Sunken Costs and Good Enough – the A26 Blekinge-class

Let me start by being absolutely clear: everything points to that the A26 Blekinge-class submarine will be a stellar piece of engineering, highly adept at its mission, and by quite a margin the submarine class in the world best suited to the narrow waters of the Baltic Sea.

Having said that, the Swedish decision to acquire two vessels of the class unfortunately seem to be a blow to Sweden’s defence capability, threatening to crowd out key capabilities and investments from a naval budget that is already far too small for the country and its 81,435 square kilometres of sea.

The first modern Swedish submarine design, sporting a teardrop hull-shape inspired by the USS Albacore and an X-rudder, was the A-11 class (also known as Sjöormen or Sjöormen II). These entered service in the late 1960’s, and the five boats meant that Sweden had an impressive fleet of 20+ submarines in the first half of the 1970’s. The withdrawal of the modernised WWII-era Kustubåtar/Jaktubåtar left a fleet of 17 submarines going into the next decades. The 1980’s saw the withdrawal of the A-12 (Draken II-class), which despite the number was an older and simpler design compared to the ambitious A-11. At this time, the fleet stabilised at a dozen submarines, with the A-14 (Näcken II) and the A-17 (Västergötland) covering for the six outgoing vessels. However, the five A-11 were sold to Singapore (as the Challenger-class) starting in 1995, and 1998 saw the A-14 being withdrawn. After the turn of the millennium, two of the A-17 were retired and eventually sold to Singapore (the Archer-class), with the other two returning to service highly modified as the Södermanland-class. Here they joined the three submarines of the A19 (Gotland-class), meaning Sweden had five submarines in service. Of these five, HMS Östergötland (the last A-17) has since been retired, leaving Sweden with four submarines in its fleet.

HMS Halland, the youngest submarine in Swedish service, which now seems set to get an MLU. Eventually. Picture from BALTOPS 2016. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Daniel Foose/Wikimedia Commons

Of the four serving submarines, two of the A19 have recently undergone an MLU to extend their lifespan “beyond 2030”, while the third (HMS Halland) originally was set to just receive a general overhaul aimed at “ensuring seaworthiness and handling pressing obsolescence issues in certain systems“. It was decided in last year’s white paper to order an MLU for HMS Halland as well, though as far as I am aware of no such contract has yet been signed.

Those who can read between the lines will quickly realise that means that HMS Södermanland is not expected to serve on “beyond 2030”, meaning that if Sweden isn’t going to become a three-boat service, something else needs to come.

Enter the A26 Blekinge-class.

As I said in the ingress, the A26 is set to become an extremely capable submarine, tailored to meet the demanding requirements of the shallow and narrow waters of the Baltic Sea. This include being able to handle a number of different mission sets, including anti-submarine warfare, attacking surface vessels, intelligence gathering, SOF insertion/extraction, and so forth. And it is more and more looking like a seriously failed investment on the part of the Swedish Armed Forces in general and the Navy in particular.

To begin with, let us take a step back and look at the general situation for the Swedish Armed Forces, now (finally) trying to grow again after decades of decline. This include the decision to go from four to five submarines by retiring HMS Södermanland and ordering two new A26: HMS Blekinge and HMS Skåne. The long-term plan also identifies the possibility of further growth post-2025, when “In conjunction with the planning for the replacement of the [A19] Gotland-class the acquisition of further submarines could be considered, in addition to the three submarines required to replace the Gotland-class” (page 173). The two A26 submarines will in the meantime replace HMS Södermanland and HMS Östergötland, which by 2024-2025 “will have served for approximately 35 years”.

The last sentence contain two issues.

To begin with, HMS Östergötland has already left service, and my calendar says it is only 2021.

And secondly, the A26 sisters are now expected to arrive in the 2027-2028 timespan.

The mess deck of HMS Uppland, showing the cramped conditions inside submarines optimised for the littorals. The vessel is currently the most modern submarine in Swedish service, and following the MLU last year is set to continue in service for at least a decade. Source: Henrik Lundqvist Rådmark/Försvarsmakten

There’s an obvious gap there, and it is increasingly looking like HMS Södermanland will either be run until it is starting to fall apart, or there will be a period with a three-boat fleet. Even in the best of cases, the fleet won’t see much of a increase until 2030. However, the bigger question is about the cost in cold hard cash.

The original price tag was 8.2 Bn SEK in 2014 value (approximately 9.2 Bn SEK in 2021, or 910 MEUR). However – and this one is strikingly stupid as well as a prime example of political obfuscation – the price was based on securing export customers. That a budget is made on the assumption of securing export orders in a highly competitive niche markets within defence can’t be considered planning in good faith.

In this case, it is particularly bad due to two issues:

  • The high complexity of the submarine as a weapon system, meaning that a significant part of the value goes into non-recurring costs such as research and development,
  • The small size of the Swedish order – just two vessels – means that there will be no real series production, but rather two handcrafted vessels.

Combined these will cause the non-recurring part of the price tag per submarine to be particularly high. And as no export order has been signed (though the Netherlands in particular is still looking promising), the chicken eventually came home to roost earlier this fall when Saab and FMV announced that the project was late and above budget. The fact that no new submarine has been built in Sweden between the launching of HMS Halland in 1996 and HMS Bleking being launched perhaps 30 years later also appears to have come into play, as the yard “was in worse shape” than anticipated back in 2014, meaning that the project will have to include further infrastructure costs.

A classic early picture of HMS Gotland, showing the full-colour Swedish insignia. The vessel is still highly capable, especially after the MLU, but it deserves to remember that she is a product of the mid-90’s. Source: Kockums/Wikimedia Commons

Bear with me for a moment.

In 2016, the Swedish public broadcaster SR did an interview with Saab, where the company confirmed that the project would stay within budget, regardless of whether there would be export orders or not.

In 2018, the Minister of Defence got an official request for information regarding the status of the project and the budget from an opposition MP. The somewhat evasive answer was that government would continue to keep the parliament informed.

