Captain Raimund Wallner, German Navy, currently is the submarine project supervisor at the German MoD, Armaments Directorate. Earlier in his career he had command of Submari11e Squadron Three and submarines U-20 and U-30. Before his present assignment he was his country Defense Attache to Japan. CAPT Wallner holds a masters degree in Computer Systems Management from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
For more than 30 years, no new submarine had been commissioned by the German Navy until 19 October 2005, when ensign and pennant were ceremonially hoisted on the first two U212A class submarines U31 and U32. However, in this period the German maritime defense industry succeeded in establishing itself as the world market leader for non-nuclear submarines. This phenomenon can be attributed to four reasons:
- the post-war tonnage restrictions of the WEU1 for submarines of the new Federal German Navy and the requirements for correspondingly compact and capable platforms for underwater warfare, especially in the shallow littoral waters of the Baltic Sea;
- the high performance and innovation potential of the German industry in connection with the support provided by the German Navy and the armaments sector with respect to training, quality control and testing;
- the high professionalism and international reputation that German submariners gained over the four decades following the establishment of the post-war submarine flotilla;
- and, last but not least, the myth of the Grey Wolves, the U-boats of the Second World War.
From Tonnage War to Maritime Forward Defense
During the two world wars, Germany waged a guerre de course with submarines. From 1940 on, the German Navy countered the convoys of the allies with wolf-pack tactics in which groups of submarines were vectored to convoys via radio and then tried to penetrate the screen and sink as much cargo space as possible. In March 1943, the Battle of the Atlantic had reached its peak. For the first time, Admiral Donitz had the desired number of 100 submarines deployed in the areas of operation. In this month, the Allies lost the record number of 105 ships with approximately 600,000 tons in all theaters, compared to 15 German U-boats sunk.
The German submarine command scored its “greatest success so far”, but as a critical evaluation revealed, the initial surprise attacks on the convoys were followed by an increasingly stronger airborne and sea-based response, most of the submarines were forced underwater by aircraft and were then harassed by escorts with extended depth charging.
In April 1943, 16 submarines were lost, in May the immense number of 41 – this was one U-boat per merchantman sunk. At the end of May, Admiral Donitz withdrew all submarines from the North Atlantic. The Battle of the Atlantic was lost for the rest of the war. How did it get this far? The reasons are manifold: From 1943 on, submarine construction had been given absolute priority. However, the number of allied new-built ships started to outnumber the vessels sunk by U-boats. The rate of submarines lost increased in proportion to the production of replacements, because now the hopeless technological backwardness in comparison to the allied anti submarine warfare (ASW) became drastically apparent. The enemy was engaged with U-boats optimized for high surface cruising speed, with their design status of the nineteen-thirties. Under water, a maximum speed of 7 knots could be sustained for 30 minutes at best. Since these submarines were only capable of submerging for short periods and were dependent on the surface, they had little in stock to counter the modem electromagnetic detection methods and the cryptanalytic break-throughs of the enemy. Now it proved fatal that little had been done to gradually enhance the old U-boat types.
The first measure really worth mentioning, the upgrading of the standard VII C type with the snorkel, was introduced to the front not until February 1944. For the next submarine generation, a technological quantum leap was planned: the total submarine, driven by a Walter turbine with a maximum speed of 25 knots submerged. Only when it became apparent that a version ready for the front could not be built within an acceptable time frame, Donitz would shift to an interim solution: by using the hydrodynamically optimized hull of a pre-series Walter submarine and installing large-capacity batteries, the ocean-going type XXI with a maximum underwater speed of 17 knots and, as the smaller derivative, the coastal type XXIII were developed. In an unparalleled construction program, 170 of these boats were completed between June 1944 and April 1945 and for a large part underwent sea-acceptance testing. For the front, however, they came too late. During the last two years of the war, the old boats carried the burden of a hopeless battle with unwavering fighting spirit in spite of immense losses, thus substantiating the myth of the Grey Wolves down to the bitter end. Irrespective of his criticism of the overall German conduct of war, British historian Peter Padfield expressed his appreciation for the German submariners in his book War Beneath the Sea that they fought an incredibly stoical, brave and altogether clean war with no more brutal exceptions than those which also marred the annals of their British or American counterparts.
