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The future of submarines in the Polish Navy

Recently, statements by the Polish Ministry of Defence were given about the modernization intended of the country´s Navy until 2030. The modernization is to be executed in several stages: Until 2022 two submarines and two surface units and until 2026 a third surface unit are on the list. Besides the combat enhancement program for their surface combatants, among those both FFG-7 ex US Oliver-Hazard-Perry Class frigates, which includes the already ordered Swedish RBS 15 Mk 3 and the Norwegian “Naval Strike Missile” anti-ship missiles, between 2015 and 2017 procurement is intended of four to six ASW helicopters and three to six SAR helicopters, plus two short range air defence systems, ten unmanned surface combat drones and six more UAVs. The above measures are part of the 9 Bill. Zloty (= 2,16 Bill. Euros) procurement and acquisition program between 2010 and 2018, which recently has been reduced to currently 5 Bill. Zloty (= 1,2 Bill. Euros).

On 24 February 2012, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk rather unexpectedly announced the cancellation of “Project 612”, which was the construction of 7 planned 2,000 t corvettes of the “Gawron”-Class, although the First of Class had been launched already on 16 September 2009, with some 402 Mill Zloty (= 96 Mill Euros) spent for the project yet. Further 1 Bill. Zloty (= 240 Mill. Euros) budgeted for this project are to be diverted to the modernization of the Navy, among the projects the procurement of 1 submarine is mentioned. There are no clear statements yet, whether the 240 Mill. Euros diverted would mean additional resources for the modernization program or whether it would constitute just additional financial means to the current program.

The Polish Navy operates submarines since the 1930ies, and even in World War II Polish submarines were fighting at the side of the Allies. After the war Soviet submarines were introduced, initially several smaller coastal submarines of the “Maljutka”-Class, to be followed by 4 “Whiskey”-Class submarines until the mid 1980ies, and finally an additional 2 submarines of the “Foxtrott”-Class, plus 1 “Kilo”-Class. The “Kilo”-Class submarine ORP “Sokol” was commissioned in 1986, and is the last submarine from the times of Poland´s membership to the Warzaw Pact still being operated, whereas both “Foxtrott”-Class submarines were de-commissioned in 2003. In 2002, the Polish Navy took over 2 ex Norwegian “Kobben”-Class submarines and commissioned those as ORP Sokol (ex HMNoS Stord) and ORP Sep (ex HMNoS Skolven). In 2003 ORP Bielik (ex HMNoS Svenner) followed as 3rd “Kobben”-Class submarine, and in 2004 ORP Kondor (ex HMNoS Kunna) as 4th submarine of this class. The “Kobben”-Class submarines are German Type “207” export submarines and were commissioned between 1964 and 1967 by the Norwegian Navy.

Currently, 5 submarines are in the inventory of the Polish Navy, most of them are rather advanced in years and should be kept in service for just a few years to come. The modernization mentioned above, among those “two submarines”, would not see any major new construction, given the relatively limited budget. Also, the more than 40 years old ex “Kobben”-Class submarines are beyond of any life time extension measures. At best, the 26 years old “Kilo”-Class submarine might be subject of some modernization. Therefore, a replacement of the older submarines is urgent. In this context, repeatedly news came out about alleged procurement intentions, such as in early 2009 the story of the possible acquisition of 2 HDW Type 214 export submarines with air independent propulsion, which laid idle for some time being ready constructed for the Greek Navy, since the delivery to Greece experienced ongoing delays due to the country´s budget problems and other reasons (see our “flotsam” 07-2011). Anyhow, the budget available now would realistically not allow any procurement of a modern submarine. More likely, therefore, seems being a modernization of the “Kilo”-Class submarine ORP Orzel plus a takeover of a secondhand submarine from another Navy.

The call for more money for Naval procurements and modernization should fully die away, after the extensive modernization during the last years of the Polish Air Force and Air Defence had tied up the lion´s share of the defence budget for some time.