In 2019, the situation was repeated, and again the answer was that the government would keep the parliament informed.

In 2021, the contract was revised upwards with an additional 5.2 Bn SEK to land at approximately 14 Bn SEK in total (approximately 1.4 Bn EUR). In Saab’s messaging, the focus is on “new capabilities that are to be added to the A26 will give an additional edge within the weapon system and stealth technology among other things”, while FMV is more frank and openly talk about the infrastructure failings and more generally issues including “a delay in the development work“.

Now, if we are to believe the poor shape of the yard in 2014 as being among the main culprits here, the story is that for six-seven years – a time that also saw the MLU of two submarines at the yard in question- neither party realised that the yard wasn’t in fact fit for building new submarines in its current state. The Minister of Defence also hadn’t noticed that the A26 was almost 60% above budget and three years late, or at the very least didn’t feel this detail was among the things the government should inform parliament about.

Concept for A26 version with a VLS-module for cruise missiles. Note the larger tube in the bow which allows for easier extraction of combat swimmers as well as UUVs. Picture courtesy of H.I Sutton/Covert Shores

Exactly which part of the cost increase stems from the “increased capability” and additional spare parts is obviously hard to tell, but the sole example of the added capability given is integration of Saab’s new lightweight torpedo – Torped 47 – which was ordered by the Swedish government in 2016, and the development of which had been decided upon in 2010. Again, I do find it somewhat strange that no one in the A26 project figured out that they needed to include some money in the budget for the integration of the standard Swedish arsenal of submarine-launched weapons onto the new submarine – mind you, the submarine was ordered well after the development of what would become TP 47 was launched. Something that has been speculated about is that the new capability might include the fitting of VLS-cells, an option Saab has offered for export. However, for the time being the complete lack of any official Swedish interest in the niche capability of a dedicated cruise missile module aboard the submarine as well as the complete lack of suitable weapons makes this unlikely. The limited benefit in a Baltic Sea-scenario also stem from the fact that the submarine is not able to manoeuvre into a position from where it can launch an off-axis attack from behind the enemy defences. Besides, the fact that tube-launched cruise missiles are available and the recent decision to equip the Swedish Gripen-fleet with long-range land-attack both also point to the VLS-module being an unlikely candidate for the Swedish submarines.

The Issue at Hand

At the current price tag the A26 still seem to be roughly at the same price level as competing designs (the uncertainties are significant, though, as no two submarine deals are exactly the same when it comes to what’s included in the package). But there are significant questions that seemingly are glossed over, in part because there are sensible answers to all of the questions, but not not necessarily ones making sense when looking at the holistic picture of Swedish defence.

The basic issue is that creating a completely new submarine class from scratch is extremely expensive at the best of times. Doing that and ordering just two is quickly at risk of becoming prohibitively so as the technology and budget risks are more concentrated.

The Italian Todaro-class submarine Scire (S527) during mooring operations. We’ll get back to this one shortly.  Source: U.S. Navy photo by Machinist Mate Casey Kinkade/Wikimedia Commons

However, submarines have long been a staple of Swedish defence industry, and the country has been at the cutting edge of submarine design at least since the A-11 was launched. The political decision to build and design the A26 in Sweden is understandable from that point of view – security of supply is a very real concern – but it harken back to a day of bigger orders. The obvious solution is to buy more submarines.

But this leads us back to the basic issue of there not being enough money to go around for the Swedish Armed Forces. The Navy is cash-strapped, and while it is a real worry that the submarine force despite talk of growing to five vessels in practice is set to remain at four, or even shrink to three in the years leading up 2028, the silent service is in fact one of the better arms of the Navy. The newest of the few surface units are the Visby-class corvettes which have celebrated 20 years, with the remaining four surface combatants being over ten years older still. And the long-term plan foresee the beginning of preliminary design work for two vessels before 2025, meaning that most of the fleet will have to serve on past 2030. At the same time, the Navy is trying to get their new (old) mobile logistics concept up and running, perhaps the single most important change envisioned for the Navy in the latest white paper, and a second marine regiment has been stood up which also will require an increase in funding.

And that is just the Navy, in August the Swedish Riksrevisionen (think GAO) published a report where they noted that the Army was unable to meet their goals, with lack of funding being a key detail. Oh, and in particular they noted that:

In addition the costs for the critical defence interests JAS 39E and the new generation submarine (A26) have been difficult to make cuts to, and these projects have crowded out other acquisition projects.

With the funding for the A26 coming from the regular defence budget and not from any kind of additional funding made available to ensure that this “critical defence interest” is secured and domestic submarine knowledge are retained, the 60% growth in the budget means that something else has to give. And it is currently very difficult to find any kind of slack in the Swedish defence budget.

The solution

What is then the solution? Well, the obvious solution is that the Swedish government quickly need to start funnelling more funds to the defence budget, one possibility being through recognising its unique status and breaking out the A26 and funding it from a combination of defence funding and economic stimulus to secure the continuation of the shipyard.

However, there have been preciously little in the way of political will to pay for the defence ordered, and this solution seems unlikely in the short term.

The other possibility, and this is perhaps even harder, is to ask the question whether Sweden should just accept the fact that at some point the jack plane simply isn’t working, and the low numbers of the submarine force makes it unsustainable – or, rather, that the same defence capabilities can be had cheaper through a combination of other systems. Most of the missions can be solved in other ways. Giving the Swedish maritime NH 90 the long-required upgrades to their ASW-capability would bring a significant benefit, and investing more in the ageing surface vessels could support both the ASW- and the ASuW-mission. The Air Force can also lend a hand in the surveillance role, as well as bringing more RBS 15 as a potent ship-killing capability. Both naval and air assets can also be used to support the SOF. On the horizon, unmanned systems are also set to bring increased capabilities, though they are likely not going to be the end all be all some make them out to be in the near- and mid-term.

