets Materielverk (FMV), signed a contract with Kockums AB to work out the appearance of the future submarine.
The new project received the working designation A26. In 2010, a design contract appeared; then the command revealed its plans. The Ministry of Defense wished to receive two boats with a tab after 2012 and delivery in 2018-19. – to replace the outdated Södermanland ships. After 2020, they planned to consider an additional order for the A26 to replace the Gotlands. The Norwegian KVMS showed interest in the new project; they could order at least two submarines.
However, problems soon began. The plans for laying the lead ship in 2012 were not fulfilled, and in the fall of 2013 it was announced that there were some problems, due to which the construction was postponed. Delivery of the first A26 was postponed at least until 2020.
At the beginning of 2014, the future of the A26 project was in question. Norway became interested in new diesel-electric submarines, and the Swedish Ministry of Defense offered it to take on part of the cost of developing the project. However, this proposal did not suit the contractor. The German company Thyssen Krupp, which has owned Kockums since 2005, refused to split the payment for the work and wished to receive the full design cost from each customer.
This disadvantageous offer sharply reduced the export prospects of the A26 project. Due to this, the Thyssen Krupp concern planned to maintain its current position in the market and ensure the sale of its other diesel-electric submarines.
The Swedish FMV did not agree with the terms of the German side, and after a dispute, on April 2, it terminated the existing agreement. A few days later, specialists with armed guards arrived at the Kockums enterprise. They were to seize equipment and documentation belonging to the state. On instructions from Germany, the enterprise tried to place an export, which led to a scandal.
By this time, government agencies began negotiations with Saab AB, which could continue to design, and then establish the construction of submarines. Already in April, Saab was able to entice 200 Kockums employees. Against this background, the German concern was offered to sell the Swedish shipyard. Negotiations did not take long, and on July 22, Kockums became the property of Saab AB. The former owner received 340 million Swedish kronor (approx. 32 million euros) for it.
Second life of the project
In March 2015, the renewal of the A26 project was announced. The Ministry of Defense and Saab Kockums have reached a preliminary agreement on the implementation of design work and the construction of two submarines. The total cost of the two ships was determined at 8.2 billion kroons (approx. 780 million euros). At that time, it was assumed that the submarines will enter service no later than 2020-22.
The real contract was signed on June 30 of the same year. The cost of design and construction of two diesel-electric submarines of the A26 type was able to increase to 7.6 billion kroons (720 million euros). The lead ship should be commissioned in 2022, the next one in 2024. At the same time, an agreement was concluded for the average repair of Gotland-class submarines for 1 billion kroons. The development, construction and repair of boats of various types must be carried out at the Saab Kockums facility in Malmö.
Soon, both the main points of the technical assignment, defined by the customer, and the features of the project being developed became known. Then various materials on the A26 began to be presented at military-technical exhibitions. Kockums decided to go beyond the Swedish contract and began looking for other customers.
Project A26 in its finished form provides for the construction of a submarine with a displacement of 1700 tons (surface) or 1900 tons (underwater). The length reaches 63 m with a width of 6.4 m. The maximum automation of work is envisaged, due to which the crew will be reduced to 20-26 people with an autonomy of 45 days. For the first time in the history of Swedish submarine construction, it will be possible to work in the ocean zone.
The use of a combined main power plant is proposed, including a diesel engine, a Stirling engine and electrical components. In addition, the Stirling engine is virtually silent. GEM of similar architecture is already used on submarines of the “Gotland” type. The boats will receive three diesel-electric units of 500 kW each and an air-independent system with three 65-kW engines. According to calculations, the maximum speed of diesel-electric submarines will reach 26 knots. At VNEU, the speed is reduced to 5-7 knots. This ensures the possibility of continuous stay under water for 15-20 days.
In the bow section of the submarine there are four 533 mm torpedo tubes with ammunition in the form of torpedoes or mines. It also provides for the use of a universal weapons compartment with a length of 6 m. Any systems can be placed in the available volume, at the request of the customer. In particular, the exhibitions featured a layout with three launchers, each of which can hold six Tomahawk missiles.
Two or more
The lead ship of a promising project for the Swedish Navy was laid down in September 2015. Later, the construction of the second diesel-electric submarine began. In early 2019, the submarines were named HMS Blekinge and HMS Skåne. In accordance with this, foreign sources now often use a new designation for the project – Blekinge-class.
Diesel-electric submarines Södermanland of the project of the same name. She will be replaced by promising Blekinge
According to current plans, HMS Blekinge will enter the fleet in 2024. A year later, HMS Skåne will join it. Their appearance will allow launching procedures for the decommissioning and decommissioning of the outdated Södermanland diesel-electric submarines. Also, by this time, the fate of the “Gotlands” will be decided. They can also be replaced with modern A26. If such a decision is made, then by the beginning of the thirties the submarine forces of the Swedish Navy will switch to a single type of ships, which will give certain advantages.
In the past, the Norwegian fleet was considered as the second customer for the A26 diesel-electric submarine. However, after the events of 2014, he left the program and is no longer going to join it. Later there was an agreement with Germany, according to which in the future Norway will receive boats of the modified project “212”.
2015-17 Saab Kockums is in talks with Poland. For it, we are ready to develop a specialized modification with various capabilities. However, things do not go further than good marks at exhibitions. Whether a real order will appear is a big question.
Waiting for a breakout
In the past, Swedish shipbuilders have developed the Gotland diesel-electric submarine project with an advanced air-independent power plant, which has become one of the major breakthroughs in recent decades in underwater shipbuilding. Currently, two new submarines are under construction with a similar power plant and various improvements in different areas. Perhaps the A26 project will again provide a significant lead over foreign competitors.
It should be noted that the current A26 / Blekinge project differs from its predecessors not only in the use of the most modern technologies and the ability to increase the main characteristics. The project broke all negative records in terms of implementation time. From the beginning of the first works to the delivery of the last boat, 18 years will pass – in the absence of new problems. However, all organizational and technical difficulties were successfully resolved, and Saab Kockums began building the ordered submarines. This means that by the middle of the decade, the Swedish Navy will still receive the desired equipment, and the construction company can count on receiving new orders.