Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why Russia Fears Sweden’s Deadly Submarines

Sebastien Roblin, National Interest
16 July 2018

Another important features is a special ‘multi-mission’ portal for deploying special forces and underwater vehicles, a much-in demand feature for contemporary submarines. Situated between the torpedo tubes in the nose, the portal can also be used to recover the AUV-6 underwater drone, which can be launched from the torpedo tubes. The A26 would typically belly down on the ocean floor when employing the portal—a maneuver which could also aid it in escaping detection.
For decades, submarines came in two discrete flavors: traditional diesel-electric submarines that need to surface every day or two to recharge their noisy, air-breathing diesel engines, and nuclear-powered submarines that could quietly hum along under the sea at relatively high speeds for months at a time thanks to their nuclear reactors.
The downside to the nuclear-powered variety, of course, is that they cost many times the price of a comparable diesel submarines and require nuclear propulsion technology, which may not be worth the trouble for a country only interested in defending its coastal waters. A diesel submarine may also run more quietly than a nuclear submarine by turning off its engines and running on batteries—but only for a very short amount of time. Still, there remains a performance gap in stealth and endurance that many countries would like to bridge at an affordable price.
One such country was Sweden, which happens to be in a busy neighborhood opposite to Russian naval bases on the Baltic Sea. Though Sweden is not a member of NATO, Moscow has made clear it might take measures to ‘eliminate the threat,’ as Putin put it, if Stockholm decides to join or support the alliance. After a Soviet Whiskey-class submarine ran aground just six miles away from a Swedish naval base in 1981, Swedish ships opened fire on suspected Soviet submarines on several occasions throughout the rest of the 1980s. More recently, Russia has run an exercise simulating a nuclear attack on Sweden and likely infiltrated Swedish territorial waters with least one submarine in 2014.
Back in the 1960s, Sweden had begun developing a modernized version of the Stirling engine, a closed-cycle heat conversion engine first developed in 1818. This was first used to power a car in the 1970s, then the Swedish ship-builder Kockums successfully retrofitted a Stirling engine to power a Swedish Navy A14 submarine Nacken in 1988. Because the Stirling burns diesel fuel using liquid oxygen stored in cryogenic tanks rather than an air-breathing engine, it can quietly cruise underwater at low speeds for weeks at a time without having to surface.
Kockums went on to build three Gotland-class submarines in the late 1990s, the first operational submarines designed with Air-Independent Propulsion systems. The Gotland became famous for sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier in a 2005 military exercise; its characteristics and operational history are further described in this earlier article. Stirling AIP technology has subsequently been incorporated into numerous Japanese and Chinese submarines, while Germany and France developed more expensive fuel-cell and steam-turbine based AIP submarines instead.
Sweden, meanwhile, converted her four late-80s vintage Västergötland diesel-electric submarines between 2003 and 2005 to use Stirling AIP engines—refits which involved cutting the submarines in two and stretching them out from forty-eight to sixty meters! Two of these submarines were re-designated the Södermanland-class, while the other two were sold to Singapore. The latter Archer-class boats are climatized for operations in warmer waters and boast improved navigation and fire control systems.
Enter the A26: Sweden’s Ghostly Super Sub of the Future—On Paper
Sweden intends to retire its Södermanland boats between 2019 and 2022. Since the 1990s, Kockums had been bouncing around a concept for a next-generation AIP submarine designated the A26 to succeed the Gotland-class, but encountered numerous setbacks. Stockholm canceled A26 procurement in 2014, and at one point there was even a raid by the Swedish government attempting to confiscate blueprints from the German parent firm Thyssen-Krupp which was confronted by company security.
Since then, Kockums has been purchased by the Swedish firm Saab. Finally, in June 2015, Swedish defense minister Sten Tolgfors announced Stockholm was finally committing to procure two A26s at a price equivalent to $959 million—less than a fifth the unit cost of a nuclear-powered Virginia class submarine of the U.S. Navy.
The A26 has also been marketed abroad at various times to Australia, India, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland, but so far without success, due to competition from French and German AIP submarine-makers and an apparent reluctance from smaller European states to commit to submarine purchases at this time.
Kockums claims the A26 will achieve new levels of acoustic stealth thanks to a new ‘GHOST’ (Genuine Holistic Stealth) technology which involves acoustic damping plates, flexible rubber mountings for hardware, a less reflective hull with a lower target strength, and degaussing to lower the submarine’s magnetic signature. Supposedly, the A26’s hull will also be unusually resilient to underwater explosions.
The Swedish firm has unveiled concept art depicting a submarine with a ‘chinned’ sail, X-shaped tail fins for greater maneuverability in rocky Baltic waters, and four 533-millimeter torpedo tubes can fire both heavyweight torpedoes, back up by two 400-millimeter tubes, all of which would use wire-guided torpedoes. The vessel’s four Stirling engines apparently allow allowing
higher sustainable underwater cruising speed of 6 to 10 knots.
Kockums has emphasized the new designs’ modularity, which should lower development costs for specialized variants, such as one configuration accommodating up to eighteen Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in a vertical launch system. This is a feature likely meant to appeal to Warsaw, which would like cruise-missile equipped submarines.
Another important features is a special ‘multi-mission’ portal for deploying special forces and underwater vehicles, a much-in demand feature for contemporary submarines. Situated between the torpedo tubes in the nose, the portal can also be used to recover the AUV-6 underwater drone, which can be launched from the torpedo tubes. The A26 would typically belly down on the ocean floor when employing the portal—a maneuver which could also aid it in escaping detection.
Kockums is now marketing three different versions of the A26. The ‘medium’ model intended for Swedish service would measure 63-meters long and displace roughly 2,000 tons surfaced. It would typically have a crew of around twenty-six, and a maximum endurance of forty-five days, including eighteen to thirty days (sources differ) submerged, generally sustaining a speed of 10 knots. This endurance, including a typical range of 6,500 miles, should give it capability for operations in the Atlantic Ocean—in contrast to the Gotlands which are not designed for transoceanic deployments.
There is also a smaller 51-meter ‘Pelagic’ version for short-range patrols, and an Extended Range model stretched to eighty meters long and displacing 4,000 tons that might appeal to operators in the Pacific Ocean due to its 10,000-mile range and 50-day endurance.
Sweden’s two A26s should be completed between 2022 and 2024, at which point it will be possible to gauge whether they can meet their ambitious performance parameters. In general, advancements to AIP submarines are allowing countries across the globe to acquire capable short and medium-range submarines at an affordable price.