Supporting special forces is a key mission of any modern submarine force. Here combat divers of the Swedish 1. Marine regiment (AMF 1) are out on a training mission. Source: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten

Have anyone dared to honestly ask whether submarines are really the best solution under the current budgetary constraints and as a part of the overall Swedish Armed Forces? Let us hope so, and it certainly is true that the uncertainty caused by submarines operating in the dark waters of the Baltic Sea is difficult to match through any other means. And there is few things that are as effective in creating a deterring effect as capabilities that are known unknowns, and which are hard to keep track of and take out in a first strike.

So we will trust the professionals that the submarines are needed and that the decision hasn’t been made on autopilot, and that the A26 is the submarine best suited for the Swedish needs. Still, it is hard not to feel that the opportunity for Sweden somewhat passed with HDW (later part of TKMS) buying Kockums in 1999 and not launching any new subs in the next few decades (the blame obviously largely goes to the Swedish government again, which maintain that the yard is a critical national interest despite first selling it to a foreign owner and then not placing any orders to ensure that the know-how is kept up to date). As noted, the combination of A26 being ordered as just a two-vessel class coupled with the complete inability to get a grip of both the cost and the timeline eleven years after order also sends alarm bells going off, and further bad news feel like a very real possibility.

Which brings us to what in hindsight probably should have been the correct way forward. Foreign turn-key submarines.

The sound you just heard was the choir of Swedish naval geeks singing the praises of 400 mm torpedoes, Stirling-engines, and a number of other unique Swedish features in the confined waters of the Baltic Sea, and how none of these could be had in a foreign design.

Yes, as I’ve said twice already, the A26 is probably the most capable design available when it comes to the Swedish demands. However, it is also late, and the final price tag is a big question mark. Sometimes, getting the second best of any individual capability is worth it to ensure that you get working stuff on schedule, and that no single capability crowd out the other capabilities needed to keep a well-balanced and working defence force. So let us look at the options.

Foreign submarines

The number of available designs isn’t overly large. Spain’s S-80 has had some, eh, interesting teething troubles, but after lengthening it it is now able to float (yes, really). At the same time, it is now an 80 meter / 3,000 ton boat, rather on the large side compared to the 65 meter / 2,000 ton of the A26. Let us quickly move on.

The elephant in the room is that TKMS (ex-HDW) which by a margin is the most important supplier of export submarines in the world is out of the question following the rather spectacular break-up with Kockums (which saw the Swedish Armed Forces, and reportedly also the Swedish Security Service, enter the premises to secure certain equipment, after which the whole yard suddenly was sold to Saab). A derivative of the Type 212 or the related Type 214 would probably be an excellent choice, these being something of a European standard with Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Greece all operating different versions, with Norway also having a number of vessels on order. The Type 212 has sported a number of different versions, with the latest Type 212CD ordered by Norway and Germany being quite a bit larger than the original vessels.

The upcoming Italian NFS will likely be the most advanced submarine in the 1,750 ton class. Picture courtesy of H.I Sutton / Covert Shores

The best fit, and likely the only that even has a theoretical chance (though I like to stress that as well is purely theoretical) is likely the latest Italian design, the Near Future Submarine (NFS), also known as Todaro II. Italy has a long history as a competent designer and builder of post-war subs, and despite the original Type 212A Todaro being largely a HDW-design, the Italian and German boats have diverged as additional batches have been ordered. The NFS will introduce Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries which will provide a significant boost and a ‘first’ in European waters. Besides the Black Shark Advanced-torpedoes, the boat will also have a number of nifty SOF-features (naval special operations being an Italian speciality) as well as a land-attack capability. Delivery schedule and cost is roughly in line with A26, with the crucial difference that it is based on a tried and tested design, and there already is an Italian order for 2+2 vessels of the NFS-design providing for risk-sharing. The NFS isn’t as well-suited for the Baltic Sea as the A26, but it is a 95 % capability at a significantly reduced risk, and sometimes that is the kind of trade-off one need to make. The high-level of Italian input also means that it perhaps could be sold to the public as a Italian submarine rather than a German one.

The Chilean Scorpène-class submarine General O’Higgins is able to fire both the Black Shark-family of torpedoes as well as the Exocet anti-ship missile. Like the Gotland-class, the boats have been used in ASW-training by the US Navy. Source: SSBN/Wikimedia Commons

A politically even better choice would be the French Scorpène-class, which also has received a number of export orders around the world (though none in Europe). Following AUKUS, this certainly could be a good time to get a really nice deal on French submarines. Depending on the version, the Scorpène is found in versions stretching from 60 to 75 meters, and 1,700 to 2,000 tons. The project was hit by a serious leak when a significant amount of classified documents found their way into cyberspace, though it is doubtful that it has compromised the vessel to an extent that would require buyers to stay away from it. Based on some of the numbers quoted, the boat is on the cheaper side (don’t confuse ‘cheap’ with ‘little money’, though) and available for delivery at a relatively short notice, but again – anyone claiming to know the price with any kind of accuracy of a submarine probably shouldn’t be trusted.

In the end, the reality is that the Swedish Navy will stick with the A26, meaning that the unfortunate crew of HMS Södermanland will have to keep their vessel going for quite a bit longer. It also means that any further budget increases certainly can threaten important projects, such as the Navy’s mobile base concept or those of the other services (the Army’s planned increase in engineering capabilities or the Air Force’s need for mobile logistics for the rotary wing assets come to mind as key capabilities that aren’t media-sexy enough to be able to compete with the A26 for funding).

The A26 is great, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great choice for Sweden.

64 thoughts on “Sunken Costs and Good Enough – the A26 Blekinge-class

  1. Uroxen

    I think another relevant question is, do Sweden even need new manned submarines of this size?

    The size of equipment needed for surveillance and travel under water has dropped immensely during the previous 20 years. What would previously had been two pallets of equipment for sonar, positioning and computers can now be fitted into a suitcase when doing surveys.

    Current submarines and perhaps a smaller manned class could provide valuable forward operating units collecting data from newer unmanned platforms built on the unmanned underwater vehicles developed by incumbents like Kongsberg or Saab or even new entrants like Kraken Robotics. There are lots of different UUVs use nowadays in the offshore industry and without the requirement of life support systems it would be possible to use these much smaller vehicles for observation or even as remote launch platforms.

