Saab Story: Sweden’s New A26 Submarines

Saab: A26 Concept

A26 concept
(click to view full)

June 20/19: Mid-Life Lift Saab relaunched the HMS Uppland. The Uppland is a Gotland Class Submarine. Two ships of the class now have concluded comprehensive mid-life upgrades. The Swedish Navy’s diesel-electric subs are the world’s first submarines to feature a Stirling engine air-independent propulsion system. This extends their underwater endurance from a few days to weeks. The mid-life upgrades saw the submarines receive an additional 2 meter hull section to accommodate the third generation of the Stirling air-independent propulsion engine and a diver lock-out chamber in addition to combat management and ship management systems upgrades. The updated version of Uppland and her sister ship Gotland are paving the way for the next generation of Swedish air independent propulsion submarines: the Blekinge Class, or A26.

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A26 SOF concept (click to view full) Submarines remain the ultimate maritime insurance policy, which is why so many countries treat the ability to build or design them as a strategic capability. Sweden is trying to recover from a disastrous pair of assumptions in the early 21st century, and preserve both their industrial capabilities and […]

Kockums: A26 SOF concept

A26 SOF concept
(click to view full)

Submarines remain the ultimate maritime insurance policy, which is why so many countries treat the ability to build or design them as a strategic capability. Sweden is trying to recover from a disastrous pair of assumptions in the early 21st century, and preserve both their industrial capabilities and their country’s defenses.

The narrow, shallow Baltic seas present their own special challenges, but Swedish designs have proven themselves very capable. In order to field their next-generation design, however, Sweden may have to do something unusual: partner with other countries…

Sweden’s New Submarine

Kockums A26 next-gen concept

A26 concept
(click to view full)

The A26 was originally envisioned as a 62m boat with about 1,800t displacement when surfaced, and more when fully submerged. It would be designed to excel in littoral operations, while remaining a capable ocean-going vessel. As a point of comparison, that size is a bit larger than the German U212A/214, and about the same as the Scorpene AM-2000 AIP, all of which are ocean-going boats.

Kockums A26 design also included a 6m x 1.5m Multimission Portal flexible payload lock system, in addition to its twin pairs of conventional 533mm and 400mm torpedo tubes. Envisaged weapons include torpedoes and mines, but not anti-ship missiles.

The lock system makes it easy for commandos to enter and exit the boat, and is large enough to allow the launch and retrieval of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles. UUVs are expected to play a larger role in future submarine warfare. They can already provide advance surveying and sensing capabilities, and their modification toward a combat role is a certainty. This will likely begin with coordinated decoying tactics, but UUVs are expected to graduate to active combat capabilities before the A26 leaves service.


Background: AIP

The A26 will be equipped with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) supplement to its diesel-electric systems, which is intended to allow it to remain underwater for up to 18 days at relatively slow speeds before its AIP fuel is exhausted. That avoids the need to surface and suck air for diesel combustion to recharge its batteries, a vulnerable time that was the absolute bane of submarine operations until the USA introduced nuclear-powered boats. The A26’s AIP system will be Kockums’ Stirling, which also equips Sweden’s 3 Gotland and 2 Sodermanland Class submarines, Singapore’s Archer Class Sodermanlund variant, and Japan’s Soryu Class.

To date, Swedish submarines have been renowned for their quietness. HMS Gotland performed well enough in Mediterranean naval exercises to earn an invitation and eventual 2-year lease from the USA, which brought the boat and crew to San Diego to help train its forces against an advanced diesel-electric boat. In return, the Swedes got a nice payment, outstanding training for their own crews, and a record of torpedo “kills” against US Navy submarines and carriers in exercises.

That reputation for stealth was dented somewhat by Australia’s much-enlarged 3,400t (submerged) Collins Class boats, which were designed by Kockums based on the 1,150t Vastergotland Class and built in Australia. For various reasons, the AIP-less Collins Class are known to be rather noisier than they ought to be. The topic remains relevant because Australia may become a partner in the A26 program. If they do, they will demand a larger design with greater range, longer endurance, and probably missile-firing capability. Saab, in turn, will need to avoid a repeat of whatever happened to the Collins design.

