Saab Bound for Naval Grand Slam?

As the modernisation of the Finnish Navy’s surface fleet continues, Saab has managed to secure two key contracts. Earlier, it was announced that Saab would provide the new anti-submarine torpedoes set to be fielded by both the modernised Hamina-class FAC as well as the new Pohjanmaa-class corvettes (Squadron 2020). In many ways this was the low hanging fruit for Saab. Not only is development of their new torpedo well underway with Sweden as the launch customer, it is also based on proved technology in the form of the earlier Torped 45, making it possible to operate the older version from the installed tubes until the new Torped 47 is ready. Perhaps crucially, it is one of few weapons of its class designed with an eye to use in littoral and brackish waters, key features of the operating environment of the Finnish Navy.

PCG Hamina 2015
Leadship of the class, FNS Hamina (’80’) two years ago. Note forward 57 mm main gun, roof-mounted CEROS 200, and 12.7 mm NSV heavy machine gun behind bridge. Source: Merivoimat FB

This week Saab landed a bigger fish, as it was announced that they will provide the combat management system, fire-control system, integrated communication systems, as well as optronic sensors for the Hamina MLU. The odd bird out is the fact that the order include the CEROS 200 optronic sensor, which is already fitted to the vessels. Either these are worn out to the extent that buying newer is cheaper from a maintenance point of view, or there have been internal upgrades of the CEROS 200 since the original deliveries almost twenty years ago that have not been reflected in the name of the product, but are extensive enough to warrant buying complete units and not simply giving the CEROS its own MLU.

Another interesting inclusion is the Trackfire remote weapon station, with the Hamina now being the third class in the Finnish Navy to receive the RWS. The use of the Trackfire on the Hamina isn’t specified, but the wording in the press release does seem to indicate a single system per ship. As such, while it is possible that two stations per vessel will replace the port and starboard manually operated 12.7 mm NSV heavy machine guns mounted amidships, the likelier scenario is that they will take the place of  the main armament. There has been talk (so far unconfirmed?) that the main 57 mm guns (Bofors Mk 3) of the Hamina vessels will be removed as weight saving measures and transferred to the four Pohjanmaa-class vessels, and this would fit right in. While the Trackfire is usually seen fitted with a heavy machine gun as the main armament, it is capable of holding “lightweight medium calibre cannons”, i.e. weapons up to and including low-pressure 30 mm ones. This is not an unheard of solution, with e.g. the Israeli Typhoon RWS being used with a number of the different Bushmaster-series of cannons as the main or secondary gun on a number of different naval vessels out there. A 30 mm Bushmaster, the Mk 44, is already found in Finnish service on the CV 9030 IFV, but before anyone gets too enthusiastic it should be noted that this uses a longer high-pressure round, so there is no synergy to be had. Instead, something like the M230LF, based on the chain gun found on the Apache helicopter, is the more likely candidate.

Dropping down in calibre from 57 to 30 mm is not necessarily a bad thing, as the main use of the weapon will likely be air defence and intercepting light craft. Modern 30 mm rounds will do quite some damage against soft targets such as warships as well, though naturally you won’t win a gun fight against a large vessel sporting a 3 or 5 inch gun anytime soon (to be fair, if you find your FAC up against a destroyer at gun range something has likely gone very wrong already at an earlier stage of the battle).

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Jehu-class landing craft with a Trackfire RWS on top of the superstructure. For the landing crafts the usual mount is either a 12.7 mm NSV or a 40 mm GMG, with a 7.62 mm PKM as a co-axial weapon. Source: Merivoimat FB

At the heart of the Hamina order is the 9LV, an open architecture system which allows integration of different sub-systems, sensors, and weapons into a single integrated package. As such, different building blocks can be integrated into CMS systems from other manufacturers, or other manufacturers’ subsystems can be integrated into the 9LV CMS. That Saab gets this kind of a complete deal including both the CMS, FCS, integrated communication systems, and part of the weaponry is significant, especially when looking towards the soon to be decided contract for a main systems integrator for the Pohjanmaa-class, a job which will likely be of significantly higher value than the Hamina MLU.

The main implications is that this makes Saab the front-runner for the Pohjanmaa-class CMS. Earlier the Rauma-class FAC received the 9LV during its MLU, and now on the Hamina 9LV is replacing Atlas Elektronik’s ANCS 2000-system. While the requirements for the CMS of the Hamina and the Pohjanmaa are not completely identical, there certainly is something to be said when the former replaces one of the shortlisted CMS’s with the another one, instead of simply upgrading it. It should also be remembered that several subsystems, including most weapons, will be the same for both vessels.

