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News from the German 212A U-Boats

On 27 Sep 2014 the German 212A-Class U-boat U 33 left its homeport Eckernförde for a several months long mission to the Mediterranean, among other tasks to participate in NATO Operation “Active Endeavor”. The 28 men strong duty service crew under Commander Stephan Pfeifer will operate the boat until early next year, to be relieved by another of the currently 7 duty crews formed for the German U-boat fleet in January 2015. That allows to keeping the separation burden for the crews within reasonable limits, while the U-boat itself can remain in the theater of operation without any requirement to return home intermediately. Such long deployments of 212A-Class U-Boats are nothing unusual: It should be reminded on the 7-months deployment to the Mediterranean of U 34 in 2011 or the more than 6months long journey of U 32 to the US in 2013. U 33 is expected to be back at Eckernförde in May 2015.

Since 22 September 2014 the German Navy at its internet domain presents another short video in the running series showing typical trades on board a U-boat of the 212A-Class. This time the work of propulsion engineering and weapon engagement personnel is presented. The video is also available at Youtube.


US Navy completes 4,000th strategic patrol

On 19 September 2014 the US media reported about the successful completion of the 4,000th strategic patrol (“Ballistic-missile-submarine-patrol”) by a SSBN of the US Navy. Honoring this occasion the US Navy staged a simultaneous ceremony at the SSBN bases at Bangor, Washington at the Pacific coast and at KingsBay, Georgia at the Atlantic coast.

On 30 December 1959 the USS George Washington was commissioned as first SSBN of the US Navy, to then start her first strategic patrol. Following that a total of 59 SSBNs were commissioned by the US Navy, with many of those having been de-commissioned or converted meanwhile. Currently, 14 “Trident”-SSBNs are in service, and the long-term perspective is to maintain a minimum of 12 SSBNs (“Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines”).

As we all know in the past the US and the Soviet Union/ Russia successfully negotiated a number of nuclear arms reduction and arms control agreements such as SALT, START I and START II, SORT, etc., with the last agreement setting the upper limit of nuclear war heads to be between 1,500 and 1,675 on each side. Actually, at the moment the figures published put 1,920 war heads to the US, 1,600 to Russia, 290 to France and 160 to Britain. About 50% of the US nuclear deterrence capability is represented by the “Trident”-SLBMs with multiple war heads (MIRV) being carried by the SSBN of the US Navy.


Possible acceleration of the Indian submarine procurement plans

We have reported about the status of the Indian submarine in our “Flotsam” issues of March 2014, April 2014, July 2014 and August 2014.

The submarine force of India is battling severe seas these days: Not only the current 13 conventional submarines (4 older submarine of the Shishumar-Class/ Type 209 and the remaining 9 submarines of the Sindhoghosh-Class/ Type “Kilo”, after the INS Sindhuraks-hak was destroyed following a blaze on 14 Aug 2013) can only provide less than 50 percent unrestricted combat readiness, but also the running and scheduled procurement programs face repeatedly delays. Moreover, the ambitious plans for Indian nuclear submarines have seen a weak implementation only, as the only nuclear powered submarine in service is the INS Chakra, given by Russia as ex “Akula II”-Class SSN “Nerpa”/ K-152 on 29 Nov 2011 under a ten-year lease agreement. The second Indian nuclear powered submarine, the 6.000 to SSBN INS Arihant designed and built in India, was launched in 2009 and is undergoing its sea and weapon trials since the Summer of 2013. Notwithstanding, its commissioning scheduled for mid-2015 seems shaky.

Considerable doubts arise about India´s capability to operate a credible submarine force in view of the self-declared role as regional power in the Indian Ocean if one looks at the combat readiness of those submarines in service and the running building program, keeping in mind that any new submarine needs 7 to 8 year from building order to commissioning. Hence, signs increase that the running and the scheduled procurement programs might be accelerated.

The current procurement program “Project 75” was started in 2005, with 6 diesel-electric SSKs with AIP (MESMA) of the French “Scorpene”-Class being built in India. However, this program has experienced a delay of 4 years already and the first unit will not be delivered before 2016, the other units to follow in 8-10 months sequence. Also, the project of procuring 98 heavy weight torpedoes for these submarine is still awaiting contracting. Significant acceleration does not seem very likely, now even made more complex as the 6th unit of the series is receive an AIP-system developed in India.

