Editor’s Note: LCDR Mobergh ‘s paper on Swedish Submarines won the Naval Submarine League Prize at the Naval War College.
The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Naval War College or the Swedish Armed Forces.
Sweden has had submarines of several different types and in (for Sweden} adequate numbers since the early I 900’s. Even though Sweden is a small country it has managed to construct and operate cutting-edge, diesel-electric submarines for more than a century. The two types Sweden operates today are among the best diesel-electric submarines with AIP that exist in the world.
The small, diesel-electric submarine can participate in the execution of almost every task available to Navies operating in a littoral environment. If such a submarine is also equipped with AIP, it’s a potent and fairly long-lasting operational partner. Even so, the tasks that could be handled by a submarine can, to a very large extent, be taken care of with other means given the technologies that exist today.
Reading the official documents from the Swedish Armed Forces, the European Union and comparing them to the official writings of the US Navy, I find some differences. Sweden and the EU hardly talk about their naval assets and eventual tasks at all (never even mentioning submarines), whereas the US navy is clear and specific as to what it has in its submarines for today and its vision for the future.
In spite of all the tasks that other units can do just as well and probably cheaper than a submarine, I still recommend that the Swedish submarines should persist within the Swedish Navy, mainly because; they can, better than other units, pursue two of the main tasks for the Swedish Armed Forces when an opponent comes from the sea, and they are an important security tool in the tool-box for a Maritime Component Commander, be it nationally or internationally.
The Future of Swedish Submarines
In 1904 the Swedish King Oscar II approved the drawings for making the first Swedish submarine. The submarine named HMS HAJEN (the Shark) had already been under construction since 1901. Nevertheless, 1904 is considered the birth of the Swedish Submarine Force and since that day the Kingdom of Sweden has had some 80 submarines of25 different types. Today the Swedish Navy includes five submarines of two different types; three submarines of the GOTLAND class and two of SODERMANLAND class. All of which are equipped with A.IP (Air Independent Propulsion).
During the Cold War era (1945 through the l 980’s) Sweden had at least twelve submarines, mainly to deter other nations from trying to invade her country, especially coming from the sea. Mainly stationed in the Baltic Sea with its dramatic bottom configuration (deep canyons and steep cliffs under the surface), and an average depth of less than 70 meters (2 I 0 ft), the size of Swedish submarines was (and still is) essential. There is simply not enough operating space for large, oceangoing, nuclear submarines in the Baltic.
After the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Sweden has gradually decommissioned and reduced its number of submarines. This has been done either by selling them (as Sweden did with the Sjoormen-class) to another country1, or by scrapping them (as is happening to the Niicken-class ). Since Sweden’s neighboring countries around the Baltic Sea (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) gained their independence and the Cold War came to an end, the operational focus of effort for Swedish submarines has been altered to some extent.
Since 1995 Sweden has been a member of the European Union (EU). This membership in conjunction with the lack of a conventional, potential threat against Sweden as a whole, led to the reorganizing and reshaping of the Swedish Armed Forces. This has led to a decrease in the budget for the Armed Forces, and today (2005-06) the budget for the Armed Forces is down to about 5 billion USD annually. Around 2003 the EU started its work on
organizing so called Battle Groups, which will consist of approximately 1500 soldiers and shall be rapidly deployable (within 10 days). In 2004 Sweden volunteered to be lead nation for one of the Battle Groups (BG) and this, the Nordic Battle Group, shall be operational and on alert in the first halfof2008. It consists of mainly ground units (the core is a mechanized battalion of 750 men). The units in the Nordic Battle Group will not only come from Sweden, but also from Estonia, Finland and Norway.
With Sweden not experiencing a severe threat from any state, being a member of the EU, committing to lead and being the main contributor of forces and equipment to the Nordic Battle Group, being a member in the Partnership for Peace program with NATO and having reductions in the budget for the Armed Forces, I wonder if Sweden can and/or should maintain their five submarines, and if the submarines should persist within the Navy, what are their unique tasks? By examining what is written in Swedish official documents and some of the Swedish Armed Forces doctrines, what is officially said in the EU and with a comparison as to what the US Armed Forces officially states regarding their submarines, I will address these questions. I shall not make any comparisons or studies as to what is said within NATO, as Sweden is not a member of that organization.