    1. Tom

      Sweden can easily seal off the whole Finnish bay with two submarines, shutting in the russian fleet that is in that area. We don´t want to have russian troop transport ships on the Baltic sea and it is difficult to stop a submarine, especially if it is swedish.

      1. Uroxen

        A26 got four heavy torpedo tubes and two light so that seems rather ambitious versus a serious Russian naval effort.

      2. Tom

        Serious russian naval effort? Russia has one submarine in the Baltics. Most russians ships are from the 1980:s. Serious…

      3. Per Nordenberg

        If you only have a total of four operational boats it’s rather unlikely to have two available for simultaneous operations in the Finnish Bay. I’m not saying it’s impossible – just unlikely. It would require extensive planning and warning ahead. It is said that normally if you have four operational boats you can have one in the surveillance area, one in refit and two in transit to and from the area.

      4. Uroxen

        @Per, I believe that number is from US submarines who are world leading in patrolling at far distances. In the Baltic the distance to operation areas would at max be around 400 km, with a 20 day patrol time on AIP that would mean that at worst it should take 4 days back and forth to the operation area going by the claimed speed of the Gotlands class*.

        *I am far from an expert on submarines. What made me ask the original question is more on the side of mathematics and technology development where a manned submarine looks like a very expensive way of deploying a small cargo or a volley of torpedos. There will be more and more unmanned underwater vehicles used by militaries and their cost is dropping rapidly while the ability increases. Given the current state of the Russian navy it’s not high technology but efficiency and numbers that could be a threat in the future.

      5. Johan

        If the Russians can prepare large fleet operations from their ports in the Finnish bay without anyone noticing it, someone in the intelligence community needs to be fired. Obviously a three or four boat navy can’t have two boats in the Finnish bay over time, but with advance warning two boats should be able to get there, and I assume the A26 will carry about 16 heavy torpedoes like its predecessor A19. Even the simple fact that they could be there is something that the Russians would have to deal with if they were planning anything.

        At the end of the day I can see few reasons for Sweden to change its course and buy an export sub; if the export sub isn’t significantly cheaper, which there seems to be little evidence of, or better suited for what the Swedish Navy wants to use it for, there just isn’t any good justification for such a choice. Also, today a large sum of money have already been spent developing the A26, the best time to select an export sub would have been when Kockums were still owned by TKMS, a Swedish built Type 212 would probably have worked well for them.

      6. Pohjanmaa

        What would they be doing there? Finland does not need help shutting down Gulf of Finland, we can shut down half the Baltic Sea from invasion convoys..
        The main body of the Russian Baltic fleet is in Kaliningrad, might be a better place to lurk.
        But soon Finland can shut them both down so you can continue planning the boat to perfection.

  2. BB3

    I’ve learned from experience that you can’t have a rational conversation with Swedes about Saab and/or anything that company makes .. or says that they are working on .. or going to make .. or eventually make .. hopefully .. at some point in the future – like the A26 subs. If Saab is involved, Swedes will argue that it’s got to be considered the best, greatest, most cost-effective product/ solution in the world by some wide margin .. even if it’s unproven, not yet operational (like the Gripen E) and/or still in development and not close to being fielded – like the A26 subs and/or the RBS 15 Mk4 missiles ..

    1. Tom

      Sweden hasn´t failed up to this date with any major military project. In contrast to the russians that doesn´t seem to get anything of value out of their R&D 🙂

      The russians are still producing T72:s and upgrades of the SU27 and with no AESA radar.

      So commenting the final outcome of projects that hasn´t delivered yet, and are on track, like the RBS 15 mk4, is totally meaningless.

      1. BB3

        The RBS 15 mk4 isn’t ‘on track’ any more than the A26 subs or the Gripen NG/ E/F. There’s been literally ZERO explanation for the A26 sub being delay from 2019 to 2022 to 2024 to now 2027 .. ZERO. The Gripen NG has been similarly delayed from 2016 – at least there was some explanation/ justification for that delay due to the scope/ design being re-worked once they didn’t have to make false promises to the Swiss about an up engined C/D w/ extra fuel loaded somewhere .. And there’s also been ZERO updates on the RBS 15 mk4.

        All these delays are costly to both Sweden and to Saab’s ability to market its wares to the export market. Saab can’t market the Gungnir version to the British because it ain’t ready/ operational. Saab wasn’t allowed to even compete in the Swiss fly-off because the Gripen E wasn’t operational. Gripen can’t fly prospective buyers in the new F because it doesn’t yet exist. You really think the Dutch want to take a chance on a much bigger A26 when Sweden and Saab haven’t done anything but delay the building of the smaller one? Sweden literally DOUBLED the budget for the 2 A26 boats .. why not get economies of scale by adding an order for a 3rd or including the Halland upgrade. All that muscle memory from the MLUs of the 1st Gotland class boats is being lost ..

        But again – it’s against the law in Sweden to actually admit to the existence of any problems with Saab and/or Swedish military planning/ spending/ procurement issues.

      2. Uhrmm… you violated the Majesty’s law. We will have to summon you to court. But don’t worry, if you are conviction you Will probably get a cussioned cell.

      3. Tom

        Well, one thing that amateurs never understand that most projects aim on a moving target.When it comes to system platforms, new opportunities may arise that then are presented to the steering committee for taking the decision to increase the scope or not. An increased scope is the same as incresed cost and a time delay. Neither you or me know what the delays are about as they are secret, so it doesn´t have to bad project management but opportunities that are exploited.

        When it comes to Gripen E, the planes are already in the air with a proven engine, samt as for Super Hornet. What I think they are tuning are the sensor systems, especially the radar and the IRST, and the data fusion as well as ECM. The rest are more or less proven technology.

        When it comes to the A26, the propulsion is already proven but maybe they are working on a more advanced battery technology as well as the sensor suite. The hull is probably also a factor since they want a hull that is more resistant to explosions. The rest is proven.