The second large program “Project 75 India”, i.e. the procurement of 6 further AIP submarines with capabilities to launch cruise missiles for land-attack, has been approved as early as 2007. However, the world-wide tender to potential bidders has not been published yet despite repeated announcement to do so soon. Now, to save time, the first two units are to be built overseas at shipyards of the winning contender, three more to be constructed at the Naval shipyard at Mazagon (Mumbai/ Bombay) and the 6th unit at the Hindustan shipyard at Visakhapatnam at India´s east coast.

The third large program, the procurement of initially 4 SSBN, seems being well underway: The INS Arihant has meanwhile started its sea and weapon trials, the second unit of the program the INS Aridhaman has been launched already and construction of the third unit has begun in 2014. However, delays seem to come up as there are new technologies in many areas to be dealt with successfully, such as nuclear power, the development of a SLBM, and so on. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether all 4 SSBNs are commissioned as planned by 2020. The fourth large program, i.e. the procurement of 6 SSNs and their construction in India, is absolutely dependent on the experienced gained during the construction of the Indian SSBNs in India.

Any progress in the current program must be seen before the background of the 1999 “Submarine Procurement Program” for the coming 30 years, which envisaged the delivery of 12 new submarines until 2012 and another 12 units until 2030. In fact, as to day 1 SSN has been leased until 2012 from Russia, a first SSBN might be in service by 2015, three more SSBNs are under construction but will not be ready by 2020, in addition 6 conventional AIP submarines are under construction to be delivered from 2016 onwards, and building order for 6 more AIP submarines is pending. With that, the target for 2012 is widely missed and in 2030 there might be in service 4 SSBNs and 12 new AIP submarines at best, plus maybe another 6 SSN under construction.


Chinese submarine calls at Colombo, Sri Lanka

A day before the state visit of Chinese President Xi JinPing to Sri Lanka the Chinese diesel-electric submarine Great Wall 0329 paid an informal visit to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The submarine stayed at Colombo from 07 to 14 Sep 2014. According to Chinese statements the submarine is to join the Chinese Task Group composed of destroyer Chanchung and frigate Changzou, which supports the international anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden. It is widely known that China contributes to the operation since December 2008 throughout by regularly deploying a task group composed of never less than one destroyer and one frigate plus one replenishment vessel. The submarine is to stay with the task group for several weeks, with returning to Colombo intermediately for replenishment and recreation.

It is remarkable that this relatively small Type 039 submarine of the “Song”-Class (Only 3 units of the “Song”-Class were built as of 1994 at Wuhan) has crossed the large distances of Indian Ocean to East Africa just to support an own task group. Undoubtedly, this journey is to demonstrate a new self-understanding and self-esteem of the Chinese submarine force, showing also an enhanced profile of capabilities.

Song-Klasse-Boot, Typ 039G
Song-Klasse-Boot, Typ 039G (Picture: SteKrueBe, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The submarines of the “Song”-Class are the first own Chinese submarine design and have been commissioned since 1997. The length is 75 m, the beam 9.6 m, and the displacement is 1,700 t, submerged 2,250 t. The submarine has 6 torpedo tubes 53.3 cm, and is able to carry up to 24 mines. The speed at surface is said to be some 15 kn, submerged up to 20 kn. The crew comprises up to 62 men.



New SSGNs of the Royal Navy return after several months long deployments

On 07 October 2014 the First-of-Class of the new SSGNs of the “Astute”-Class, HMS Astute, returned to its homebase at Faslane, Scotland, following an 8-months-deployment to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. HMS Astute had left Faslane in mid February 2014 to participate in several NATO exercises and operations, to also pass the Suez Canal to visit Bahrein at the Arabian Sea and to join multinational exercises in the Gulf of Bengal.

Just two days after HMS Ambush her sister ship, the second unit of the new SSGNs, HMS Ambush, also returned home to Faslane. HMS Ambush had departed Faslane on 04 July 2014 to cross the Equator joining the celebrations on the occasion of the 100 year celebration of the Brazilian Navy at Rio in August 2014.