Submarine technology of the victorious powers, which was lagging far behind these revolutionary U-boat types, benefited from their spoils of war and gained know-how. The Soviet and also Western submarine designs of the early post-war period clearly show the influence of the German type XXI submarine.
The U-boats had borne the brunt of the war at sea, there was no other naval asset which the Germans knew to employ better. For this reason, the submarine was included in the military planning when rearmament of the Federal Republic of Germany was prepared to take effect by 1955. The year of 1957 saw the salvage and refurbishment of a type XXI oceangoing submarine sunk by the Germans themselves as well as of two type XXIII coastal submarines. Thus the nascent Federal German Navy benefitted from the ingenuity of the last World War II submarine types and could become familiar with their technology and handling. Against the background of the completely new strategic situation of West Germany as a frontline state of NATO, the submarine could no longer be a platform for an oceanic guerre de course. In the case of an attack by the Warsaw Pact, the task of the Navy now would have been to deny the enemy the unhindered use of the Baltic Sea as a taxiway in support of its land front and to prevent landing operations. In sea areas with a clear enemy superiority like the central and eastern Baltic, small compact submarines with high combat power were considered the appropriate means for maritime forward defense. In the North Sea and adjacent waters, the mission of the submarines was to contribute to area defense by engaging enemy submarines and surface forces. In the typical mission profile of the Cold War it was important to maintain the advantage of invisibility and covertness of the submarine until and beyond weapon release and to take the enemy by surprise.
The New German Submarine Force
…was characterized by the restriction to 500 tons imposed on Germany by the WEU, the build-up of an industrial base, and the search for a submarine type which could meet the tremendous challenge of the mission requirements. In the Baltic Sea with its shallow waters and its limited extent, the navies of the Warsaw Pact had the complete southern coast at their disposal, from the Gulf of Finland to Lubeck Bight; ASW forces were capable to be in theater within just a few hours, land-based airborne ASW even within a few minutes. German submarines therefore had to meet special requirements for operations under these conditions, which to this extent were not applicable to most other navies.
Professor Ulrich Gabler with his lngenieurkontor Lubeck (IKL) found a design solution based on the wartime type XXIII coastal submarine. The U206 class submarine developed from the previous designs U201 and U205 was commissioned between 1973 and 1975. The invitation for tender issued in 1969 for the first time involved the selection of a prime contractor who was responsible for system integration, logistic support, and had to conduct acceptance testing. This was the decisive step to bring about the performance and efficiency of today’s industrial base. Naturally, shipyards able to meet this challenge successfully would also have the capability to deliver operational submarines independent from the German Navy in the future. In the late sixties, there were first successful exports of U205 class derivatives to the NATO countries Norway and Denmark.
The German U206 series consisted of 18 boats of this class. Since the late nineteen-eighties, 12 of these boats were upgraded to class U206 A. The modernization accelerated information processing and thus reduced reaction time. With their improved capabilities that allowed attacks to be launched earlier and at greater ranges, the upgraded boats improved mission accomplishment and increased their survivability. A remainder of six of these units is still in service today.
The U206 A class submarines are conventional single-hull boats optimized for missions in the Baltic Sea. The boat’s main battery – powerful relative to displacement – allows a maximum submerged speed of 18 knots which can be maintained over several hours. At very low speeds, the discharge time is several days before the boat has to snorkel to recharge batteries. With a length of just 50m, the boat has excellent maneuvering and depth keeping capabilities, enabling submerged operation in less than 20m water depths. The end of the Cold War, so to speak, opened the window towards new horizons for this unique design. While up to then their training area was limited to the northern and western European waters, in the third decade of their in-service-time, i.e. since the middle of the nineties, they operate now routinely in the entire Mediterranean. Several times already they faced the U.S. Navy as demanding exercise partners in the littorals from New England to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, German submarines are in their sixth year of deployment to Operation Active E11deavor in the eastern Mediterranean as a contribution to the fight against terrorism. Long since, they have proved to be not just coastal submarines.
Further special features of the U206 A submarines are their nonmagnetic construction of austenitic stainless steel and their low own-noise signatures. This results in a high insusceptibility to sea mines with magnetic fuzes as well as to airborne magnetic anomaly detection (MAD). Their small size of only 500 tons offers active sonar detection an extremely low target strength. With their wire-guided, dual-purpose heavyweight DM 2 A3-torpedoes in 8 torpedo tubes, the boats can carry a relatively high anti-surface and anti-submarine weapon load.