      4. …and I would like to point out that I’ve spent the better part of my career as a project manager, including dealing with government projects. If something is 60% over budget and several years late, someone screwed up. It might be the customer, it might be the supplier, but someone did. End of story.

      5. Tom

        I´m sure you have some experience but my perception is that you are stretching it. I´m 55 year young, having worked for EDS (now HP), Volvo, ABB, mainly as project manager. To that, a military background expert in in indirect fire. Expert in IT and Automation, IoT, Industry 4.0, Critical Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Security, Process Automation and I have a good clue know how discrete automation too. Good knowledge in Network based defence and much much moore. So, out of your CV, I guess your about 30-35? Then you should be more humble about other peoples know how. Your experience in meccanical engineering is of course relevant but is far from actually working with developing DCS and Scada/PLC systems as well as MES/MOM in a company that is the biggest player globally in the area. In my professional life, I have worked a lot with both Saab and the Swedish government.

        As my main role has been project manager, I KNOW, that a main source to delays are new directives from the steering comittee, i.e the customer. In an agile project, where you are working on things that are state of the art, i.e. you take a risk because things you need are not invented yet, and that is a part of the work, you are constantly evaluating if the product/solution will meet the requirements and these requirements might (most often do) change during the project. I know that finns are more risk avert on technology than swedes, in a higher degree going for proven and safe solutions, so this might be a cultural thing.

      6. Tom

        You can only plan what you know, adding some margin for the unforseen. The problem is the box where you have “what we don´t know that we don´t know”. If that is poor planning then it´s fine with me.

    2. Tom

      We don’t have to transit back and forth when we operate together with Finland. We can resupply quickly along the southern finnish coastline.

    3. Kjell

      Some Americans cannot handle that others are better, and of course do forget their own history like the Seawolf class 29 planned and only 3 built, 26 canceled. And one has collided so is it only 2 now?

      1. Tom

        A problem is that the US hasn´t built a good ship since Arleigh Burke. And now they go for an Italian design for their new frigates, which I think is wise.

  3. Tom

    Well, it´s not rocket science to figure out that the submarines have become more expensive than projected but there´s is one sentence in your text where you really are unlucky.

    “However, there have been preciously little in the way of political will to pay for the defence ordered, and this solution seems unlikely in the short term.”

    Have you totally missed that Sweden is increasing its defence budget from 44 billion SEK in 2016 to 89 billion in 2025? And where many political parties, a majority, want the budget to go up to 100 billion in 2030, the Swedish democrats want it to be 125 billion SEK. As the mood is here in Sweden, the politicians won´t allow something else to be taken out, the most probable is that they will add more funding.

    1. It’s bad budgeting and project management when projects run over.

      Yes, there’s an increase, but from a very low level and while at the same time increase the expected capability and founding new units, so, no, the political will to fund what has been ordered isn’t there, and I have seen no talk about covering the increased cost of the A26.

      1. Tom

        Yes, its bad project management. The funding is there and at the moment, we have difficulties in absorbing the additional funding. So no new funding is needed right now. However, it will be needed in a few years so that is something we will have to deal with. As I said, there is a broad consensus to increase the budget after 2025. A new parliamentary commission is set up early 2022, to ponder how to continue the development of the armed forrces after 2025.

      2. Jaakko Niemi

        In Finnish language we have this word “löytöretki”, which describes projects that find out just much cost or work there is.

  4. Tom

    The A26 is not that interesting right now. HMS HAlland will get a MU and if we don´t get additional delays, this is not an issue.

    Then the upcomung finnish decision about HX is more interesting. If Finland doesn´t chose Gripen E, then I think that will have a very negative impact on the Swedish/Finnish military cooperation in general. I think Finland underestimates that one.

    1. Per Nordenberg

      You say that Halland will get an MLU. I assume you’re referring to the same MLU/HTM that was done on her two sister boats. However, according to page 34 in the budget proposition for 2022 (translated to eng): “The authorities have also begun procuring a general inspection of the Gotland-class submarine Halland”. Sadly it doesn’t sound like a full half time modernisation. A waisted opportunity if there ever was one if you ask me.

    2. JoJo

      Maybe you should read the comment from BB3 once more? Sure you can list an impressive CV. But you could be the president, and we couldn’t care less.
      You tell the owner of the blog: “Then you should be more humble about other peoples know how.”
      Maybe you should try the same?
      Have a nice evening.

    3. EMK

      ” I think that will have a very negative impact on the Swedish/Finnish military cooperation in general.”

      Maybe so. But then again, you have nothing to worry about if you indeed have developed the best fighter Finland can buy. If that proves to be the case, fine. If not, I’d give a rats ass about how you feel about it.

      Besides, should we ever have to test the value of cooperation in a real shooting war, I’d rather do that with partner who won’t get temper tantrums when things won’t go their way. So, in case you won’t win the HX, how about just accepting the fact that things won’t always go your way. That’s what adults do, anyway.

      1. Tom

        You can keep your rat ass. Cooperation is about synergies, not suboptimization. If Finland doesn´t understand that, the maybe it´s not the right partner? In my talks with our norwegian friends, thay are just focused on how to get help from partners, not how they can help their parners. When talking about merging forces, many talk about interoperability and logistics, important things but things that you just solve. The big issue is how you prioritize the forces, merged forces, when you see that you have to sacrifice. That a finnish commander sacrifices a swedish battallion to save something else. That a swedish commander prioritizes Gotland instead of northern Finland regarding fighter aircraft. Abasis for that is solidarity and trust. These things are something we build today and if we don´t have that, then no merger of our forces.

      2. If Sweden really would think that the choice of fighter for HX plays a role in Finnish-Swedish defence cooperation (and now I am talking about the general topic, not how fighters are refuelled or maintained), Finland would very quickly move on. The basis for cooperation is that both get benefits if the countries cooperate, as that will create a bigger hurdle for anyone trying to upset the current geostrategic balance in the region. Luckily, this also seems to be the reason both for the political and military side of things as they stand today, and as such the cooperation and confidence building – or as you put it, solidarity and trust – is in full swing. And will continue to be, regardless of which fighter is chosen in December.