Poland, which has become alarmed by recent Russian military operations to annex parts of Georgia and Ukraine, is another potential partner. They are looking to lease or buy 2 submarines by the early 2020s, with a 3rd to come by 2030.

Contracts & Key Events

Sweden destroys Kockums, contracts with Saab to finalize the A26 design; Australia a potential A26 partner.

Saab: A26 Concept

A26 concept
(click to view full)


June 20/19: Mid-Life Lift Saab relaunched the HMS Uppland. The Uppland is a Gotland Class Submarine. Two ships of the class now have concluded comprehensive mid-life upgrades. The Swedish Navy’s diesel-electric subs are the world’s first submarines to feature a Stirling engine air-independent propulsion system. This extends their underwater endurance from a few days to weeks. The mid-life upgrades saw the submarines receive an additional 2 meter hull section to accommodate the third generation of the Stirling air-independent propulsion engine and a diver lock-out chamber in addition to combat management and ship management systems upgrades. The updated version of Uppland and her sister ship Gotland are paving the way for the next generation of Swedish air independent propulsion submarines: the Blekinge Class, or A26.


July 1/15: Saab landed a $1 billion contract on Tuesday for the construction of two A26 submarines, in addition to planned upgrades to the Swedish Navy’s Gotland-class subs. The two Type A26 boats will be delivered in 2018 and 2019, with the Swedish government announcing their intention to procure the subs back in March. The announcement dispels rumours in the Swedish press last week which reported that the procurement was likely to be delayed owing to cost overruns.

June 23/15: The Swedish planned procurement of Saab Kockums A26 submarines may be delayed owing to inflating cost forecasts, according to Swedish press reports. The government announced its intention to acquire the boats in March, allocating $1 billion for the acquisition of two A26 submarines, alongside upgrades to the Swedish Navy’s Gotland-class subs.

Nov 8/14: Australia. Saab CEO Hakan Bushke will be unveiling Saab’s offer to Australia at the Submarine Institute of Australia’s centenary conference, but Australia’s government confirms that it has already received the unsolicited bid. At this point, all the report will say is that:

“It includes a lower price than its competitors and a smooth flow of Japanese submarine [propulsion] technology from the Soryu Class boat, because Sweden is a partner in the Japanese project. There will also be substantial technology transfer and industrial offsets for Australia, including jobs in Adelaide during the build phase.”

Sources: News Corp., “Australian jobs promise as Sweden’s Saab Group bids for Navy’s $20 billion plus submarine project”.

Sept 11/14: Australia. Sweden wasn’t part of the Australian government’s initial submarine evaluations, because Kockums was still trapped and suppressed within TKMS. That has changed. Saab CEO Hakan Bushke says that they’re willing to design a 4,000t submarine for Australia, and take ASC and Royal Australian Navy engineers and technicians to work on its new A26 design. Bushke:

“As of July 2, Saab completed a full takeover of Kockums which is now Saab Kockums and the Swedish Kingdom now controls the intellectual property for… [Australia’s currently-serving] Collins class submarines…. If there is an open competition, Saab Kockums will be in it.”

The question is whether there will be an open competition. Australia’s government has been handed a program that’s already badly behind, and an existing Collins Class fleet whose cost-effective and performance-effective lifecycle is being questioned. Japan’s Soryu Class is already designed, built, and in service, unlike its German and Swedish competitors. Meanwhile, state-owned ASC has lost this government’s confidence as a shipbuilder, and delays in awarding a contract make it harder to reduce ASC’s role. Sources: Australia Financial Review, “Swedes launch desperate bid for Oz submarine project” | Business Insider Australia, “Germany Joins The Race To Build Australia’s New Submarine Fleet” | Business Insider Australia, “Australia Could Get A Great Deal On Its New Submarine Fleet If Tony Abbot Wants It”.