The assessment on the part of the enemy at the climax of the Cold War is documented as follows:
“The danger of these modern… submarines does not only lie in their tactical and technical capabilities but is even increased by the fact that this offensive weapon is manned by crews educated in the spirit of the fascist submarine elitism, who have a relatively stable and well paid imperialistic milit01y motivation, and can rely on sound skills and capabilities. In the end. these crews are prepared to risk their life for imperialistic interests of power. They are not impressed by the fact that, for example, only ten percent of the submariners manipulated in the spirit of fascism survived the Second World War…”
In spite of the upgrading measures, the more than 30 year old boats have three major deficiencies which could only be overcome by a new design:
- limited low-frequency acoustic and optical detection capabilities
- air dependence, i.e. the need to snorkel makes them susceptible to detection
- their signatures are vulnerable to modem counter-detection methods in the areas of low-frequency acoustics and infrared, particularly when snorkeling
Already in the Staff Target of December 1987, the Navy initiated the U212 project to remove all these deficiencies by introducing far-reaching innovations. I will revisit this below.
Only Export Success Can Safeguard the Industrial Base
It was foreseeable that the newly established submarine industry with the two competing shipyards Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (HOW) and Rheinstahl Nordseewerke (RNSW) would face a severe utilization gap after the completion of the U206 series. Meanwhile, the WEU had granted Germany a contingent of 6 submarines with a displacement of 1000 tons each which could also be used for export. At the end of the sixties, Professor Gabler and his IKL team had the far-sightedness to transfer the design characteristics of the small German boats to the parallel design of an export version with an initial displacement of 1000 tons which from 1971 on, under the name U209, became the quintessence of the diesel-electric submarine of German origin, and the mainstay of export for more than three decades. The prime contractor principle applied to the U206 program proved to be a success formula. After approval by the Federal Security Council, companies 1KL, HOW and Ferrostaal formed a consortium and investigated export opportunities for the NATO members Greece and Turkey. Customer Argentina facilitated the leap onto the South American continent, where all large littoral states meanwhile operate German class U209 submarines. In 1973, the WEU extended the tonnage restriction for German submarine construction to 1800 tons and unlimited quantity, in 1980 the limitations were lifted altogether. The next customers were important states in South and Southeast Asia and, with South Korea at the end of the eighties, in East Asia as well. Transfer of know-how and technology became more and more the established method for licensed assembly in respective countries. Examples are Turkey and South Korea, where series production of German submarines – on the basis of material packages shipped from Kiel – became routine for the respective domestic shipyards. In 2002, HOW purchased Hellenic Shipyards, where the series numbers 2 to 4 of the Hellenic Navy’s class U214 have been built; I will revisit this point below. For the time being, the three units built for South Africa since 2000 were the last U209 boats. In spring 2008 the program was completed with the third boat’s 50 day home-bound transit to Simon’s Town.
In comparison to class U206, the larger displacement of between 1000 and 1500 tons was consequently used in the U209 to increase redundancies, to improve air conditioning and crew habitability, and to extend weapon load-out, cruising range and capabilities, while maintaining the German hallmarks of absolute compactness and low signatures. Nonmagnetic construction, however, remained an exclusive feature of the German Navy. In the seventies, the IKL design for a U206 derivate to be built for Israel in Great Britain laid the ground for the high esteem the Israeli Navy attaches to submarines “Made in Germany” ever since. After funding had been made available from the German state budget in the course of the second Gulf War, construction of the Dolphin class started with an initial two units. The third boat was delivered in 1999. The type developed since the mid-eighties exclusively according to Israeli requirements is a special design with a displacement of 1700 tons. A second batch, Dolphin-AIP, under contract since 2006 is being built with two units at HOW, featuring a stretched hull.
Successful exports of the 1000 ton-class U210, which initially had also been planned for the German Navy, went to Norway as ULA class between 1989 and 1992. The delivery coincided with the radical changes induced by the end of the Cold War.
The demanding military requirements of the German Navy for the extreme operational conditions in the northern European border seas had internationally become the benchmark for nonnuclear submarines. This fact contributed decisively to the German submarine industry’s rise to world market leader with its product U209. At the end of the 1980’s, already more than 100 submarines of German origin were roaming the world’s oceans.
