Ula-Tech: Norway’s Next Submarine Fleet
Norway’s 6 Ula Class/ U210 diesel-electric submarines were commissioned from 1989-1992, and play an important role in their overall fleet. The 1,150t design combined German design, sonar, and torpedoes with a French Thomson-CSF (now Thales) Sintra flank array sonar. Integration happens through a Norwegian Kongsberg combat system, which has become a mainstay for German submarine types. The U210s are a bit on the small side compared to more modern diesel-electric boats, but they remain well suited to Norway’s long coasts and narrow fjords.
The Ula Class has received a number of upgrades since 2006. A new combat system, added cooling for warm water operations, upgraded periscopes, sonar improvements, TADIL-A/Link 11 communications, etc. Even so, the continuous cycle of compression and release inherent in submarine operations will make operations past 2020 a risky proposition. Norway wants to keep a submarine fleet, and is trying to decide what to do.
Contracts & Key Events
Nov 16/12: The Plan. A newspaper report prods Norway’s Ministry of Defence into clarifying the current status of its submarine program. They’re trying to decide between a further life extension of the current Ula Class, a replacement program, or some combination of the two. This process is expected to present its recommendations in 2014.
The chosen solution will form the basis for a project definition phase, before any investment project is presented for the Norwegian parliament in 2017. Norwegian MoD.
Nov 15/12: Rear Admiral Jan Gerhard Jæger (ret.) tells Aftenposten that modernizations may not be enough to keep the U210 Ula Class competitive. Money quote: “Norway currently has equipment that can be used to trace these submarines. Consequently, we must reckon with the fact that others also possess this.” The Foreigner.
Oct 3/12: Minister of Defence Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen speaks to the 2012 Army Summit, and talks about “The economic turmoil – implications for security and defence policy.” Some excerpts:
“When I left the Ministry in 2009, we hoped the financial crisis to have reached its peak… I think no one would disagree that since then things have got worse… we are witnessing a severe debt crisis with long term effects, particularly in the European economy. We need to prepare ourselves to be in this dire situation for the long haul. It will most likely dominate European politics for years to come. We experience an unprecedented economic crisis which over time has morphed into a crisis of social cohesion and confidence.
“…What I am suggesting is that we once again have to consider strategic and more traditional challenges. We have to reflect about the possibility of symmetric threats… If you are a defence minister it tends to be much easier to cut investments than bases or camps, simply because it does not have the same social effect in the short run… My fellow defence ministers are fully aware of this pitfall. If you make cuts in your investments budget the problems will not emerge in 2012 or 2013, but rather in 2017 or in 2025. Similarly, the immediate effect of reducing the budget for training and exercises is not critical. What you obviously risk is less agile, less prepared forces further down the line.
What makes these challenges even more daunting is the constant need for military transformation. There is a danger that several European Allies may have choose to postpone the restructuring of their military organisations…”
Sept 11/12: RFI. The Norwegian Defence Logistics Organisation (NDLO) on 11 september 2012 forwards a Request for Information to prequalified shipyards. The purpose of the RFI is to investigate investment cost, life cycle costs, production time, performance and other important aspects related to new submarines that in turn will shape a decision on life extension or fleet replacement. Responses to this RFI are expected by the end of 2012. Shipyards include:
- Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (South Korea, modernized U209s & U214)
- DCNS (France, Scorpene Class)
- Fincantieri (Italy, U212A partner)
- Navantia (Spain, S-80)
- ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (representing Swedish Kockums AB’s new A26 design, and Germany’s HDW for U212A/U214)
Note that many of the contenders are offering variants on HDW submarine designs, which already come with a Norwegian combat system as their main option. The new player is South Korea’s DMSE, which has become one of the most significant and advanced shipyards in the world. They’re currently building U214s for South Korea, and U209 derivatives for Indonesia, while modernizing Indonesia’s existing U209 boats. If Norway opts for U210 life extension as part of their solution, DSME is likely to represent HDW’s main competition for the work. Norway MoD | Defense News.
2007 – 2011: The Norwegian Ministry of Defence studies whether Norway should continue to have a requirement for a submarine capability after 2020. This isn’t an idle question; their neighbor Denmark looked at the issue recently, and decided to scrap their underwater fleet.
The study concludes that no other system would be able to replace the capability offered by a modern fleet of submarines, and that Norway still needs this capability. Source.
Note that the ship prefix used by Norway’s own navy is “KNM,” for “Kongelig Norsk Marine.” The English counterpart is “HNoMS,” for “His/Her Norwegian Majesty’s Ship.” DID uses them interchangeably.
- Norwegian Armed Forces – Equipment Facts: Navy
- Wikipedia – Ula class submarine
- DID (Jan 16/12) – Kongsberg to Upgrade Norwegian Submarine Combat Systems