China Building Eight Submarines For Pakistan

Ali Ahmed, The Business Recorder
17 July 2018

China is building eight submarines for Pakistan to strengthen its ally's naval and under water capabilities.
According to the local media, under the Project Hangor, China's shipbuilding industry will soon give these submarines to Pakistan. The acquisition of new submarines from China is a part of Pakistan's effort to increase its capabilities in underwater warfare.
The new addition will increase Pakistan's submarine arsenal to 18, while at present the country possess 10 submarines. The latest development comes when China and Pakistan are busy building the strategic $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Just days ago, Pakistan launched two indigenously-built satellites from China's Jiuquan Satellite Centre to meet its imagery requirements in land mapping and natural disaster management.
Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) were launched through Long March-2C rocket, at 0857 hours (PST), from a satellite centre located in Northwest China.
The 1,200 kg PRSS-1 and the 285 kg PakTES-1A satellites would operate at an altitude of 640 km and 610 km, respectively and would also enable the country in agriculture classification and assessment, urban and rural planning and water resource management.

Inside America's Aging Nuclear Missile Submarines

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr, Breaking Defense
16 July 2018

Imagine drifting off to sleep underwater in a tiny room with eight other people, with nuclear missile tubes on either side.
Need a drink now? Too bad, because, while in theory the skipper can authorize alcohol, in practice he never will. You can eat canned asparagus every day though, if you want, thanks to a quirk in Navy nutrition regulations. (It's unclear how much of it ends up compacted into cubes with the other garbage, weighted down, and dumped to the ocean floor). Oh, and as another health benefit, even though you live next to a mobile nuclear reactor, you get less radiation than the average American simply because you spend months at a time without seeing the sun.
Sounds less than homey? Well, apparently, you get used to it. That's according to the crew of the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN-734), homeported here in King's Bay and currently tied up pierside for a refit.
Business Executives for National Security The missile compartment of an Ohio-class nuclear submarine. The entrances to the crews' sleeping quarters are to the left and right, reached by walking between two missile tubes.
There's an armed sailor in body armor standing guard on deck, plus trained dolphins and sea lions on watch for hostile divers. (Yes, really). When I and other attendees at a nuclear security conference here (courtesy of the DC-base Mitchell Institute and the local Camden Partnership) got the rare opportunity to tour a boomer, we had to leave our cellphones, cameras, and all other electronics behind before we boarded the Navy bus, which had been swept by security personnel and dogs. Even so, they never let us near the sub's reactor - but the front end of the boat was intriguing enough.
Inside the sub, the already cramped passageways were cluttered with temporary tubing. Every flat surface seemed covered by machinery being meticulously disassembled by several sailors, often standing with their backs nonchalantly to the two rows of 12 sequoia-thick silos that dominate the hull. The crew had even installed a temporary spiral staircase in their largest hatch to help them hustle in and out of the boat with supplies and spare parts. (Normally there're no stairs aboard a sub, just ladders).
Just to turn up the heat a little, literally, the sub's air conditioning had been turned off temporarily earlier in the day, while the boat moved berths. The reactivated A/C was still struggling to purge the July-in-Georgia heat from what is, after all, a big black metal tube with only a few hatches for ventilation. The only cool air aboard was right around the oxygen generator.
The generator looks rather like Hell's own espresso machine, but it actually splits ordinary water into oxygen - it's the only thing that keeps the crew from suffocating underway - and hydrogen (vented offboard with the carbon dioxide), which is an endothermic (heat-draining) reaction. But while I was wilting just walking around, the sailors I saw at work seemed undaunted.
Which is busier, I asked one sailor: Being out on patrol, or being in port for a refit? Refit is, he said, "by far." There's a lot of work to do in 35 days at home being heading out to sea for two or three months. Each sub actually has two crews of over 150 each, Blue and Gold, who alternate to ease the strain on sailors and families. Even so, a career submariner like the skipper of the Tennessee, Commander Paul Seitz, spends an estimated six years of his life underwater.
An Aging & Hard-Worked Force