News about building programs, launchings and commissionings in other Navies

US Navy

Repeatedly we have reported about the status of the procurement program of the SSGNs of the “Virginia”-Class for the US Navy, see our “Flotsam”-Issues of Jul 2014, Apr 2014 and Feb 2014. According to that 10 submarines of this call (Block I and Block II) have been commissioned already since 2004, the 11th unit (1st unit of Bock III) was commissioned on 25 October 2014 (USS North Dakota/ SSN-784), and further 17 (remaining 7 units of Block III and further 10 units of Block IV) are under construction or under order, lately on 28 April 2014 the 17.6 Bill USD (= 14 Bill. Euros) contract awarded to General Electric to construct 10 SSGN of Block IV (SSN-792 to SSN-801). The current procurement program for the “Virginia”-Class submarines foresees even a Block IV with further 4 units, which would bring the number of SSGNs of this class to a total of 32.

The first SSGN of Block IV, which represents submarine No. 19 of this class, is to receive the name of USS Vermont, as Undersecretary of the Navy in the US Department of Defence, Ray Mabus; has officially announced on 18 September 2014. The construction of this SSGN is to occur at the GE Electric Boat shipyard at Groton, Connecticut. Initial lead-in orders to procure material for the USS Vermont have been placed already an 17 April 2012.


Israeli Navy

On 23 September 2014 the INS Tanin was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu at the Israeli Naval Base at Haifa being built in Germany by TKMS/ HDW at Kiel. The news are supported by a short video of the news agency Reuters showing also some shots from the interior of the submarine.

The Tanin was keel-laid in 2007 and launched in May 2012, official commissioning ceremony took place at Kiel on 30 June 2014. Following her sea and weapon trials she left Kiel on 08 September 2014 for Israel. The Tanin is the 4th submarine of the ongoing procurement program of a total of 6 submarines of the “Dolphin”-Class, and she is the first unit to have received air-independent propulsion (AIP). The first three units of the series have been designed still as mere diesel-electric submarines, while units No 4 to 6 will have an AIP-System on the basis of the German export type 214. Submarine No.5 of the series, the INS Rahav, has been launchen in April 2013 and is scheduled to be commissioned still in 2014. All 6 submarines of the “Dolphin”-Class for the Navy of Israel are said to be delivered and ready for operation in Israel not later than 2019.


Italian Navy

On 09 October 2014 the third Italian 212A-Class submarine was launched at Fincantieri at Muggiano/ La Spezia, its commissioning is scheduled for 2015. Being part of the 2nd batch of the Italian submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) ordered on 21 April 2008 the Pietro Venuti was keel-laid on 09 Decemebr 2009. Parallel to the German U-boat fleet the Italian Navy had put AIP submarines of the Type 212A under procurement in 1996, with the AIP-System to be delivered by the German submarine designers of HDW. The first two units of this class of submarine were the Salvatore Todaro (S-526) and the Scirè (S-527), the Todaro was commissioned on 29 March 2006 and the Scirè on 19 July 2007. The second batch of this class of two units will be formed by the Pietro Venuti (S-528) and the Romeo Romei (S-529). There are no announcements made yet for the commissioning of the Romeo Romei, officially it is scheduled still for 2016. Noteworthy, in 2008 the Scirè was the first 212A-Class submarine to cross the Atlantic Ocean to visit the US.


Hellenic Navy

We have reported in our “Flotsam” issues of July 2014 about the status of the delivery of the new submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) to the Navy of Greece, according to that the Greek Government had launched a 75 Mill. Euros special budget despite all budgetarian difficulties to bring back life to the current procurement program of 4 submarines of the German export type 214 for the Hellenic Navy, with just the first unit of the program, the Papanikos, being built at HDW at Kiel, meanwhile commissioned.

Building of the three units of the program under construction at the Hellenic Shipyard at Salamis, Greece, was almost at idle, when in July 2014 the initiative by the government was notified, with the second unit ready built to 80 % (that unit was keel-laid in February 2003 and launched in November 2006). Now, earlier than expected, construction of the Pipinos could be completed, and the submarine was officially commissioned on 06 Oct 2014 at Salamis as second AIP submarine of the Hellenic Navy.