The Nordseewerke yard of Emden, which in the seventies and the early eighties still operated independently in the export sector, developed the type TR 1700 for Argentina, in competition with the U209. This design did no longer follow the basic Gabler pattern, but was a completely novel concept with characteristics that should later be adopted by the U212 as well: a hydrodynamically optimized two-decker with a forwardly located sail and trimneutral fairwater planes. With a maximum speed of 25 knots, this boat was faster than all previous conventional submarines and, with a standard displacement of 1770 tons, also was the largest submarine ever built in Germany after the War.
During the Falklands War, the only maritime war since 1945, an Argentine U209, the SAN LUIS, kept the British fleet under pressure for more than six weeks. More than 100 light-weight torpedoes were expended against real and supposed enemy contacts by the Battle Group of Admiral Sandy Woodward. The submarine launched four torpedo attacks against the carrier INVINCIBLE and its escorts, but these were unsuccessful as well. As it turned out, faulty wiring between the fire control system and the torpedo tube set of the SAN LUIS had caused the misses. The British were spared the disaster of the sinking of their flagship. Nevertheless, a single enemy submarine with an inexperienced crew proved the force multiplier effect: the capability to build up tremendous threat through stealth.
The Revolutionary Fuel Cell AIP with U212
Thus far, German export submarines – with the exception of the TR 1700 – were not characterized by major innovative leaps but were the result of step by step modernizations based on previous designs. This conservative approach built confidence, especially in Third World Navies; however, it also proved to be a handicap which could be exploited for propaganda purposes by competitors. “The 209 sells like Japanese cars” wote Janes Defense Weekly, just before a billion-dollar-contract with Australia for the COLLINS program was lost to the competitive Swedish design in 1987. When the “bestseller” U209 would run out of steam one day, an alternative had to be available in due time. Just as the U205/U206 had set the ground for the success of the U209, now again a new domestic construction project was required to ensure the further success and sustained existence of the German submarine industry.
But the Navy, too, badly needed a successor when the U206 A class would have reached the limits of its life cycle at the end of the millennium. At first, this was to be a platform optimized for ASW, the U211, which the Navy intended as a considerable improvement to area and SLOC protection against the Soviet submarine threat. In a competitive design contest at the beginning of 1986 in which IKL, HOW and TNSW participated with 4 contributions, the so-called TR 1600 design of TNSW was selected for further improvement. Since the budget available for ship construction did not allow two major projects to be pursued in parallel, the Chief of Staff German Navy opted in favor of closing the ASW capability gap with the new frigate FJ23, and the U211 program was canceled.
This decision, however, resulted in an accelerated planning of the new U212 class. The fact that this boat was still an offspring of the Cold War becomes obvious from the Staff Target of December 1987. It states that the boat be employed flexibly and without limitations in all parts of the area of operations, with priority in the Baltic Sea. This implied the capability for submerged shallow water passage from the base at Eckernforde through the just 17 m deep Kadet Fairway south of the Danish isle of Falster, combat against landing forces in the Gulf of Gdansk as well as maritime interdiction operations in the Norwegian Sea up to ASW in the Arctic Ocean. Above all, however, this involved the requirement for air independence and low acoustic, magnetic, hydrodynamic and thermal signatures. The first of the 12 boats was planned to be handed over to the Navy in the mid-nineties, the last in 2005. Today we know that the project suffered a ten year delay with regard to the Staff Target, was drastically reduced in platform numbers due to budget shortfalls, and – out of necessity – went along with a lifetime extension of the remaining U206 A class boats.
The 1983 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Norway for the development of a basic command and weapons control system originally intended for both ULA and U211 class was transferred to the U212 program. The U212 components with the greatest development risk were the propulsion motor with permanent magnet excitation8 and the solid electrolyte fuel cell module to ensure air independence. Since the early eighties, industry supported by government funding had been working on the development of a fuel cell feasible for submarine propulsion. The operational feasibility of this system had been extensively tested ashore and on board of a submarine using a liquid electrolyte version.
