Orka program: two Södermanland class submarines ceded by Sweden for Poland?

The Polish Minister of Defense, Mr. Mariusz Błaszczak, confirmed, during the Polish Navy Day, communicated the existence of negotiations with Sweden for the long-term rental or heritage acquisition of two submarines of the class Södermanland to provide the Polish Navy with a transitional submarine capability. This does not mean, according to the minister, the abandonment of the program Orca. For Sweden, this would be the launch of a new modernization project for the four submarines of the class Södermanland including the two Singaporeans from the Archer class that Sweden could take over.

The Polish submarine was strong at the beginning of the 2000s with two different classes of submarines:

Le 877 project Paltus (Kilo in the NATO classification) including the ORP Eagle (877 project Soviet), admitted to active service in 1986, has not been operational for several years due to three points of obsolescence: the sonar suite, the massive masts and the torpedo tubes. The sonar suite is even deemed to be out of service (lack of parts, work). Failing to have been modernized, the industrial fabric to support the submarines of the 877 project practically no longer exists and is in fact not accessible for one of the NATO members most antagonistic to Russian diplomacy. The other existing buildings have been removed from service or modernized. The only choice left for the Polish Navy, as for the Romanian Navy which is in the same situation, is a deep modernization or the resale of the vessel.

La Sjøforsvaret (Norwegian Navy) also handed over the KNM submarines Kunna (1964 – 2003), KNM Skolpen (1966 – 2001), KNM Stord (1967 – 2002) and KNM Svenner (1967 – 2001) of the class Kobben (Type 205, lengthened and modernized version of the Type 201 produced by HDW for the benefit of the German Navy) to the Polish Navy. The four buildings were already suffering from an average age of 37 years in 2003. They serve or have served since, respectively, under the names of ORP Kondor (2003 – 2017), ORP Sep (2002), ORP Sokół (2002 – 2018) and ORP bald eagle (2003)

The programme Orca was to be one of the pillars of the renewal of Polish naval vessels carried out by the modernization plan (2010 – 2018). This involved acquiring two to three new submarines equipped, in particular, with the operational capacity to deploy cruise missiles (Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM). These submarines were to be assembled in a Polish shipyard. Entry into the program implementation phase Orca was previously expected shortly since 2015. The update, in 2017, of the Polish naval programming as part of the modernization plan amended in 2012 (2013 – 2022) was always aimed at launching the program Orca for admission to active service of new submarines between 2024 and 2026.

ORP Orzel 2010 Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Germany | Defense Analysis
The ORP submarine Orzel (1986), due to lack of a mid-life overhaul, has not been in an operational state for several years. Poland would maintain the desire to modernize it in view of the remaining operational potential. But a major modernization project for a single boat hardly seems rational. Same problem in Romania with the dolphin (1984) from the same project 877.

Naval group (Scorpène), SAAB (A26) and Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (Type 212 CD) had positioned themselves. The French shipbuilding company seemed to be best placed to win the contract since it was the only one able to offer the capacity to deploy cruise missiles from the three submarines (SLCM) with the medium change version (missile fired by torpedo tube inside an underwater vehicle, same technique as the SM-39/SM-39 Block 2 Exocet) of the Naval Cruise Missile (MdCNMore). The deterioration of Franco-Polish relations between July 2018 and December 2018 would explain that the French government has withdrawn its authorization to provide the MdCNMore to the Polish Navy in the program Orca. No discussion regarding the program Orca does not appear to have occurred during 2019.

Le Polish Ministry of Defense had studied since 2016 the acquisition of Norwegian submarines of the class Ula ou Type 210 co-designed by HDW et Kongsberg. The six Ula class submarines, admitted to active service between 1989 and 1992, were modernized (2005 and 2015) to remain in service until the start of 2025. In 2019, the average age is 28,5 years. TKMS won the procedure (2014 – 2017) to replace the submarine capacity on February 3, 2017 after Germany committed to order two submarines of the proposed model from Norway. Signing of the contract worth 4354,78 million euros for 4 submarines Type 212 CD was expected in 2019 with the first boat entering service at the end of 2026.

But'German offer was deemed non-compliant with Norwegian and German requirements. Discussions around the new offer submitted at the end of July 2019 should last until 2020. The work and sites to extend the lifespan of four of the six submarines Ula require 158,33 million euros (2019) plus 58,68 million euros (2019) for the creation of an additional stock of spare parts. Two class submarines Ula must be disarmed from 2022. The Norwegian budgetary envelope appears to be very constrained to the point of being perceived as a source of difficulties since 2018 for the conclusion of the contract and the launch of the program.