Saab's Visby Class in Helsingborg

Visby Corvette
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June 29/14: Sold! Saab finalizes the deal with ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions AG to buy its former Kockums subsidiary. Dagens Industri had speculated on Friday that it would cost about SEK 500 million, but the final price tag was just SEK 340 million ($50.5 million) on 2013 sales of SEK 1.7 billion (2011/2012: SEK 1.9 billion) and income from operations of approximately SEK 34 million (2011/2012: SEK 13 million).

Existing funds will be used to finance Saab’s acquisition, which still has to be approved ThyssenKrupp Group’s board, German authorities, and the Swedish Competition Authority. These approvals are expected during July 2014.

In a way, this acquisition closes a long loop. The original 1999 acquisition of Kockums by HDW was an all-shares transaction, which saw Celsius AB give up Kockums in exchange for 25% of HDW, with an option to exit the business for a lump sum. After Saab acquired almost all of Celsius in 2000, they opted to be paid the lump sum and exit. Celsius had also owned 49% of Australia Submarine corp. (ASC), but the Australian government used its leverage over the larger merger to help them nationalize ASC in 2000, instead of completing its transfer to HDW. Now, there is talk of Saab buying ASC alongside Kockums. Sources: Thyssen Krupp, “ThyssenKrupp and Saab agree on sale of Swedish shipyard activities ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AB (formerly Kockums)” | The Local – Sweden, “Saab completes Kockums shipyard deal” || Background: Cision 1999-09-22, “Celsius: Kockums Naval Systems and HDW merge” | Saab Group 2000-02-25, “Saab has acquired 99 percent of the shares in Celsius” | The Australian, “Subs divide: tale of two companies”.

Saab buys Kockums

June 26/14: Saab would like to remind everyone that a “a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding” (q.v. April 14/14) is exactly that:

“The discussions are at a final stage but still ongoing…. Saab has chosen to clarify the status of these discussions due to information published in the media.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt one’s negotiating position when many of Kockums’ engineers are already hired away, and the government has seized key plans and physical equipment where it has a share of the intellectual property. Sources: Saab Group, “Saab still in ongoing talks concerning an acquisition of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AB”.

June 10/14: Netherlands. The Netherlands has determined that an overhaul of its locally-designed Walrus Class submarines doesn’t make financial or operational sense, after a 20-25 year service life. They need new boats, but can’t afford to replace all 4, and their submarine industry died after Chinese pressure killed a sale to Taiwan. The solution? Present an initial plan this year, and go Dutch:

“As a result of the current budget constraints, the Dutch MoD is looking for an international partner to increase economy of scale and reduce costs of ownership in a new submarine programme. ‘We are open to discuss the whole spectrum from training to logistics,’ [CO Submarine Services Capt. Hugo] Ammerlaan said. While the MoD is currently exploring a variety of options it sees Norway as a potential partner for co-developing and building submarines.”

That’s an interesting assessment. Norway isn’t a strong design/build partner, though Kongsberg’s combat system is often used in German U-boats, and well proven. Really making this work probably requires at least one more major partner, be it French (Scorpene), German/Italian/Korean (U2xx), or Swedish (A26). Spain’s S-80 was part of the Sept 11/12 RFI, but its severe weight issues have derailed development and made it a very unlikely candidate. Sources: Shephard Maritime Security, “UDT: Dutch MoD advances submarine replacement”.

June 9/14: Sweden. Saab announces SEK 467 million (about $70.2 million) in orders from the Swedish FMV. They’ll produce construction and production plans for the next generation submarines, and a mid-life update of 2 Gotland Class AIP submarines. This implies that Sweden has gone back to its original plan of upgrading only HMS Gotland and HMS Halland (q.v. Oct 5/12), instead of upgrading HMS Uppland as well per some April 2014 reports.

This contract includes the completion of systems design for the new subs, and “detail construction” for the Gotland Class upgrades over 2014-2015. The work will be carried out in Sweden, and conducted within Saab’s business area Security and Defence Solutions.

In addition, FMV and Saab have signed a long term Letter of Intent to support Sweden’s submarine force. The Letter of Intent extends from 2015-2024 and comprises support, development, design and production of submarines and other underwater systems. If all options are exercised and new boats are built, the LoI could be worth approximately SEK 11.2 billion (about $1.683 billion at current conversion). Guess it’s time to hire away the rest of TKMS’ local Kockums engineers. Sources: FMV, “FMV bestaller undervattensverksamhet” | Saab Group, “Saab receives orders from FMV and has signed a Letter of Intent regarding underwater systems”.