The Swedish Documents
It is today harder to differentiate between national and international security. The mutual vulnerabilities and border crossing threats means that Swedish as well as international security interests more and more coincide. It is today’s central task for Sweden to be a part of the international community in its struggle to meet the global threats, in order to strengthen Sweden’s internal security. In today’s world it is equally important to guard the free flow of goods, as it was yesterday’s necessity to protect one’s own borders.
Since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the conventional threat of an invasion against Sweden has steadily diminished and any conventional military attack against Sweden is considered highly unlikely within years to come. Even so, Sweden should keep its Armed Forces in order to be able to prevent and counter such an attack, regardless of its possibilities of occurring. Given this, the tasks for the Swedish Armed Forces have somewhat changed. By promoting peace, stability and security abroad, Sweden hopes to maintain peace and security within its own borders. This leads to a situation in which Sweden has to have units within all their Armed Forces Services that are highly trained, and ready to deploy within days, be it an assignment nationally or, more likely, internationally.
With this in perspective, Sweden has maintained several different types of units to be part of operational groups, be it within the EU or otherwise, but even so, the fundamental tasks for the Swedish Armed Forces remain unchanged; to defend Sweden against armed attack, to maintain Swedish territorial integrity, to contribute to peace and security in the world and to assist Swedish society in times of severe peacetime difficulty.
The Swedish Navy and its Doctrine
It can be concluded, as previously mentioned, that the new threat to the world is not as much states waging war on each other over territory, but instead something different. often even without a state as the official aggressor. From current experience, the new threats, while they are small in organizational size, still can inflict grave damage. Within the maritime arena this new threat is mainly against commerce. As 98% of the world’s trade is going over sea, this poses a great threat. Having a disruption in the global maritime trade at a specific choke point would severely affect the world’s economy. Thus Sweden, together with a lot of other nations in the world, concludes that not only must our Navies protect our territorial integrity and defend our nation against armed attack-but we must also assist in the protection of the trade routes at sea.
The Swedish Navy has during a long period of time, developed its capabilities for handling its missions within the Baltic Sea and in its specific environment. The Navy, including its submarines, has a unique capability of operating in shallow waters, close to the coastline and in very tight straits and waters. It’s therefore imperative that we use this Navy where its capabilities are maximized, nationally and internationally.
So, what tasks shall one give to Swedish Naval Units? Or even more specific- what good is a Swedish small, diesel-electric
submarine with AIP? Well, the first question is easily answered, at least as to regarding the geographic area. With the specific environment mentioned in the paragraph above, the littorals! I dare list some of the tasks for Navies all over the world, and as such justify the presence of a Swedish submarine in such a task.
Tasks for a Swedish Submarine
Exercising control at sea is a modem translation of the old navy term “Command of the Sea”. To have total control at sea is not very easy to accomplish, nor is it, in most cases, necessary. What is essential today is the ability to prevent your opponent from prohibiting you or your merchant shipping from going about their business. This can easily be managed with a submarine, as a part of a blockade if necessary. Anyway an ultra silent, air independent submarine can patrol a littoral choke point for several weeks without being detected.
Also with the task of maintaining control within a specific area, one could use a submarine. Why? To maintain control means to be able to control it in all dimensions. Certainly a surface vessel with a Towed Array Sonar (TAS) could achieve most of this, but the submarine has far greater equipment and the ability to operate covert.
To counter your opponents control is preferably made with a submarine if you want to prevent your opponent from being able to act and yet keep a low risk profile of the mission. A submarine could lay offensive mines (shot as torpedoes) or just sink the opponent’s navy ships.
A submarine can be an essential part of a Fleet in being, thus binding your opponent both ships and geographically, depriving him of freedom of movement by forcing him to concentrate his effort in specific regions.
A submarine is very helpful when it comes to covert operations, such as insertion of Special Operations Forces. That could be called covertly forward from the sea?!
Ultimately and foremost a submarine is used for depriving your opponent of the possibility to invade your territory thus coming from the sea. By threatening him and sinking his tonnage whilst trying to invade, you just might prevent a long, protracted ground war.
The European Union Documents
Being a union of 25 states who together produce over a quarter of the world’s Gross National Product (GNP), with a population of over 450 million people and a variety of different instruments at its disposal- the European Union is definitely a global player. During the last ten years European forces have, as American, deployed to as distant places as the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor and Afghanistan. Be as it will with the participation and rapidness of European interaction on the world stage-the European Union has to shoulder its part of the responsibility for building a more secure world, and securing global security.