So nuclear submarines are used hard every year, and this one is 32 years old. In fact, Tennessee was the first SSBN homeported at King's Bay and the first boat to test-fire the Trident D5 missile. The other 13 Ohio-class nuclear missile subs stationed here and in Bangor, Washington were all commissioned between 1981 and 1997, and the US hasn't built another SSBN since. (The newer Seawolf and Virginia submarines are relatively small attack boats that don't carry nuclear missiles). The Navy's now hustling to design and build the $128 billion replacement program, the Columbia class, with no slack left in the schedule.
Even so, Tennessee and her sisters will have to stay in service 42 years apiece before they can be replaced in the 2030s. The land-based Minuteman ICBM, the B-1 and B-2 bombers, and the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) will also need replacements about the same time. The force also needs upgrades to aging nuclear warheads, Trident missiles, and the nuclear command, control, and communications network (NC3), as well as refurbishment of crumbling Energy Department buildings that in some cases date back to the Manhattan project. All that will put tremendous pressure on the Pentagon budget.
"Everything in that program delivers just on time to replace the old stuff," said Gen. John Hyten, the four-star Air Force officer in charge of Strategic Command, to the nuclear weapons conference here.
"Every leg of the triad is up against the red line in terms of recapitalization," agreed Rear Adm. John W. Tammen, director of undersea warfare (N97) on the Navy staff. "The green-eyeshade people have repeatedly delayed
and delayed each of the programs. (Now), the bottom line is there's no additional margin for construction and delivery of Columbia." To reduce the risk, defense contractors have already started building missile tubes - some of which will go to the Royal Navy's SSBN program - as well as a full-up prototype of the new design's electric drive.
Is there any way, I asked, to squeeze some more years out of the Ohios, originally designed to last 30 years? "We have sharpened the pencils to get to 42 years," he said. "I don't think there's anything past 42."
So "we have to get Columbia done on time, (and) we are on plan to do that," Tammen emphasized. "With the current leadership designating the strategic mission as DoD's No. 1 mission, the resources are there."
In the meantime, there's some money to keep upgrading the existing equipment, but very selectively. So, like much of the US military, the sub is a strange mix of cutting-edge and vintage. There are plasma screens on the wall of the galley, the petty officer's "Goat Locker," and the captain's office/stateroom/tiny cell, that display the condition of the sub in real time, all the time once underway.
But a lot of technology dates from the 1980s when the boat was built, including key components of the fire control system for the ballistic missiles. It turns out "clunky but tried and tested" beats "new hotness that's mostly been debugged" when you're working with nuclear weapons. And no, the crew told us, one man can't launch the missiles: It takes at least two people turning keys at once in two different parts of the ship.
Saying "Thank You"
Does the crew suffer any existential dread from living, working, and sleeping next to enough megatonnage to kill millions of people? Apparently not. None of these submarines has ever fired a shot in anger as opposed to testing, and the sailors naturally prefer it that way. The whole point of a deterrent is, if it's successful, you never have to use it. And while America's land-based silos are visible to orbiting satellites, and its strategic bombers often make high-profile flights abroad to assure allies and unnerve adversaries, the submarines' success lies in never being seen.
So it's easy to overlook the service of US Navy submariners, or for the matter the Air Force missileers who go to work every day in bunkers deep underground, standing ready for the order we all pray will never come. And this weight is on some very young shoulders.
Gen. Hyten recalled how one junior lieutenant, working at Malmstrom missile base in Montana on her first assignment in the Air Force, asked how he responded when people derided the work ethic of millennials.
"What I say is, if you want to see our country, get on my plane and come with me," Hyten said, voice breaking with emotion. "Come with me to Malmstrom, come to me to Kings Bay, and I'll introduce you to the millennials that do the job every day - and you will find that they're exactly the same as they were 20 years ago, exactly the same as they were 40 years ago."
"They love this country. They want to defend this country. They go to work every day," Hyten said. "They're amazing - they're smarter than we were, by far. They get motivated differently so you have to lead them differently, but their passion is just the same."
It was at this point in his answer to the young lieutenant, Hyten said, that he saw a tear start down her cheek. "It's pretty awesome that a missileer whose job is to sit on top of a nuclear weapon, a Minuteman III, takes her job that seriously," he said. "Just saying thank you means a lot."