The Ula-class submarines are among the most silent and maneuverable subs in the world. This, in combination with their relatively small size (length: 59 m; beam: 5.4 m; draft: 4.6 m), makes them very difficult to detect from surface vessels and quite ideal for operations in coastal areas. Therefore it is not surprising that these diesel-electric submarines are regarded as both the most effective and cost-effective weapons in the Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN).
However, it must be noted that six Ula-class submarines were commissioned between 1989 and 1992, designed for a service life of thirty years. These submarines are insufficient to meet future, high-tech threats. As defense-aerospace.com reported, Norway’s future submarine capability has been studied since 2007. The studies have been conducted in two phases, both with thorough external quality reviews before being presented. The Norwegian Government has now taken a conceptual decision on future submarine capability.
«Submarines are a vital capability in the Norwegian Armed Forces, and have a major impact on our overall defence capability. Together with combat aircraft and Special Operations Forces (SOF), submarines are among the armed forces’ most important capabilities. Hence, it is very important that we now have established that the acquisition of new submarines will form the basis for further project work. This decision makes it possible for us to maintain a credible submarine capability», says Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide.
He also noted that that the ability to operate covertly, which is so vital for the submarine’s relevance, will be significantly better for a new watercrafts than what is achievable through service life extension of the current fleet. This is due to lower acoustic signatures and a better hydrodynamic design.
It is a substantial task that awaits the project organization. Part of the work will be to evaluate potential cooperation with other countries in terms of procurement, training and maintenance. A partnership can contribute to economies of scale and a robust solution throughout the life of the submarines. I guess the Norwegian Government will cooperate with Germany, as it was while Ula-class submarines were assembled in Germany by Thyssen Nordseewerke, Emden. By the way, in Germany the Ula-design submarines are known as the U-Boot-Klasse 210.
The decision only entails that the project moves into a new phase – the project definition phase. No investment decisions have so far been taken. By the end of 2016, a recommendation on the future submarine capability will be presented. Thereafter, pending the Governments decision, an investment proposal will be presented to Norwegian Parliament. This will enable the delivery of new submarines to the Norwegian Navy starting from the mid 2020’s. Thus, the Ula-class must be kept operational for additionally five years (!) in order to maintain a continuous submarine capability until a replacement is operational. Studies, carried out by the Ministry of Defence, show that it would have been very costly and impractical to extend the service life beyond this.
The total investment cost of this major project depends on the number of submarines and the weapons inventory. Of course, we are talking about diesel-electric watercrafts. Norway cannot afford to build and maintain nuclear-powered submarines.
«I emphasize that we have not decided the final level of ambition for this project or the number of submarines. This is something I will give my recommendation on when the project is presented in 2016», says the Minister of Defence.