The perceived threat according to the EU
A large-scale invasion towards any of the EU member states is no longer perceived as an imminent threat. Instead, Europe is facing new, more diversified threats. These threats are less detectable and also less foreseeable. Terrorism is one which endangers the life of several, imposes large costs and poses a growing strategic threat to Europe. So far Europe has been both a harbor for and a target of such terrorism. Another perceived threat is different regional conflicts around the world, conflicts such as the one on the Korean Peninsula, in the Kashmir region and in close vicinity of Europe itself, especially in the Middle East. Thirdly, failed states are perceived as a threat, especially when they harbor and bolster terrorists and criminals. This phenomenon is troublesome, as it could lead to the undermining of the global economy and stability. Recent examples would be Liberia, Somalia and Afghanistan.
How will the EU counter these perceived threats?
Today, every threat demands co-operation between different parts of DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economical means). It’s no longer possible to encounter the threats of today (and perhaps tomorrow) with merely military means, simply because the threats are no longer primarily military, as was the very massive and visible threat during the Cold War. To handle the threat of terrorism one would probably have to use a mixture of police, intelligence, military , judicial and other means. When dealing with/ailed states, one would not only need the presence of military power to restore
order, but also a large portion of humanitarian aid in order to address the humanitarian crises that often follow in the wake. As for regional conflicts, they will primarily be helped by political efforts, but military resources and efficient police forces are for the most part needed in the aftermath of the conflict itself.
Being a union of 25 states that contributes more than 185 billion USO for their defense, the EU should be able to uphold more than one mission at a time. The EU should support the UN when it reacts to threats to the global security and peace. The EU will persist in its support and co-operation with the UN. 11 The standpoint of the European Union can be summarized in the following quote:
“A number of countries have placed themselves outside the bounds of international society. Some have sought isolation; others persistently violate international norms. It is desirable that such countries should rejoin the international community, and the EU should be ready to provide assistance. Those who are unwilling to do so should understand that there is a price to be paid, including in their relationship with the European Union.”
The European Union and its Battle Groups
Since the meeting of the European Council in December 2003, when the earlier mentioned European Security Strategy was adopted, the EU has also adopted the so called 20/0 Headline Goal. In this text the Member States commit themselves to be able, by 2010, to respond rapidly and decisively to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations covered within the Treaty on the European Union. These crisis management operations include peacemaking, peace-keeping and humanitarian and rescue tasks. The key element in the 2010 Headline Goal is to be able to swiftly deploy military effective, credible force packages, based on a Battlegroup concept. These Battlegroups are formed with a core function of a mechanized battalion with surrounding support and service units. The ambition is that the EU should be able to take a decision to launch an operation within five days. A ground mission should be on station within ten days after this decision.
But, this goes not only for ground forces; the European Council
also states, specifically, that “Relevant air and naval capabilities would be included” and that “These high readiness joint packages (battlegroups) may require tailoring for a specific operation by the Operation Commander.”14 And this is where I see, for instance, a Swedish submarine entering the arena. As I stated earlier (page 5), there are several tasks that are suitable for a submarine. In some cases, I would argue, even preferably handled by a submarine. There could, for instance, be the need for covert intelligence gathering whilst not exposing oneself over the horizon, for substantial amounts of time (weeks), assisting in perhaps both the insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces. Unfortunately this has not yet been properly addressed within the Swedish Armed Forces (personal reflection).
The United States of America-a comparison
The US Armed Forces have, undoubtedly, the largest functional navy in the world. Even so, the US Navy has, for a period of years, pursued the effect and organization of a blue water Navy with mainly large ships and large nuclear submarines (none of the latter is diesel-electric by the way). It is interesting to read about the ongoing debate regarding the restructuring of the US Navy. This is clearly stated with the words of the new US Navy Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Mike Mullen, and the statements of the Chief of Naval Operations Submarine Warfare Division. The CNO talks about restructuring the US Navy to be able to operate in the entire maritime spectrum (from Blue to Brown waters), as in his speech at the Naval War College;
“We’ve got a great Navy right now, a fleet that has proven its flexibility in a dynamic security environment, … But we also need a fleet that can operate at the other end of the spectrum. We cannot sit out in the deep blue, waiting for the enemy to come to us. He will not. We must go to him …. We need a green water capability and a brown water capability and quite frankly, I want a more robust onshore capability, I want a balanced force in every sense of the word …. Balanced to operate in, and command, if need be, all things maritime – from the darkest corners of ungoverned waters, to the well-sailed sea-lanes of world trade … I want the ability to go close in and stay there
Looking at the writings from the US Navy Submarine Warfare Division I find some similarities;
The threats that future submarines face will drive the transformation from the submarines of today to the submarines of the future. They will be called upon to perform new missions to use their new capabilities while remaining forward deployed throughout the world.