Sweden orders renewed sub design, Gotland upgrades

April 14/14: Saab to buy Kockums. Saab AB and ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions AG sign a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding concerning the sale of the Swedish shipyard ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AB (formerly named Kockums), including its Malmo, Karlskrona, and Musko operations, to Saab AB.

“Both parties agree that during the negotiations phase, the integrity and the operating ability of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AB must be safeguarded. The transaction will be subject to regulatory approval. The negotiations between Saab AB and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AB are at an early stage and more information will follow.”

There’s a major backstory here. Sweden’s FMV effectively raided TKMS’ offices in Malmo “to take sensitive technological equipment,” but FMV says that since “…it was a transfer of defence material, belonging to FMV, all information regarding the transfer is classified as secret”. It’s generally believed that they came and took the A26 submarine’s plans, as well as a complete Stirling Air-Independent Propulsion system, which are technically owned by the Swedish state. A country that believes time is of the essence, and doesn’t want what it perceives as a hostile corporation to have leverage from holding state materials, might be inclined to move swiftly. The very fact that this happened speaks to how badly relations between Sweden and TKMS have deteriorated. Sources: Saab, “Saab and ThyssenKrupp have signed a MoU on an acquisition of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems” | Radio Sweden, “Defence authority leaves empty-handed after Kockums raid” | The Local – Sweden, “‘Baffling’ Swedish raid on German sub makers” | The Local, “Swedes ‘took engine’ in German sub site raid”.

Saab buying Kockums

April 12/14: Australia. The Collins Class was built around a Swedish design, and News Corp Australia says that Saab and the Swedish Government have been engaged in secret talks around a new joint submarine effort. That proposed approach may have the potential to cut through many of the dilemmas faced by Australia’s government, and Sweden’s as well. Here’s Australia’s problem, as explained in the SMH:

“This week the Australian Strategic Policy Institute hosted a conference billed as the “Submarine Choice” – but the arguments simply shot past each other. Nothing connected. The Navy stressed its strategic need for submarines without reference to the budget; industry obsessed about the business case without worrying about how such massive expenditure would severely unbalance the forces; while politicians agonised over the need to save jobs and save money, despite the fact these objectives stand in direct contradiction to one another. In the meantime, the bandwagon rolls remorselessly onwards.”

The reported Swedish solution would buy ASC, and embark on a fully cooperative joint design for Sweden and Australia’s next submarines. Australia would receive a design that’s explicitly built for Australia’s needs – a necessary compromise for Sweden, whose needs are different. It’s also worth noting that the Japanese Soryu Class propulsion system which is attracting so much interest from Australia’s Navy is part Swedish. From industry’s point of view, making ASC part of Saab removes any conflict of interests with a foreign firm that acts as the project lead, creating both development jobs/skills, and production work. From the politicians’ point of view, a program that includes Sweden and Australia offers the added security of shared risk, and shared acquisitions.

Sweden is looking to re-establish an independent submarine industry (q.v. March 26/14), and their challenge will be buying enough talent, building an equivalent production workforce, and designing the new sub within Sweden’s budgets. Australia offers Sweden a development partner, and a workforce with good experience. Poland has also been mentioned by some sources as a possible team member. Sources: News Corp., “Swedish firm Saab bids to design new Royal Australian Navy submarines” | Sydney Morning Herald, “Swedish-Australian submarines could fit defence needs”.

March 26/14: Sweden. Sweden is looking at ways to restore its indigenous submarine-building capability, and Saab is involved:

“Defence and security company Saab is currently working on the order from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) regarding a study on a consolidated underwater strategy. Commenting the article by Karin Enström, Swedish Minister for Defence, in the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri, Saab would like to clarify that no further order has been placed.

As previously announced, defence and security company Saab, received a contract from FMV at the end of February 2014. The order was to conduct a study on a consolidated underwater strategy. This study is now being carried out within the business area Security and Defence Solutions.”

