This is how technology has helped Sweden’s ‘cheap’ submarines play ‘cat and mouse’ with the entire US aircraft carrier fleet

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2021-07-14 20:35:22

In 2005, the USS Ronald Reagan, a newly built US $6.2 billion aircraft carrier, sank after being hit by multiple torpedoes.

Fortunately, this does not happen in actual combat, but is simulated as part of a war game between an aircraft carrier task force consisting of multiple anti-submarine escorts and on one side is the Sweden HSM Gotland, a small Swedish diesel-powered submarine with a displacement of just 1,600 tons. And the surprise is that despite carrying out many attacks on Reagan, Gotland was never discovered.

This result was repeated over the course of two years of exercises, with the same scenario where enemy destroyers and nuclear attack submarines both bowed to the seemingly capable submarine. Swedish figure.

Naval analyst Norman Polmar said the aircraft carrier Gotland was “circling around” the US carrier task force. Another source said that US anti-submarine experts were “dismayed” by the experience.

How did Gotland evade the complex anti-submarine defenses of the USS Ronald Reagan, with a formation of many frigates and planes using countless sensors?

And more importantly, how did a relatively cheap submarine, at around $100 million – roughly the cost of an F-35 stealth fighter jet today – do it? ? It should be noted that the US Navy decommissioned its last diesel submarine in 1990.

HMS Gotland of Sweden, with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the background.

Diesel submarines of the past were limited by their noisy, air-consuming engine operation – meaning they could only stay underwater for a few days before needing to surface. Naturally, submarines become the most vulnerable and most easily tracked when they surface, even when using a snorkel.

Nuclear reactor-powered submarines, on the other hand, do not require a large air supply to operate, can run more quietly for months underwater, and they can also swim faster.

However, the 61-metre Swedish Gotland-class submarine, introduced in 1996, was the first to use an Air-independent propulsion (AIP or airless propulsion) system – in this case. is the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine can charge a battery system with a capacity of 75 kilowatts for a submarine using liquid oxygen.

With Stirling, a Gotland-class submarine can stay on the seabed for up to two weeks at an average speed of 10km/h, or it can expend battery power to accelerate up to 37km/h. It also comes with a conventional diesel engine used to operate on the surface, or while using a snorkel.

A Stirling-powered Gotland is quieter than a nuclear-powered submarine, which uses cooling pumps and generates a lot of noise in their reactors.

Not only that, the Gotland-class submarine also possesses many other features, making it more adept at evading detection.

It has 27 electromagnets specifically designed to resist its own magnetic signature, allowing it to outmaneuver magnetic anomaly detectors. The hull also benefits from anti-ultrasonic coatings, while the turret is made of radar-absorbing material. The machinery inside is also covered with a rubber muffler to minimize the possibility of ultrasonic detection.

In addition, Gotland is also extremely maneuverable thanks to a combination of maneuverability based on rudder and X-shaped fins, allowing it to easily maneuver near the seabed and make tight turns.

  This is how technology has made it possible for low-cost Swedish submarines to play cat and mouse with the entire US aircraft carrier fleet - Photo 2.

HSMS Gotland in the Port of San Diego during San Diego Fleet Week, October 1, 2005.

Because the submarine with its “stealth” ability had demonstrated its ability to challenge American anti-submarine ships in international exercises, the US Navy hired Gotland and its crew. for two years to conduct anti-submarine exercises. The end result convinced them that as it turned out, the undersea sensors being used were simply not capable of dealing with ships using AIP engines.

However, the Gotland was only the first of many AIP-powered submarine designs, and some models have twice the time underwater. Therefore, Sweden is by no means the only country that can surpass them.

China has two types of diesel submarines using Stirling engines. Fifteen Yuan-class Type 039A had previously been built in four different variants, with more than 20 planned or under construction.

It also has a Type 032 Qing class ship that can stay underwater for 30 days. It is said to be the largest operational diesel submarine in the world, boasting seven vertical launch systems capable of firing cruise and ballistic missiles.

Russia also launched the experimental Lada-class Saint Petersburg ship, which uses hydrogen fuel cells for power. This is an evolution of the Kilo-class submarine, a version that could be produced widely. However, sea trials showed that the engines delivered only half of the expected power and the type was not approved for production.

However, in 2013, the Russian Navy announced that it would produce two heavily redesigned Lada-class submarines, the Kronstadt and Velikiye Luki, which are expected to enter service by the end of the decade.

Other AIP diesel submarine producing countries include Spain, France, Japan and Germany. These countries have in turn sold them to navies around the world, including India, Israel, Pakistan and South Korea.

Submarines using the AIP system have gradually evolved into larger, more powerfully armed and more expensive types over time, including the German Dolphin class and the French Scorpene class.

  This is how technology has made it possible for low-cost Swedish submarines to play cat and mouse with the entire US aircraft carrier fleet - Photo 3.

The Indian Navy’s third Scorpene-class submarine, Karanj, at launch in Mumbai, January 31, 2018.

However, the US Navy has no intention of retooling diesel submarines. They prefer to use nuclear submarines worth billions of dollars. Many would find it rather confusing that the Pentagon would opt for a more expensive weapons system over a more cost-effective alternative. However, things are not quite so simple.

Diesel submarines are ideal for patrolling near coastlines. But nuclear submarines are more suitable for traveling thousands of miles, performing months-long missions across the seas from Asia to Europe. A diesel submarine could cover that distance, but then it would require frequent refueling at sea to complete a lengthy deployment.

It should be noted that the famous Gotland submarine itself, was transported back to Sweden on a mobile dock, instead of making the journey on its own.

Although the new AIP-equipped diesel submarines can go weeks without coming to the surface, that’s still not as good as going for months without having to “breathe”. And moreover, diesel submarines – with or without AIP – cannot maintain high speeds underwater for very long, unlike nuclear submarines.

A diesel submarine will be most effective when ambushing an enemy fleet, in a location that is monitored and has pre-intelligence. However, the slow underwater speed and durability of AIP diesel submarines make them less than ideal for stalking large bodies of water.

These restrictions pose no problem for diesel submarines operating relatively close to friendly bases, protecting coastal waters. But the US Navy usually doesn’t.

  This is how technology has made it possible for low-cost Swedish submarines to play cat and mouse with the entire US aircraft carrier fleet - Photo 4.

The US Navy’s fast attack submarine USS Asheville and the 7th Fleet’s flagship USS Blue Ridge in the Philippine Sea.

The reality, however, is that one can build or buy three or four diesel submarines worth $500 to $800 million each, for the price of a single nuclear submarine. It is an undeniable attraction.

Proponents of this view argue that the United States can deploy diesel submarines to bases in allied countries without facing the political constraints caused by nuclear submarines. Moreover, advanced diesel submarines can serve as a good countermeasure against the enemy’s stealthy submarine fleet.

However, the US Navy is more interested in pursuing the development of unmanned submarines. Meanwhile, China is working on long-life AIP systems using lithium-ion batteries, and France is developing a new AIP-equipped version of a large diesel submarine on a Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine.

The advent of low-cost, stealthy, and long-lasting diesel submarines is another factor that puts aircraft carriers and other expensive surface warships more at risk when operating in close proximity. protected coastlines.

Diesel submarines benefiting from AIP engines will serve as an effective means of coastal defense, and also cost-effectively. But whether they can create a new role for themselves in the navy operating away from home, is not really clear.

Refer BIEN

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