Since the approval of the Staff Target in 1987, the world has undergone fundamental changes: the security environment, the strategic situation of the reunified Germany, the mission and strength of the forces, the focus of armaments and the defense budget – nothing was as it used to be. In combination with the technological problems of the development, these determining factors complicated the realization of a demanding project like the U212. They required adaptive and corrective measures which resulted in a delay, until finally the building contract for the first batch of an initial four units was signed in 1994.
Now, the Baltic Sea was no longer quoted in the mission need document of May 1994; instead, “the European maritime areas and the North Atlantic” are defined as theater of operations. For U212, the following main tasks are listed:
- independent, covert and sustained presence in the area of operation without regional restrictions;
- undetected reconnaissance and monitoring of maritime areas in which other naval forces cannot or are not intended to be employed;
- containment of enemy naval forces;
- securing maritime areas and key positions against attacks from surface and sub-surface enemy forces and denial of unhindered enemy use of maritime areas and SLOCs by:
- engaging surface targets in the littorals as well as in blue water environments;
- engaging submarines either alone or in cooperation with other sea- and airborne ASW forces.
- the towed communication buoy Callisto to provide communication from the deep;
- a new command and weapons control system;
- replacement of the present flank array by a newly developed EFA (Expanded Flank Array) to further improve detection range and reconnaissance capability;
- replacement of one of the two periscopes by an optronic mast;
- integration of a 4-man swimmer lock-out chamber to improve safety and efficiency for the deployment of special forces;
- full tropicalization for worldwide deployment.
For this purpose, long-range low-frequency acoustic sensors in the form of towed array and flank array systems were required to complement the cylindrical array sonar; this additional equipment provides the boat with a multiple detection range compared to that of the U206 A. The torpedo weapon system had to be adapted to this new technology in a separate project, i.e. the heavy-weight torpedo DM 2 A4, which significantly tops the previous model DM 2 A3 with respect to speed and range.
Nine fuel cell modules of 34 kW each provide the boat with its most outstanding capability: submerged operation over several weeks with air-independent propulsion (AIP). This means that snorkel operations for battery recharging can be limited to those phases of a mission when a reduced threat by ASW forces is anticipated, e.g. the transit to the patrol area. In other words: the submarine skipper no longer has to take risks of being detected with optical or electromagnetic sensors due to technical necessities. Only tactical reasons, e.g. periscope sweeps or radio communications, will force him to take the high risk of exposing hoistable masts. To reduce signatures, the proven nonmagnetic design was maintained. The Diesel generator system and other noise sources were mounted under an absorption capsule on a floating deck in the rear cylinder of the pressure hull. The oxygen for the fuel cell system is stored in liquid form in two tanks in the external hull, the hydrogen in metal hydride tanks located outside the lower rear pressure hull. The fuel cell is not yet capable of providing enough performance for high speeds, and the size of the oxygen tanks is a limiting factor in terms of energy supply. A conventional submarine battery is therefore still necessary. U212 is a hybrid submarine.
Additional sensors for the U212’s efficient mission accomplishment are improved non-acoustic reconnaissance capacities realized with modem periscopes with a laser range finder and thermal imaging system, an ESM system, mine avoidance sonar, sonar intercept, an own-noise measuring system and passive sonar ranging. An expert system facilitates acoustic passive classification. UHF-Satellite communication and Inmarsat C complement the conventional communications facilities for the VLF, HF and VHF range as well as line of sight UHF.
In 1996, Italy joined the U2 l 2 program via a MoU and an Industrial Cooperation Agreement (ICA) between the HOW and Fincantieri shipyards. The now bilateral program was consequently renamed U212 A. Within the scope of a corresponding construction contract, two nearly identical submarines were built in La Spezia with the well-proven package delivery method. The cooperation led to design modifications necessary to comply with the Italian requirement for an increased diving depth, from which also the German submarines benefited. Detailed design progress was already too far advanced to allow Italian industry a larger component share. For part of the hoistable masts and the steering station, however, Italian manufacturers were awarded the contract for all six submarines to be built. Germany commissioned the last of her four, U34, by 2007, Italy followed with her second boat, SCIRE in 2008. After TODARO in 2008, SCIRE is presently exercising with the U.S. Navy off the American east coast in CONUS ’09.