Poland has lost interest in the case of class submarines Ula in 2017. The cost of modernizing and extending the service of these two submarines (54,25 million euros per boat, based on the costs for the four Ula Norwegians) and the six years to wait, plus the delays inherent in the work, to dispose of the boats seemed perhaps incompatible with the needs of the Polish navy. Unless the political sequence where the launch of the program Orca was engaged (2015 – 2018) may have justified no longer being interested in acquiring second-hand submarines.

ORP Sep 2002 Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Germany | Defense Analysis
The ORP submarine Sep (2002) with ORP bald eagle (2003) are the only two operational Polish submarines but also the last two examples of the Kobben class (15) still in service. Their average age is 52,5 years in 2019.

Defense24.pl 24 reported on November 26, 2019 fairly advanced discussions led by the Polish government with that of Sweden for the transfer of two submarines from the program A17 or class Södermanland. The Polish Minister of Defense, Mr. Mariusz Błaszczak, confirmed in a press release the existence of these negotiations, and told us that there were rumors about Polish interest in Brazilian submarines. Timbira (1996) et Tapajo (1999) Type 209 / 1400 (HDW) yet younger.

HMS submarines Södermanland (1989) and H.M.S. Östergötland (1990) initially belonged to the class Västergötland (4) which originally had four boats. Due to a modernization carried out in Malmö (2000 – 2004) with an extension of the hull from 48,5 to 60,5 meters in order to insert a section containing the module AIP Stirling (2 x Stirling Kockums v4-275R engines) with liquid oxygen, they returned to the fleet as a class Södermanland and no more Västergötland.

HMS Västergötland (1987 – 2005) and HMS Hälsingland (1988 – 2005) benefited from the same work as the class Södermanland to which is added an adaptation to tropical waters between 2006 and 20010 for the benefit of Republic Singapore Navy who acquired them on November 4, 2005. HMS Hälsingland and HMS Västergötland serve with, respectively, baptismal names RSS Archer (2011) and RSS Swordsman (2013) where they constitute the class Archer.

These negotiations around the transfer of HMS Södermanland (1989) and H.M.S. Östergötland (1990), aged 29,5 years on average, would allow the Polish Navy to rejuvenate its submarines because only ORPs Sep (2002) and ORP bald eagle (2003) are operational in 2019, with an average age of 52,5. Furthermore, the Polish submarine would benefit from the Swedish industrial fabric supporting not only the class Södermanland, but also class Archer since these four units are still in service, unlike the submarines of the class Kobben for which the two Polish examples are the only ones still sailing.

Scorpene MdCN Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Germany | Defense Analysis
Naval group, supported by the French government, was the only company to offer a capacity to deploy cruise missiles from an underwater platform, in accordance with Polish specifications. TKMS, through a commercial trick during a presentation, promoted the idea that the Type 212 CD could do it. Except that Berlin has no such ammunition to supply.

In the event of admission to active service of the two submarines of the class Södermanland, the Polish submarine would change dimension:

The Kobben are submarines 47,2 meters long with a diameter of 4,7 meters and a submerged displacement of 524 tonnes. They can travel at up to 12 knots on the surface and 18 when diving. Their range would be 4200 nautical miles at 8 knots on the surface and 230 nautical miles diving at 4 knots. Operational immersion would not exceed 180 meters. They are armed with 8 533 mm torpedo tubes and have eight torpedoes in the tubes. The crew is 18 to 24 sailors.

The Södermanland are now 60,5 meters long with an unchanged diameter of 6,1 meters and a submerged displacement of 1500 tonnes. They can travel at up to 11 knots on the surface and 20 when diving. Their autonomy is 45 days in operations. The operational immersion is 300 meters. They are armed with 6 533 mm torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes (6 on the tubes, 6 on racks) to which are added three 400 mm torpedo tubes accommodating 6 torpedoes (including 3 on the tubes). The crew is 20 sailors.

The only nautical qualities of the Swedish submarines in the program A17, whose ability to dive up to 300 meters, will allow the Polish submarine to better exploit the underwater volume of the Baltic Sea (maximum depth of 459 meters). In addition, the Polish Navy reportedly has two submarines equipped with a module AIP allowing longer dives without the need to return to periscopic immersion in order to recharge the batteries. This choice would, finally, make it possible to make the average age of Polish submarines 23 years younger, to change format (two 1500-ton submarines instead of two 530-ton units) and to increase the operational capabilities for the fraction of the cost of a new submarine (600 to 800 million euros).

The Swedish offer is particularly ingenious because the cost of modernizing both Södermanland would be around 230 million euros (2019). To understand the political-industrial implications, it is necessary to present the latest works and projects of the Swedish submarine fleet.

The opening of these negotiations would imply a new Swedish decision regarding the format of its own submarine force currently strong of five boats, and the strategic objective of remaining at this level. These five submarines are the HMS Södermanland (1989) and H.M.S. Östergötland (1990) class Södermanland (A17 program) as well as the HMS Gotland (1996), H.M.S. Hinterland (1997) and H.M.S. Halland (1997) of the Gotland class (program A19S).