      3. EMK

        Well, Tom, if you (not you, the Swedes in general) think trust is important, it certainly doesn’t help if you expect us to choose a fighter to your liking just because you don’t like if we don’t. Its hard to find a words other than childish, idiotic or arrogant to describe that kind of an expectation.

        While people at Saab may share your sentiments, for their own obvious reasons, I doubt decision makers at the political level and in military can afford that kind of a self indulged, irrational thinking. So I think you are quite wrong about the negative consequences.

        Like CF said, cooperation is useful because (or as long as) it benefits both. In another words, it creates win-win situation. In the big picture, a few logistical advantages a common fighter jet would bring are not such a huge deal. Expecting that we (Finland) should to settle for a less capable fighter jet for the sake of minor thing like that, or worse, in the name of ‘solidarity’ makes absolutely no sense.

        In this setting the trust comes, IMO, from two things. Clear communication of goals and intentions and predictable, sound judgements (which usually lead to good decisions, by the way). Elevating relatively minor thing (like few logistical benefits of a common fighter jet) out of proportion to a make-or-break issue and doing so by vaguely hinting about negative consequences is the exact opposite of those two things.

        Should Swedish leaders ever show such poor judgement, I think ours will draw their own conclusions quite quickly. Fortunately, that is unlikely. I think.

      4. Tom

        I see that you are unlucky. What is key here is the optimal air defence capability. One common fighter would mean tha we could not only share logistics, weapons but also pilots. A huge benefit. We know that Gripen E is superior to anything Russia has and then especially on sensors and ECM.

        This is more about a marriage that you want to engage in compared to, becuase you have to. I guess that your marriage is more consentual, convenient but without love. I understand that I´m in an area that is very abstract for a finn, but I give it a try.

        If you suboptimies in a marriage instead of looking at the big picture, it won´t last long. An example, in a crisis situation, for Finland supplies will be key and I think it´s wishful thinking to expect that you can use the Baltics for supplies through the Öresund strait. So Finland will expect that Sweden places resources to keep the supplies going to Åbo and Vasa, that for the benefit of Finland. In a world of suboptimization, why would Sweden do that? If you look at the big picture and if you have a healthy relation, of course Sweden will do it.

        This is the difference between you and me. And I think the finnish decision makers understands this.

      5. Okay, I have a quite liberal view on opinions expressed in the comments field, even when they are wrong (you don’t *know* the performance of neither Russian nor Swedish EW-systems, one can speculate, but if you actually know stuff you are dealing with classified intel, and that doesn’t happen on this forum, I will give you the benefit of doubt that you meant “assume” and not “know”).

        However, insulting people’s marriages is just rude and a personal attack, and *that* isn’t tolerated around here. That’s the banhammer for you.

      6. EMK

        It seems you’re head over heels in love with your own ideas Tom. It’s way too early to talk about marriage since we have barely started dating. Expecting behavior more appropriate for a married couple at this point suggest your feet are not on the terra firma anymore.

        Let’s return back to earth from the abstractions and pink dreams. When it comes to sharing, do you really think it would be wise for Finland to rely on such things without a formal defense treaty with Sweden? Of course not. That would be foolish to an extent bordering treason. And since we can be pretty damn sure no such a treaty is forthcoming before the HX decision point, if ever, this whole discussion is futile.

        Swedish decision makers know this. Finnish decision makers know this. No matter which plane we choose, these pragmatic, rational people are willing to continue the cooperation just because it’s in everybody’s interest to do so. So, please, let’s get real here.

      7. EMK

        CF, as a finn, I obviously cannot comprehend such subtle and abstract insult 😉 Nor do I care, frankly speaking. So no harm was done.

        I appreciate your intervention and understand you have to draw the line somewhere. However, as far as I am concerned, there is no need for the banhammer. But of course, it’s your call.

      8. Uroxen

        If we talk about “the Swedes” in general then I think most people treat this like Olympic sports. It is great if we win a competition but if we don’t win we go on and focus on something else.

        As a slightly more interested person I would go as far as considering the HX competition the single best indication of fighter jet competitiveness. We will never get the full details but Finland got the strongest inventives yet seen to do a solid life cycle analysis and critical evaluation of the equipment offered.

  5. Perman

    Isn’t the A26 project delayed with several years resulting in the cost being distrubed over a longer period just to make sure that the cost increases does not affect other vital defense projects? French or Italian boats might have been an alternative at some stage, but with the commitment on A26 for the past years I believe it’s too late for that now.

    1. bluesmartini

      I don’t understand why we talk about scorpene class, you should better talk about barracuda class, if you take in account the generation.
      Another thing is that (if I undestood) A26 blekinge type infers another type of hunt strategy. A26 will be very efficient for baltic sea with lurking and the use of a drone. Barracuda is made for hunt on largest area. That’s why Barracuda had been chosen in Australia.

  6. asafasfaf

    Buying foreing vs domestic is not simple cost comparison or even security of supply issue, it’s also about spending money in-country vs out-country and complex chainreaction that it results over many decades.

    Saab together with Boeing won the USAF trainer competition, they are going to make thousands of aircrafts over long time period. Without Gripen program, Saab and Sweden would have had no part in the trainer program as Sweden would have lost the knowhow how to make fighters.

  7. I am not very initiated, but won’t A26 be propelled with diesel-elektric machinery that is Air-independent (AIP)? And doesn’t that mean that the costs for maintaining the submarine over time will be several times lower than for the Type 212? Granted, the Type 212 is a little bit more stealthy than the A26. But we will probably never have the Type 212 as an adversary submarine anyway.

    1. Per Nordenberg

      What is your source for claiming that type 212 is more stealthy than the A26? Possibly slightly better speed and endurance submerged yes, but also a more costly AIP fuel cell add-on machinery. I hardly think it’s more stealthy though.

