Posted 09/27/04 08:56
U.S. To ‘Borrow’ Swedish Sub for Training
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS
An unusual playmate in the deadly game of anti-submarine warfare could move in with the U.S. Pacific Fleet as soon as next year: A Swedish Navy submarine.
Last week, the U.S. Navy formally asked the Swedish government “for a submarine asset to conduct anti-submarine warfare training,” said Lt. Pauline Pimentel, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon.
“Both navies are looking forward to a decision in the upcoming months,” Pimentel said. “If approved by the Swedish government, this bilateral endeavor would be an excellent opportunity for both naval forces to improve tactical capabilities in the littorals.”
If the deal goes through, it would be the first time a foreign submarine has been based — with its crew — at a U.S. port.
The proposal concerns a Gotland-class conventional submarine, whose novel air independent propulsion system allows it to stay underwater far longer than ordinary diesel boats.
The sub would be loaded aboard a heavy-lift ship and brought to San Diego, home of the new Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, said one U.S. official. It will be modified, probably with communications gear compatible with the U.S. Navy.
Then its crew will help U.S. forces learn the art of finding a small, advanced, well-handled, non-nuclear submarine in shallow coastal waters.
The sub will provide U.S. sailors “probably the best training we ever had,” said one Navy source.
Under the proposal, the United States will reimburse Sweden for the costs of the operation. How much the move will cost the U.S. Navy and how many days the submarine will be available for training are still to be determined.
The “numbers run anywhere from $16 million to $20 million in initial costs and first-year [operations],” a Navy source said. “There are upfront costs such as shipping … and then it has to have equipment put in so that there’s commonality. They have to be able to talk to each other.”
The number of operating days could run “anywhere from 80 to 150 for the first year,” said the source. “Depends on when it gets here.”
A decision on the proposal could come from the Swedish government in “four or five weeks,” Rear Adm. Bertil Bjцrkman, defense attachй in Washington, said Sept. 24.
In summer 2003, Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, told his staff to “look into the possibility of obtaining an advanced foreign conventional submarine,” said another Navy source who asked not to be identified.
Clark has pushed his fleet to improve its anti-submarine warfare skills, which waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union. New non-nuclear submarines easily hide in the shallow coastal waters that have become the focus of U.S. Navy operations. In April, the Navy launched Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego to teach the Navy’s ships, subs and aircraft to counter them.
One observer applauded the overture to Sweden.
“They need to be going against the best that’s out there,” said Scott Truver, a naval analyst with Anteon International. The Gotlands “are first-class in that class of submarine. In some instances they’re more capable than a U.S. sub.”
Truver likes the idea of a trained Swedish crew operating against the U.S. Navy.
“If they’re going to do this, they might just as well do it right — and they ought to let the crew do their thing,” he said. “Let the Swedish crew wear pirate bandanas and do every trick in the book. Let them operate their submarine the way they would do in their home waters. You’ve got to make it a realistic threat. Make it tough for us.”
The Swedes became well-known for tactics and technologies that helped them find and catch foreign submarines close to shore. They practiced against Soviet subs. During the 1981 “Whiskey on the rocks” incident, a Soviet “Whiskey”-class diesel submarine grounded near a Swedish naval base at Karlskrona.
“I don’t say that we are best in the world, but I guess the lessons learned in the last 20 or 30 years with the Cold War intrusions have taught us how to operate conventional submarines in coastal conditions,” said Bjцrkman, the Swedish flag officer.
The Gotland, or A-19-class, submarines, are the most advanced in Swedish service. Built by Kockums, Malmo, the three A-19s were completed in 1996 and 1997 and are designed to operate in the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea. Kockums claims they are the first submarines in operation with a Stirling air independent propulsion (AIP) system, which allow the submarines to operate submerged for “several weeks.” That is far longer than diesel-powered subs, which need to use electric batteries with limited life for sub-surface operation.
The Stirling engines burn pure oxygen and diesel fuel in a pressurized combustion chamber, eliminating the need to surface to gather air to run the diesels.
Just shy of 200 feet in length, the Gotlands carry six torpedo tubes in the bow: four 21-inch tubes for anti-surface weapons, and two 15.75-inch tubes for anti-submarine torpedoes. A Gotland runs with a crew of 25, compared with about 134 for a U.S. Navy attack submarine. Their X-shaped aft control surfaces make them more maneuverable than most U.S. subss.
Training with foreign subs isn’t new for the U.S. Navy, which regularly exercises with the naval forces of friendly countries.
“We’ve had a lot of training lately with South American countries that has been pretty successful,” said one Navy source. But navies vary considerably in combat ability, and the chance to work regularly with a skilled opponent is seen as a bonus for both navies.
“I think the [Swedish] Navy should be quite pleased that the United States views one of their submarines as representative of one of the best threats we could encounter,” Truver said. “I would think that would be great for Kockums — if the U.S. Navy wants it, it must be good. A wonderful selling point for foreign military sales.”
Since the late 1950s, the U.S. Navy’s submarine community has successfully fought off efforts to build non-nuclear combat submarines. Might the arrival of such a submarine compete for scarce U.S. submarine building funds? Not likely, several observers said, pointing to the great distances U.S. submarines travel to reach operational areas. Nuclear submarines are virtually unlimited in range, constrained only by the food they can carry for their crews.
The Swedish Navy, which operates only five submarines, might itself run a risk should it essentially rent out 20 percent of its force, one analyst pointed out.
If Swedish “politicians discover they’re willing to go to four submarines, they might start thinking about zero,” said A. D. Baker, former editor of the reference volume Combat Fleets of the World. •
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