Sweden’s problem is that they allowed ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems to buy Kockums, Sweden’s submarine builder and the Collins Class’ designer. TKMS promised to keep Kockums as an independent firm, but the reality is that they’ve blocked Kockums’ efforts to export their submarines to existing customer like Singapore, in favor of a new German U216 design. This suggests that the acquisition may have had more to do with removing a competitor, but Sweden is a neutral country that is disinclined to depend on others. Sweden’s government has pulled out of talks with TKMS concerning their next-generatin A26 submarine, and is turning to Saab, who is hiring Kockums engineers and trying to become a sub-builder. Sources: Saab, “Comment on statement regarding the Swedish stand on the underwater domain from the the Minister for Defence”.

2010 – 2013

Initial A26 design contract; Approval for more, but no deal; Contract to design Gotland Class upgrades establishes time window; Poland becomes a potential opportunity; TKMS engages in Kockums-blocking.

HDW: U216 concept

U216 concept
(click to view full)

Dec 2/13: Kockums-Blockers. Singapore’s new submarine buy unwittingly becomes the catalyst for a seismic shift in Sweden’s submarine industry. The city-state is an existing Kockums customer, with 2 advanced Archer (ex-Vastergotland Class) boats in service, but TKMS prevented Kockums from bidding to replace them. Instead, the German company offered a new “U218SG” model, which is what Singapore bought. Specifications remain hazy for now, but it’s believed to be a modified version of the 4,000t Type 216 that HDW has been touting at shows.

The deal created a crisis in Sweden. When Kockums AB was sold to ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in 2004, Sweden’s belief was that (a) they weren’t really under external threat any more, and (b) that the merger would allow Sweden’s submarine industry and expertise to remain, with a larger pool of investment and skills behind them. Both premises were drastically wrong. Beginning in 2008, Russia’s invasion of Georgia began making it clear that it intended to use the weapons it was rearming itself with. Meanwhile, the global submarine export market’s size, and consistent insistence by customers on local construction, meant that there wasn’t enough room for TKMS to maintain both Germany’s HDW and Sweden’s Kockums to compete against the Russians and French. Unsurprisingly, the German company chose the larger and more popular German submarine division.

Sweden’s negotiations with TKMS had remained deadlocked since 2010, and now they were faced with a clear message that their national submarine capabilities would be lost within TKMS. They decided to act, and everything since has followed. Sources: Singapore MINDEF, “MINDEF Signs Contract to Acquire Two Submarines” | TKMS, “ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems receives major submarine order from Singapore” | Defense Update, “Singapore’s Type-218SG – Forerunner of a new Submarine Class?” | Senang Diri, “Republic of Singapore Navy Type 218SG submarine buy caps 18-year journey in underwater warfare”.

Singapore sinks Swedish smugness

Nov 15/13: Poland. Alarmed by recent Russian aggression, and eager to replace its 2 Russian Kilo Class submarines as its primary insurance policy in the Baltic, Poland announces that they’re looking for 3 new submarines. Translated:

“The Polish Navy, according to the approved Technical Modernisation Programme 2013-2022, is expected to receive three new submarines. Two will go to its facilities by 2022 – a third by 2030.”

The general expectation was that Poland would lease a pair of German U214 submarines, and eventually buy them. A May 27/14 “Letter of Intention” to increase co-operation between the 2 countries’ navies included a “submarine operating authority,” after all. By late November, Poland wasn’t going ahead with any such deal just yet, though reports indicated that they might water down their requirements so that the U212A submarines could fit them. By March 2014, Swedish media were beginning to report that Poland could become a Swedish partner in the new A26 design. Sources: Polish MON, “Okrety podwodne – rozmawiajmy o faktach” | The Local – Germany, “Poland gives thumbs down to German subs” | SvD Naringsliv, “Sverige tar tillbaka ubatarna”.

May 16/13: IP deal. Australia’s government signs a deal with Sweden’s FMV procurement agency, covering Intellectual Property rights for submarine design and technology. As RAND’s 2011 report had noted (q.v. Dec 13/11), this was a major stumbling block for any sort of Evolved Collins design, since the original is based on a scaled-up version of Kockums submarine technology and designs.