With the proliferation of technology and advanced weapons systems, potential enemies will continue to develop the means to deny access to U.S. military forces in specific areas of the world. These countries will attempt to employ low-cost, readily available technologies in an asymmetric way to counter the advantage that U.S. forces otherwise have. Examples of these asymmetric threats can include the use of mines, diesel submarines with improved underwater endurance, anti-ship cruise missiles, and weapons of mass destruction.
Submarines of the future must be able to operate in an increasingly hostile littoral environment with increased capability in order to assure access for other U.S. naval and military forces.
Given the above, I would argue that the US Navy realizes the potential of diesel-electric submarines with A.IP, and that the US Navy has, so far, missed or neglected the use of smaller/quieter submarines to be able to operate wherever the US Navy wants (i.e. in the littoral waters close to most coastal nations where they can’t really operate today).
Nevertheless, the US Navy recognizes that submarines with stealth configuration and minimal logistic requirements are the way of the future, and that this makes submarines ideal for operations in hostile, forward-deployed areas. The tasks for these submarine operations form a broad variety; gathering vital intelligence undetected, destruction of threats to a surface navy, the ability to insert special operations forces and other operations.17 What I presume we will see in the future is perhaps a future US submarine class which is significantly smaller than the current submarines are. Whether such a submarine would be diesel-electric with AIP or not remains to be seen. Another possibility for the US Navy is a closer cooperation with allies in the littoral arena. Sweden has a lot of capabilities derived from working in its own physical surroundings along the Swedish coast and in the Baltic Sea. Such cooperation is currently being executed as the Swedish submarine HMS GOTLAND is leased by the US Navy and exercising with them on the West Coast, a project supposed to last until this summer.
For the US Navy to perceive small, perhaps diesel-electric, submarines as merely asymmetric threats and not as a future for their own navy is, in my opinion, to stick your head into the sand. If you want to operate in the entire arena-you must also equip and train yourself accordingly!
The Discussion-Pros and Cons
I have presented in this paper that a submarine can be a part of many different tasks. Exercising control at sea, blockade. Fleet in being and depriving your opponent the possibility to invade are some of these tasks. A modem, relatively small diesel-electric submarine with AIP has possibilities to operate that a modem, relatively large, nuclear submarines have not. It is quieter and its small size gives it the possibility to operate in arenas where the nuclear submarine will not. It has a considerable endurance given its technology.
“When commanders cannot anticipate the enemy, launch the few against the many, employ the weak to strike the strong, and the forces have no spearhead, there is downfall.”
Swedish submarines have exercised with American, British, French and German naval vessels, all of which have had some difficulties in both detecting and tracking the Swedes. A dies elelectric submarine, clearly, has special advantages, especially when it comes to covert operations.
This is not only because certain navy ships had bad days, but because if naval vessels designed to find submarines have trouble
finding them- what would other vessels/units have? What good couldn’t a diesel-electric submarine do for its employer, given the submarine’s characteristics? What harm couldn’t the submarine do to the opponent? There must be a reason for the US Navy leasing a Swedish submarine equipped with AIP?!
Last but not least- the submarine is, as stated on page 3, a vital part of fulfilling some of the core tasks of the Swedish Armed Forces; to defend Sweden against armed attack and to maintain Swedish territorial integrity. The deterrence factor a submarine, operating free at sea, imposes against an aggressor in the same arena is substantial. If the aggressor is determined to pursue his invasion, he’ll have to concentrate his efforts to: either find and destroy the submarine, or he’ll have to protect his own mission to such an extent it will probably give his intentions away and/or slow him down. To the defender this is essential for his survival.