      1. My source is probably Thyssen-Krupp. They didn’t say that it was more stealthy than A26, they said that Type 212 was the stealthiest submarine on the market. If I remember it correctly.

      2. Type 212 have 2 x 120 kW fuel cells and A26 will have 3 x 75 kW Stirling-electric generators in addition to their diesel engines so I don’t think there will be any major differences in speed, endurance or stealth because of that. From a logistics standpoint the A26 will probably be a little easier to handle given that its Stirling engines runs on diesel rather than hydrogen.

  8. IED

    Interesting perspective. I do agree with you on the project management issue. However, trying to get a multi-billion investment like this through a budget process presumably involves a rather complex process of deciding when to display which numbers depending on your political environment. While a proper price-tag up front would be desireable for those who have some insight, i seriously doubt that that would result in any subs being built at all. Perhaps not honest but weighing security issues both in terms of defense production capability and defensive capacity versus an investment over several decades is rather complex for the average voter. I suspect that in Finland, defense is an existential issue whereas in Sweden it is considered more of an alternative to more nurseries (example from the Gripen debate a while ago).

    Where I think you are wrong is when discussing off-the-shelf submarines. I would argue that there is no such thing available. In theory, you could buy a scorpene as defined by the french navy but that involves getting french equipment and teaching swedish submariners french. Any other solution would involve additional development costs and a suboptimal product. The Australians have tried twice and Sweden also have some experience with the NH90 that suggests that the economic risk in such a venture is quite substantial.

    As you quite correctly note, the cost of a submarine is difficult to assess and I’m not at all convinced a tweaked 212 would be cheaper than the A26. In fact an untweaked 212 might be more expensive. You say that two submarines do not provide for any economies of scale. I agree and I also think that no european submarine producer have reached such economies of scale as to motivate a Swedish purchase.

    At the end of the day, the Swedish government has decided on the value of having a submarine development capability and a submarine force. The result is two A26 and the option of expanding should that be deemed necessary regardless of the political stance of other nations.

  9. Tom

    As many of the A26 features are already implemented in the A19 Gotland class, my perception is that there is low risk in these parts so I guess the focus regarding A26 are on the hull, propulsion and stealth. Probably also on new battery technologies as they will have an impact on both propulsion and stealth. An interesting part of this is the establishment of the Northvolt lab and factories for new battery technology and production – this have a major impact on Sweden know how in this domain.

  10. Blue 5

    I think you rather solved the question when you noted Sweden wishing to retaining a domestic capability and Saab Kockums wanting to make money out of exports (that is often counted in the PnL calculation, by the way). Buying something ‘off-the-shelf’ is not a panacea as it crowds out domestic capability, it’ requires a host of integration time and energy and in any case there is normally quite a long wait for build let alone IoC – also true for a domestic boat but at least the latter provides works and retains key skills.

    TKMS is the obvious one. Scorpene is now old and after the Aussie experience I sympathize that Sweden does not want to become Guinea pig mk. 2 or a lapdog for NG. Submarine planning and build is even longer than fighters, so given this decision was made some time ago I would argue it is better now to press forward rather than start afresh (the RAN would disagree, but am still not convinced an SSN is politically possible, never mind being a crippling expensive proposition for a country with zero nuclear experience).

    Kockums has the RAN Collins-class LOTE and arguably a strong export package with Damen in the Netherlands. Macron will be going ape-shizzle to get a Shortfin sale and Holland is the obvious target (insert Napoleon joke here). If Kockms gets Netherlands I reckon A-26 will work as a complete project and capability for the Sw. Navy. If they do not get Netherlands…..hmmm.

  11. Swedish chef

    Interesting analysis as always.
    With only a year as a conscripted cook in the Swedish Navy, I’m not an expert on the subject. But how surface and air assets would be able to replace a submarine in terms of endurance and deterrence is something I have a hard time seeing.

    Honestly, I don’t think the Navy would leave port, and definitively not the archipelago, without knowing they have the potential of submarine cover.
    What would happen to the ships of the Swedish Navy if enemy submarines where allowed to patrol freely in the Baltic Sea?

    And to think the Swedish Air Force would have any spare resources to engage an enemy shipping convoy is obviously a flawed assumption. The Air Force’s defensive capabilities will surely be saturated by longer ranged enemy fighters and bombers.

    Also, I wouldn’t feel too bad for the Södermanland sailors. I was told by a friendly submariner that the newest submarine doesn’t equal the best submarine. It takes a long time for a complex weapon system to reach maturity and an older design will often be more lethal. An example is the Sjöormen (Challenger) class subs who before they where exported to Singapore where known to be the stealthiest of the Swedish subs due to small size and very low cavitation.

    That being said. I suspect the low number of A26’s might indicate the current boats will be used as a gap filler in order to push the A26 investments into a future more generous budget. It also hints at a potential future with less humans and more robots below the Baltic Sea surface.

    But what do I know? I’m just the cook after all.

  12. Tor

    Thought provoking analysis as always. But I don’t understand your conclusions. I think it is a matter of different perspectives. The very practical more economic Finnish way buying stuff that works right now vs the Swedish way of large and expensive projects that besides creating a strong defence also fuels the Swedish industry as a whole. It’s not just about the military but about the entire economy. It’s only through that scope that these type of projects can be understood. Not “the JAS project resulted in an expensive airplane” but “what did the JAS project do for the Swedish economy as a whole?”. Turns out it was a pretty good investment in the end and I’m sure it will be a similar thing with the A26 (which is a smaller project than JAS, not to mention the Viggen project).

    The A26 is not particularly controversial in terms of delays or cost overruns when it comes to advanced technology. It’s certainly less of a problem than many projects of the past and in an international comparison doing quite well. It’s a matter of perspective. As far as budgets go I am confident that money will be allocated as is required.

    Your opinion that a submarine weapon can be replaced by airplanes and surface ships I do not understand. Submarines are about endurance and staying hidden to collect intelligence and be an invisible threat. That is unique to the submarine and cannot be replaced with airplanes or surface ships.