The agreement covers use of Collins Class submarine technology for the Future Submarine Program. It also creates a framework and principles for the negotiation of Intellectual Property rights, if Australia wants to be able to use and disclose other Swedish submarine technology for an Evolved Collins solution. Disclosure is included because there are sub-contractors et. al. who require some level of disclosure in order to work on the project. Defense Ministers Joint Communique | Australia DoD.

Swedish Intellectual Property Agreement


Gotland Class

Oct 5/12: Gotlands. Kockums CIO John Ahlmarks says that they’ve received an order from Sweden worth several hundred million kronor to modernize 2 of Sweden’s 3 Gotland Class submarines. Some changes are apparently driven by new environmental regulations. Others are related to keeping the boats in service from their launch in the mid-1990s to 2025-2030. That will give Sweden enough time to replace the Gotland Class with a follow-on order, after replacing the 2 Sodermanlund Class boats with 2 A26s in the early 2020s.

The physical upgrades will cover HMS Gotland and HMS Halland, and are expected to take place from 2014 – 2017. HMS Uppland will be left as is for budgetary reasons. Sources: NyTeknik, “Kockums far stor ubatsorder”.

June 16/10: Sweden. The Swedish Parliament votes in favor of allowing the government to procure 2 new submarines during 2010, per the proposed spring budget presented earlier this year by the government. Of course, the FMV and Kockums must come to an agreement, but the company says that they’ve started to prepare by hiring new employees. Sources: Kockums AB, “Swedish Parliament votes in favor of procuring new submarines”.

Feb 25/10: Sweden. Kockums AB, which is part of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), has signed a contract with Sweden’s FMV for the next-generation A26 submarine’s design phase.

The A26 is envisioned as a 62m boat with about 1,800t displacement at surface, and more when fully submerged. It will be designed for mainly littoral operations, but that size is also suitable for ocean-going capabilities, especially when equipped with Kockums’ Stirling AIP system. Kockums A26 design includes a new innovative flexible payload, with a 6m x 1.5m Multimission Portal flexible payload lock system in addition to its conventional 533mm and 400mm torpedo tubes. Sources: Kockums AB, “Kockums receives overall design order for next-generation submarine”.

A26 design contract

Additional Readings

Background: A26

* TKMS Kockuyms – Kockums A26.

* TKMS Kockums – Kockums Stirling AIP System. Property of the Swedish government, now.

Background: Other Submarines

* Naval Technology – SS Soryu Class Submarines, Japan.

* TKMS Kockums – Kockums Stirling AIP used by Japan: Air-independent Stirling propulsion in submarines since 2001.

News & Views

* Naval Technology (Feb 19/14) – Sink or swim: Sweden’s new A-26 next-gen submarine in doubt.

* Wall St. Journal (March 23/14) – Dispute Threatens ThyssenKrupp’s Submarine Business.

* SvD Naringsliv (March 18/14) – Sverige tar tillbaka ubåtarna. Mentions Australia and Poland as potential collaborators on a Swedish submarine design.

* Defense News (March 2/14) – Saab Maneuvers To Buy Swedish Submarine Maker. Following a late February decision by Sweden’s FMV to give Saab a $3.87 million contract. The point? To study Saab’s ability to produce Sweden’s next-generation submarine, instead of Kockums.

* Sverige Radio (Feb 27/14) – Osäker framtid för Kockum. “Uncertain future for Kockum”.

* The Local – Germany (Nov 29/13) – Poland gives thumbs down to German subs. “…but sources have told The Local that on the back of a landmark naval deal between the two countries, Poland is likely to lease two subs anyway.” Over the longer term, could Poland become a partner?

* Polish MON (Nov 15/13) – Okrety podwodne – rozmawiajmy o faktach. Excerpt Trans.: “The Polish Navy, according to the approved Technical Modernisation Programme 2013-2022, is expected to receive three new submarines. Two will go to its facilities by 2022 – a third by 2030.”

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