Alex Pape, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
15 September 2015
The German and Italian Navies are looking to increase their submarine fleets again in light of evolving security challenges, senior officials said at the Subcon 2015 conference on submarine technology organised by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in Kiel.
An "arc of instability" now spans several continents, exacerbating maritime security challenges, and the Ukraine crisis has highlighted the need to still consider more traditional security challenges, noted Vice Admiral Andreas Krause, the head of the German Navy.
The Baltic Sea is also re-emerging as an area of importance for the German Navy including the ability to exert sea control and have a deterrent sea denial capability, added Captain Henning Faltin, head of future naval plans at the German Ministry of Defence. Ensuring a safe and open maritime space is important for regional countries and key to the Baltic states' access to the world in particular.
While new technology in the shape of sensors, weapons, increasing modularity, and more simulator training is due to solve some of the challenges, there may be a need to increase Germany's fleet of submarines beyond the current planning level of six boats. During the Cold War Germany operated in excess of 20 smaller coastal submarines and had expected to replace these with some 12 submarines after 2000; however, this number was then repeatedly cut. When all of Germany's remaining coastal boats were decommissioned in one fell swoop in 2010, this left just four Type 212A boats (commissioned in 2005/2006) in service, before the two more boats were added with an additional capability by the end of 2015.
While there is still no urgent need to add boats right away according to Capt Faltin, future operational capability is being considered well in advance, including the replacement of the current boats. This could start within the next 15 years and see a modest increase in the overall number of subs beyond the current level of six.
The Italian Navy's submarine fleet currently comprises six boats, including two Type 212A built in co-operation with Germany, and four Improved Sauro-class boats commissioned in 1988-95. A second batch of two new Type 212A is under construction by Fincantieri, these new boats are due to replace the older pair of Sauro-class submarines in 2016, and the overall fleet was then due to shrink to four submarines by 2020 with the decommissioning without replacement of the third and fourth Sauro-class submarines.
However, instability and conflict on the shores of the Mediterranean, its importance for trade - and more recently, as a conduit for human and drug trafficking - has led the Italian Navy to step up its use of submarines. In
light of the situation, two Italian boats have been continuously deployed for patrols off Libya since March, according to the commander of the navy's submarine force, Rear Admiral Dario Giacomin. The submarines were also active in support of anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean from 2010-13.
While the submarines are proving their versatility in these modern scenarios, Rear Adm Giacomin warned the importance of traditional roles should not be underestimated. "Deterrence, sea denial, and control remain the key reasons for operating the submarine fleet." The submarine force also hopes to stem the reduction in number of boats, with consideration being given to extend the life of two Improved Sauro-class boats by up to 10 years (maintaining a six boat fleet until at least 2025), and a push to increase the fleet beyond the planned four boats long-term in the upcoming defence White Paper.