    Especially since Denmark and Finland do not operate submarines I think it is important that Sweden has a strong submarine weapon.

    1. Of course there is a value in maintaining a domestic high-tech industry, and doing that through defence is certainly a good way as there is also the added value of maintaining defence industrial know-how in-country both from a security of supply as well as from the standpoint of ensuring that suitable systems are found on the market. This is something you will see in several countries, including Finland, with each country trying to find a suitable level of ambition coupled with which systems are most beneficial from a defence point of view. However, when doing so there need to be enough work to go around for the know-how to be maintained and kept up to date, as well as enough money to pay for the ongoing work. I do not think the A26 will run out of money, but which other projects it will crowd out if the budget keep growing is another question, as even after FB 20 we are looking at an underfunded Swedish Armed Forces compared to the ambitions and goals placed.

      I will say I don’t understand how the text can be read as me arguing submarines could be replaced. What I did ask is whether someone has asked the difficult question of at what stage shrinking the submarine forces means that the value it provide compared to the money invested in it isn’t paying dividends compared to if the money would go to other directions. In particular I noted that “Most of the missions can be solved in other ways”, which is how a majority of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea does things. Then I note that:

      Have anyone dared to honestly ask whether submarines are really the best solution under the current budgetary constraints and as a part of the overall Swedish Armed Forces? Let us hope so, and it certainly is true that the uncertainty caused by submarines operating in the dark waters of the Baltic Sea is difficult to match through any other means. And there is few things that are as effective in creating a deterring effect as capabilities that are known unknowns, and which are hard to keep track of and take out in a first strike.

      Have anyone dared to honestly ask whether submarines are really the best solution under the current budgetary constraints and as a part of the overall Swedish Armed Forces? Let us hope so, and it certainly is true that the uncertainty caused by submarines operating in the dark waters of the Baltic Sea is difficult to match through any other means. And there is few things that are as effective in creating a deterring effect as capabilities that are known unknowns, and which are hard to keep track of and take out in a first strike.

      I certainly see the unique capabilities provided by a submarine force, but as with all systems, there is a critical mass that once you drop below it, sustaining the capability becomes harder and harder, and you hit a reverse economics of scale which will bleed funds from an already stretched defence budget. I am afraid that we might be looking at such a scenario in the 2025-2030 timespan, especially if the A26 run into any further delays.

      1. Pohjanmaa

        Sorry, only somewhat related to the topic of system cost and efficiency.

        “The esteemed Aviation Week Program Excellence Awards honors excellence in program leadership and this is only the third time in 17 years a program has won the Overall Excellence award.

        The U.S. Navy’s work to improve F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler readiness led a monumental effort, Naval Aviation Enterprise-wide, to enhance readiness levels to the direct benefit of the fleet and in support of national security.

        “The F/A-18 and EA-18G program has consistently demonstrated a commitment to delivering integrated warfighting capability that is dominant, affordable and available,” said Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, Naval Air Systems Command Commander, following the award announcement.”

        “Prior to this focused approach, Super Hornet Mission Capable (MC) numbers hovered around 250-260 for nearly a decade and the Navy was tasked with meeting and sustaining MC rates of 80 percent, or 341, by the end of the fiscal year, per a Secretary of Defense mandate.

        The F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) stepped up to lead the readiness recovery, becoming the first to use the NSS – A model. In the course of a year, and ahead of the mandate’s deadline, the unparalleled effort resulted in 379 mission capable Super Hornets – exceeding the mandated MC mark and attaining levels of readiness never before seen in the history of the program.”

  13. Lars Rehnberg

    The five Visby will get a complete overhaul and new sams. And four more Visby gen 2 are in order. Two guns, minimum 8 rb15 and, probably, 24-32 sea ceptor. No ship in that class can pack a punch like that.

    1. Per Nordenberg

      What do you mean with “two guns”? Visby Gen 1 only have one gun and AFAIK Gen 2 will also have one gun.

      1. Pohjanmaa

        Some of the early presentations mentioned a second gun but maybe this is Visby NG +++..
        Maybe an heretical idea, form the new squadron under West Coast Command.
        Help secure the North Sea region for transit, troops, supply and energy, help free up UK, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch etc assets.

      2. Per Nordenberg

        About the question of one or two guns on the Visby followers the Swedish navy have worked hard to implement the one gun strategy ever since the light navy was introduced with the Spicas in the 60’s. Not only with newbuilt vessels but also in modernisation and modifications of existing vessels like the Stockholm and Göteborg class vessels. I do not think they will give this up easily. A current example is that a Saab Trackfire RWS could easily have been fitted instead of the aft 40 mm on the two Gävle class vessels during their present HTM (more like a life extension actually), but even this will not be implemented. Instead the vessels will now be easy prey at a close range surface attack from the aft.

    2. Swedish chef

      @Pohjanmaa – Are you suggesting the Swedish Navy should fight on two fronts? With 2400km of coastline facing Russia in the Baltic Sea I think even the Danes agree we have enough on our plate.

      Also, defending the North Atlantic seems like a good use of the substantial oil/gas wealth of NO/DK

      1. Pohjanmaa

        You fight in all fronts that geography dictates.
        I am not suggesting you patrol the GIUK gap, help others do that and secure the LOC that Sweden and Finland depend on.
        You dont have 2400km of open coastline, you basically have a sector from Stockholm to Malmö and Gotland the focal point.

      2. We have one water front stretching from Malmö to Gotland or the focal point, and then up to Sundsvall. What We can do is offering the Baltic states to patrol their Waters in peace time with our corvettes and submarines from time to another. Damned, that sounds like a good idea. But it must be overtly discussed by the Baltic states first. They are tough little killer hornets.

  14. Pohjanmaa

    Dont want to sound arrogant like that Tom guy but I am pretty confident that Finland can control Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia.
    Between Åland and Gotland, even beyond, I see potential for Task Groups built from the Pohjanmaa-class, Visby MLUs and Gotland-class subs.
    One such group at patrol at all times would offer deterrence and keep a finger on the pulse of events.

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