In today’s modem society, many of the tasks mentioned here that are suitable for a diesel-electric submarine can be executed by other means. By listing the tasks and giving alternatives, I shall try to give a somewhat more balanced picture of the necessity for, or perhaps, non-necessity of having diesel-electric submarines within the Swedish Armed Forces. Exercising control at sea and blockade are two tasks I find suitable for a submarine. Even so, recent international operations (like the Adriatic Sea) show that this role is more likely to be performed by surface-vessels, as the desired effect is not only deterrence but also the visible presence, the show of flag. With these tasks also comes the necessity to be able to board vessels, not accomplished easily from a submarine. You would also like to be able to warn a vessel trying to interdict your blockade. Sinking the vessel would probably not be the first method popping up in the mind of the Task Force Commander.
To counter your opponent’s control is another task mentioned earlier. With the technology existing today this can be accomplished by using UA V or satellite imagery over your designated area, in conjunction with precision-guided munitions/missiles you’ll be able to oppose your opponent’s control with very low risk for your own units.
I’ve also addressed a Fleet in being as a task. The historical use of the term isn’t really about submarines, and need not be today either. Having modern ships in your navy, perhaps with stealth technology as the new VISBY-corvette, with sufficient amounts of surface-to-surface missiles, can make very potent opponents which will be taken into consideration by an adversary. Even if the corvette can’t use its own missiles, they have superior sensors as to the surface and above surface arena and can thus lead an airborne threat to the targets.
Maintaining control was another task addressed. Given the advantage the submarine has in its unique environment-subsurface, I would argue that this is but a small part of the operational environment. Yet again, using modem technologies such as sonarbuoys, UAV’S, UUV’s (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles), radar, satellites and such, controlled from a surface vessel, you have almost the same control.
The ability to insert Special Operations Forces covertly was covered as well. Sorry, but this can also be done without the use of a submarine. They can infiltrate over land borders as well as jump out of airplanes at high altitude far away from their landing zone. The risk is that they are detected by radar falling down, but they can likewise be detected by units patrolling the beaches/cliffs where they plan to come ashore for the same reason.
Another disadvantage with submarines is that they are expensive, very expensive. You pay considerable amounts for constructing and building a small number of vessels. Having them operational is not very cheap either, given the time it takes to get a crew fully operational (there are some educational matters to address as this type of unit mainly works submerged), as compared to a surface ship.
Finally, I will address the lack of(official) writings coming from the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters and their current hot pursuit of the Nordic Battle Group. The Navy (submarines not even mentioned) and the Air Force are hardly given the benefit of the doubt here. Neither did I find anything about submarines on the official sites of the European Union (except the quotes given on page 8, which with some positive thinking could relate to submarines). If the current situation derives from political or military will, I don’t know.
Conclusion and Recommendations
“The test of a navy in the last analysis is not its ideology, but its practical value- its ability to fight successfully on the sea or to support a fight from the sea.”
In this paper I have tried to shed some light over two questions; if Sweden can and/or should maintain their five submarines, and if the submarines should persist within our Navy, what are their unique tasks? I answered this by examining what is written in Swedish official documents and some of the Swedish Armed Forces doctrines, what is officially said in the EU and with a comparison as to what the US Armed Forces officially state regarding their submarines. I have presented a short, subjective comparison- ” Pros & Cons” and with which to bring it all together.
Sweden has had submarines of several different types and in (for Sweden) adequate numbers since the early 1900’s. Even though Sweden is a small country it has managed to construct and operate cutting-edge, diesel-electric submarines for more than a century. The two types Sweden operates today are among the best diesel-electric submarines with AIP that exist in the world.
A small, diesel-electric submarine can participate in the execution of almost every task available to Navies operating in a littoral environment today. If such a submarine is also equipped with AIP, it is a potent and fairly long-lasting operational partner. Even so, the tasks that could be handled by a submarine can, to a very large extent, be taken care of with other means given the technologies that exist today.
Reading some of the official documents from the Swedish Armed Forces and the European Union and comparing them to some of the official writings of the US Navy, I find some differences. Sweden and the EU hardly talk about their Naval assets and eventual tasks at all (never even mentioning submarines), whereas the US Navy is clear and specific as to what it has its submarines for today and its vision for the future.
In spite of all the tasks that other units can do just as well and probably cheaper than a submarine, I still recommend that the Swedish submarines should persist within the Swedish Navy, mainly because the submarine can, better than other units, pursue two of the main tasks for the Swedish Armed Forces when an
opponent comes over the sea, and they are an important security tool in the tool-box for a Maritime Component Commander, be it nationally or internationally.