Yet another noteworthy development is that Saab recently announced a new fixed face version of their Sea Giraffe, in the form of the Sea Giraffe 4A FF. I have earlier questioned whether Saab’s twin rotating mast solution would satisfy the requirements of the Navy, and it seems clear that the 4A FF is a possible solution for the Pohjanmaa’s main long-distance sensor. As Saab is also well positioned to secure the order for the new PTO2020 surface-to-surface missile, they just might be on track to secure all major Finnish naval contracts they are bidding for.

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FNS Pori (’83’), the newest of the four Hamina-class vessels, underway. Source: Merivoimat FB

6 thoughts on “Saab Bound for Naval Grand Slam?

  1. “(to be fair, if you find your FAC up against a destroyer at gun range something has likely gone very wrong already at an earlier stage of the battle)”

    Yes, normally! In misty weather though, if supposedly the Russians lack a radar signature library for their active radar system (and that library would have had to be from all angels), and if they can’t discern one warship from another using active radar, you can perhaps sneak in and target the enemy warship with passive sensors from a close distance. I have no inside knowledge in any military marines’ active or passive sensors. These are simply my own conclusions based upon OSINT information. And in any way it is an extraordinary situation if you approach an enemy warship, corvette or bigger ship/ships.

    Normally what determine the outcome of the battle is presumably the sensors and distance from an enemy target. The farther distance from which you can determine an enemy ship being an enemy warship and fire sea scimming missiles, as long as it is within missile range, either detected by helicopter or by UAV:s or by the ships active radar or other sensors, preferably passive sensors, the bigger the chance of success i guess.

    Just as in previous battles throughout history, a battle at sea will be a fight on life and death. Maybe even more so with todays targeting tools. For the opponent, the lack of respect for collateral damage will be decisive when all weather conditions have been accounted for. If the attacker lacks respect for civilian life at sea it can be both a disadvantage if one of our military ships is targeted, and to an advantage if they waste their time on and fire a missile and hits a civilian target in the area.

    Allmålspjäs 57 Mk3 can under certain circumstances, like misty weather, suppress, disrupt, damage and function as a deadly psyching factor while Rb 15 is fired and travels to the target, if our corvette has sneaked close enough for 57 Mk3 to be used against the target. That requires a maximum distance of 17 km which is allmålskanon 57 Mk3:s limitation. But this scenario is not likely to happen.

  2. I should have mentioned that in order to target an enemy ship from a UAV or a helicopter these have to be able to send signals for the missile to utilize up to and included mid-course missile travelling. This makes a helicopter vulnerable for a period of time. From that follows that the ideal distance to the target would be if our corvette/corvettes is just out of the targets active radar detection range. Of course using a UAV means that one can subject the flying object to bigger risks and hence the Corvette can be farther from its target. This is purely visionary thinking from my side and in no way does it reflect reality for my country’s marine.

  3. Per Nordenberg

    I cannot imagine the Finns would go for the Trackfire RWS as the main gun system aboard the modernized Haminas. Apart from all other aspects (limited range, limited AA capability, limited effect in target, no fire support capability etc.) there is hardly need for such a drastic reduction in system weight on the foredeck. A BAE 40 mm Mk3 or MK4 gun system should provide enough weight reduction for the HTM while still giving only slightly less medium gun firepower than a BAE 57 mm Mk3.

    1. Kristian

      Good point. The 40mm mk4 is a lot lighter than the mk3 which in turn is lighter than the existing 57mm gun so you should get a significant weight saving while still being able to fire advanced 3P ammunition. If Finland already use 40mm guns there should be savings in logistics as well compared to introducing a new gun with a new type of ammo.

  4. Andreas Söderholm

    I also doubt that there is a need for the Trackfire as main gun for weight purposes, when changing the 57 mm Mk.3 to a 40 mm Mk.4 saves almost 9 tons when you include 1000 rounds (or 4,5 tons for only the turret.

    As Finland already use the Bofors 40 mm on both the Katanpää- and Rauma-classes (but the Mk.2 that can’t use all 3P-modes) there really is no need for any other kind of gun. My guess is that it has not been confirmed yet, as the guns has nothing to do with either Patria or SAAB.

    1. Per Nordenberg

      Indeed, anything else than a BAE 40 mm would be a real surprise. Since the 40 mm Mk 4 is both lighter, cheaper and makes a smaller imprint than the 40 mm Mk 3 I guess the choice is easy.

      I’ve been in contact med FMV about the old 40 mm Mk 2, and they confirmed that it can use 3P ammo but only in air burst mode. The Mk 2 gun is apparently to be withdrawn from the Swedish armed forces within the next few years.

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