U214 synthesized from U209 and U212
Like the export submarine U209 with its evolutionary derivatives had once emerged from the German U205/U206 design, a completely novel design could now – nearly 30 years later – arise on the basis of the U2 I 2. Boiled down to the handy formula “U209 + U212 = U214”, the development of an export submarine with a fuel cell propulsion system started in 1996. In February 2000, the first building contract was signed with the Hellenic Navy, and the construction of the first-of-class started one year later in Kiel. The boat, completed in 2006 already, still awaits delivery since a row over payment and alleged technical deficiencies between HDW and the Greek government remains unsettled. The rest of the four-boat program was assembled at Hellenic Shipyards in Skaramanga near Athens. A contract of three U214 boats to be built exclusively in South Korea was also signed in 2000; the first two were commissioned in 2007 and 2008 respectively. A December 2008 follow-on contract for the delivery of material packages for a six-boat second batch U214 underscores the continued trust of the Korean Navy in their German industrial partner. Two Portuguese boats classified as 209PN – but actually having more in common with U214 – were contracted in 2004 to be built in Kiel and are scheduled for commissioning in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The latest success for the U2 l 4 design came in July 2009, when the Turkish procurement agency SSM signed another six-boat contract to be built at the Golciik Naval Shipyard that had assembled the Navy’s 209s ever since the late 1970s.
The 1700 ton U214 design, 250 tons larger than the U212 A, is as compact as all submarines of German origin. Featuring a superb cruising range and high combat power, this submarine possesses an excellent indiscretion rate, enabled by its relatively large main battery and the two high-performance Diesel engines.
AIP is provided by two 120kW fuel cell modules. The characteristics of a relatively long one-decker, the ferromagnetic construction, the eight swim-out torpedo tubes and the bow diving planes show the affinity with the U209. The Permasyn motor, a high automation level, the reduced signature, the towed and flank array sonar systems and the torpedo defense system are features which the design has in common with the U212 A.
The standard U214 with its development having started about ten years later than that of the German U212 incorporates the integration of a number of state-of-the-art components which the German Navy can implement no sooner than with the second batch of the U212 A. These include the replacement of one of the two periscopes with an optronic mast, the tactical data link system, the active sonar system as well as a special swimmer lock-out chamber. Furthermore, the U214 comes with a Sub-Harpoon launch capability.
U212 A Second Batch and the Potential for the Future
The 1990s saw the German Navy employed in peacekeeping missions in the Adriatic, entirely new challenges compared to Cold War decades of exercising for a relatively unlikely all-out war on the northern flank. Throughout the seven years since the start of the fight against terrorism, the German Navy has been continuously operating together with allied and coalition partners in remote theaters, from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea, also with submarines. Improving the strengths which have always distinguished the German Navy as a valuable alliance partner, particularly in littoral warfare, became an undisputed necessity – but no longer just on its own doorstep but with the capacity for worldwide deployment. This meant more sustainability and robustness, including better precision and weapons with stand-off capability, also for land attack. In addition, the capability of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) is indispensable for interoperability with own and allied forces of all services.
When the four boats of the first batch of the U212 A were designed at the beginning of the nineties and their mission was defined, NCW was a vision at best. Their capabilities to participate in such operations at present are therefore only limited. Thus, it is planned to retrofit them with Tactical Data Link, Collaboration At Sea, Battle Force E-Mail and MCCIS systems. The building contract for the second batch of the class U212 A boats with two more units was signed in September 2006 with delivery scheduled in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In August 2008, the Italian Navy followed suit with its own second batch of two more U212 A boats.
The German second batch will be significantly improved relative to the first batch. Besides NCW capability, the boats will be upgraded with additional systems and technically improved components such as:
In terms of their structural design, the second batch will be largely identical, only in the sail area will they be slightly elongated to provide growth potential, to accommodate an additional hoistable mast for SHF SatCom, and more fuel for range extension.
The strength of the submarine will remain its invisibility. The detection of a submarine’s presence – let alone its identification or even its engagement – requires an enormous ASW effort in all three dimensions. Just a handful of navies is able to take on a submarine with the combat power and the stealth characteristics of the U212 A. The British failure in the fight against the SAN LUIS during the Falklands War reflects the strength of the submarine as did the spectacular sinking of the Argentine cruiser BELGRANO by the British nuclear submarine HMS CONQUEROR, which was enough to contain the Argentine surface fleet for the rest of the war.