In order to ensure the connection with the A26 program, two submarines of which are already ordered and under construction (HMS Blekinge and HMS Skåne), HMS Gotland (2017 – 2018) and HMS Hinterland (2018 – 2019) were overhauled for an amount of 115 million euros per boat. The hull was lengthened by 2 meters. The module AIP Stirling Mk2 was replaced by the Stirling Mk3 and 20 systems (including the combat system, the sonar suite, the massif masts) planned for the program A26 were installed in advance of the phase on these two units in order to be able, in particular, to test them beforehand at sea. An option exists regarding the modernization of the third Gotland : HMS Halland (1997)

The conclusion of an agreement to sell HMS Södermanland (1989) and H.M.S. Östergötland (1990) by Sweden for the benefit of Poland would imply the lifting of the option relating to the modernization of the third Gotland by Stockholm.

Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Germany | Defense Analysis
HMS Gotland (2017 – 2018) and HMS Hinterland (2018 – 2019) were modernized and lengthened by two meters for an amount of 115 million euros per boat with 20 systems fitted to the two submarines of the A26 program. The same modernization program is proposed for the Archer and Södermanland classes, with Poland purchasing the latter class.

To respect the format of five submarines, Sweden would negotiate, according to Defense24.pl, the retrocession of RSS Archer (2011) and RSS Swordsman (2013) to return to service with the Swedish Navy as HMS Västergötland (1987 – 2005) and HMS Hälsingland (1988 - 2005).

According to the overall plan drawn up by Defense24.pl, Sweden would offer Poland to join the class modernization project Archer et Södermanland. This redesign of the two submarines Södermanland would cost 115 million euros per ship, i.e. the cost of overhauling the Gotland. The final idea is therefore to obtain a series effect from the modernization program of Gotland which would be extended to the four boats of the classes Archer et Södermanland. Still according to the same source, this project would still include the integration of the systems planned for the program's submarines. A26.

The date of admission to active service, due to lack of agreement and signed contracts, cannot be specified, but the overhaul of Gotland required approximately two years of work. Taking into account the study deadlines in order to carry out the same work, but on a class, certainly not so far away architecturally, but nevertheless different, there is every reason to consider this duration as incompressible. At best, Poland would therefore receive its first submarine in 2022, or more likely in 2023.

Through this maneuver, Sweden is not trying to resell the two Archer class submarines to the Polish Navy when they can be replaced by new boats in Sweden, because they will be 37,5 years old on average in 2025. The real purpose is to commit Poland to the acquisition of the twenty systems of the program A26 on two old boats in order to be able to offer, during the launch of the program Orca, to unload them from both Södermanland to be used for the construction of new units.

However, it is likely that the final cost of the transfer will include a batch of spare parts, a contract for the support provided by Swedish industry, technical documentation, the initial training of two crews, a probable batch of tactical weapons ( 2 x 18 torpedoes at least) and the cost of purchasing the two submarines.

A26 Air Independent Propulsion AIP Program | Germany | Defense Analysis
The A26 program benefited from an order in 2015: the future HMS Blekinge (2024?) and HMS Skåne (2025?). SAAB, after having bought Kockums (2014) from TKMS which allowed its Swedish subsidiary to die, is working to win a foreign order. After Australia (Model 612, 4000 t), SAAB, allied with Damen, offers a variant of the A26 (Model 712, ~ 3000 t) in the Netherlands.

The budgetary envelope would, therefore, more probably be of the order of 400 to 500 million euros, which is more or less the “bare” cost of a new submarine. And with such an envelope, is it preferable to rent, or to proceed with the acquisition of assets? The commercial interest of SAAB Kockums is for Poland to receive full ownership of the submarines.

In the event that other sources cross-check this Polish information, it will be necessary to recognize the brilliant nature of the Swedish maneuver. This nevertheless says a lot about the critical nature of the load plan of SAAB Kockums who desperately needs to increase his workload. This will not exempt Sweden from ordering one or more additional submarines from the program A26, or to study a new class in the early 2020s, or even to do both. We can therefore question the viability of the Swedish submarine industry without foreign orders, with a format of only five submarines in addition to the two under construction.

Poland, for its part, would receive new operational resources allowing it to postpone the launch of the program Orca at the beginning of the 2020s with new boats entering service from 2030, when the Södermanland will reach 40 years old. Modernization, even at 115 million euros, does not make the hulls any younger. The two strategic questions will then be, for Warsaw, to determine the format of the desired submarine capability, and therefore its operational capabilities, particularly concerning submarine-fired cruise missiles. Additionally, postponing the program Orca could help accelerate the new frigate program, another critical program for Warsaw.

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