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Official inquiry of the grounding of the Royal Navy´s newest SSGN, HMS Astute, published

On 22 October 2010 the newest SSGN of the Royal Navy, HMS Astute (launched in June 2007, about 7,800 t , length of 100 m) while busy in estuary trading at surface but during darkness ran aground near the Isle of Skye at Scotland´s western coast and got stuck on shingle for several hours. The subsequent salvage of the submarine was marked by additional blunders. Together with several other incidents of Astute this grounding was the highlight yet of embarrassments during the introduction of this new SSGN, caused by a series of technical problems, but also human failure.459px-Astute2cropped

The then Commanding Officer of HMS Astute, Commander Andy Coles, has been relieved from his command after the grounding, but generally speaking only initial disciplinary measures have been taken against the officers responsible for the incident due to the ongoing inquiry. After the report of the inquiry the court martial still pending might be instituted soon. Media tell that the cost for Astute´s damage repairs after this incident will run into the three digit millions GBP.

On 23rd of April 2012 the official inquiry report has been published about the grounding of the SSGN, whose construction and sea tests have consumed some 1 Bill. GBP (= 1,2 Bill. Euros) yet. The key findings were navigational errors due to selecting to “cut a corner” while heading for a rendezvous with another vessel without the Officer of the Watch using the appropriate radar, who also did not verify his navigation by means of a navigational chart, and, above all, was not thoroughly used to navigate in the dark. Most embarrassing: The Commanding Officer had taken a shower until shortly prior the fateful incident, with him being not in the conning tower when Astute ran aground. The inquiry also brought to light, that the Astute, being the most modern SSGN of the Royal Navy, had not been equipped with the electronic navigational chart WECDIS, which is standard to most vessels of the Royal Navy meanwhile.


Plans of the US Navy for large unmanned underwater vehicles

Recently, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) of the US Navy published its concepts about the introduction of large unmanned underwater vehicles (Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicles/ LDUUV). These vehicles are function as transport and deployment vehicles for several months of mission time not only enabling the covert dropping of fixed or mobile reconnaissance and surveillance systems but also, subject to further development, autonomous weapon delivery.

For that purpose the in service small unmanned underwater system UUS (Unmanned Underwater System) shall be further developed to LDUUV configuration, although a UUS can be currently operated for a few hours only and have to be remotely guided from special personal.

The underwater drone “Echo Ranger” (displacement 5 t, length 5.5 m, diving depth down to 3,300 m/ 10,000 feet), introduced in 2001 by Boeing, is considered to be a basis model for a further development. While the “Echo Ranger” is still being powered by batteries up to 28 hours endurance only, LDUUV is to have significantly longer mission times though fuel cell and/ or diesel-electric propulsion systems, whose weight alone is planned to have about 3.5 t.

The new LDUUV underwater drones are to execute reconnaissance from underwater of minefields, vessels, habour facilities and coastlines, and they will be able not only to close in to obstacles but also to avoid and circumnavigate them. At the same time, the considerably bigger LDUUVs may carry a variety of payload, from smaller UUSs for covert disembarkation, to deployable sensors systems for surveillance, to remote communication buoys, and eventually even weapons, such as mines.

The US Navy intents to operate the new LDUUV during a 18-24 months first phase in shallow waters up to 33 m (100 feet), remotely controlled via satellite from shore, to gain enough experience in operating in waters littered with obstacles. The test will see missions lasting up to 30 days uninterrupted. Only in a second phase, scheduled to last up to three years, LDUUV are to be operated autonomously in real deep waters and at high seas, without any remote control from shore. The test missions will be carried out up to 70 days without interruption.

Eventually, LDUUV shall carry payloads of weapons, similar to UAVs in combat mode.

There will be call for tenders by the US Navy in 2014 to construct LDUUV in compliance with the conceptual requi-rements. A procurement of up to 10 LDUUV is planned. LDUUV are to function as complement to manned subma-rines only, there is no intent to replace the traditional submarine force. However, as one can see at the develop-ment of flying drones for reconnaissance and weapon engagement purposes, there are serious questions as to the future of manned underwater weapon systems as such, i.e. in the end an end to conventional submarines?