A submarine already begins to have an effect, when its presence is only suspected in the theater of operations. Depending on the tactical situation or political guidelines, the skipper can deliberately reveal his presence as a measure of escalation. He denies the enemy the unimpeded use of maritime areas and sea lines of communication and is capable to launch devastating strikes against enemy surface and submarine forces. The submarine represents an enormous force multiplier because it can tie up a multitude of ASW platforms or even neutralize whole fleets. Especially relatively small air-independent submarines like the U2 l 2 A can successfully assume this role in enemy littoral waters where own or allied surface naval assets – due to superior enemy forces – or other submarines – due to their size – cannot be employed.
Combat against naval forces is, and will remain, the primary task of the submarine. As an ASW platform it reaches its highest efficiency in combination with surface and airborne ASW systems. Within the foreseeable future, the torpedo will remain the weapon of the U212 A. The new fiber-optically guided, highly agile DM2 A4 has a combat range extending far beyond the horizon and has become a true stand-off weapon as compared to the previous model. However, this torpedo is only suitable for engaging surface and submarine targets and always results in the highest level of escalation, i.e. the unit kill, the sinking of the enemy.
Anti-ship missiles, by contrast, are weapons normally facilitating mission kill, i.e. the continuation of the enemy’s mission is disrupted by a hit, without necessarily sinking the platform. Six nations operating German export submarines are equipped with Subharpoon, some with land-attack capability. No question that the U212 A also has the potential for being equipped with this missile, or a similarly efficient one.
The feasibility of IDAS was successfully proven in an experimental study and will go into full scale development soon. By 2015 it will provide the U212 A with capabilities so far not available for submarines around the world. IDAS is a light fiber optically guided missile which can engage ASW helicopters as well as surface and close-to-shore land targets. Although being a fire-and-forget weapon, the guidance achieved by the man in the loop in combination with the IR seeker-head will provide a multitude of options, including point of impact selection or the targeting of moving land objects. Further weapon options for U212 A are being tested. This includes the integration of a 30mm machine gun or a light unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) both mounted in a hoistable multi-purpose mast as payload alternatives. This could provide previously unimaginable engagement capabilities for non-nuclear submarines in asymmetric scenarios.
A second role increasingly gaining importance for submarines is that of covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Surveillance and securing of sea areas, especially when a secure environment is required for follow-on operations, contributions to the early detection of crises, the determination of military and mission-relevant non-military activities, the reconnaissance of objects near the coast and in port – this list of tasks could be continued infinitely. In very shallow littoral waters, where German submarines can already exploit their full freedom of movement, bigger and in particular nuclear-powered units are not even capable of diving. High performance acoustic but also non acoustic sensors hold enormous potential for compact submarine platforms. Further enhancement in the field of reconnaissance can be expected from submarine launched UUVs and the above mentioned UAVs.
A third role in which German submarines have always excelled, and which becomes more and more important, is that of covert landing, support and recovery of special forces. While on the current boats SEALs have to swim out through the torpedo tubes, the second batch of the U212 A will allow them to use a four-man lock-out chamber and an innovative delivery vehicle, as well as to carry along extensive equipment in pressure-tight dry shelters.
To sum up, one may say that due to their characteristics of compactness, covertness, sustainability and high combat power, submarines Made in Germany are already able to fulfill the majority of missions that today’s and future scenarios hold in stock for underwater platforms. They do have their price, but they expand the maritime capability spectrum of armed forces in a unique way, and thus the military options in the hands of the political leaders of countries operating these submarines. There is no doubt that readiness and responsiveness are the prerequisites for relevance, and that this also applies to these submarines. They are ready as long as their high-tech equipment is matched by a high-quality training of their crews. In the case of the German Navy’s U212 A this combination is ensured and results in a second to none combat readiness. They are responsive because – backed up by a superb industrial base – they have the necessary growth potential to be able to react flexibly to changes that today’s and future missions will undergo. And as naval assets they are relevant because their capabilities are recognized and understood by the leaders of their own nation, by the Alliance, and by potential enemies, thus increasing the international reputation and the influence of the German Navy to a considerable extent.
The success story of German post-war submarines has been going on for more than 40 years. Germany has one of the best nonnuclear submarines in the world. The German Navy has every right to be proud of the men and, for quite some time also of the women, who operate these units. They have long since stepped out of the shadow cast by the Grey Wolves.