Submarines: Major Norwegian Upgrade


February 14, 2022: In January Norway had a rare incident with one of its Ula-Class submarines when it broke down at sea and required a tow back to port. This was interrupted by a rapidly approaching snow storm with winds of over 90 kilometers an hour. To avoid this the sub was towed into a nearby fjord and was there long enough for technical experts to arrive, examine and try to fix whatever disabled the sub. These subs are normally quite reliable. The disabled sub had been in service for two decades and is not scheduled to retire for another decade.

In 2021 Norway and Germany agreed, after four years of negotiations, to a barter deal that got Germany new NSM (Naval Strike Missile) and JSM (Joint Strike Missile) anti-ship missiles for their ships and aircraft while Norway gets four Type 212CD submarines to replace six older Ula class subs. The Ulas were based on the German U210 design and are 1,000-ton boats with a crew of 21, eight torpedo tubes and 14 torpedoes. Entering service between 1989 and 1992, these were the largest and most capable subs the Norwegian Navy had ever operated. The Ulas replaced fifteen smaller 435-ton Kobben-class subs that did not have room for all 24 crew members to sleep. That was because coastal-type subs were designed to stay at sea for a few days at a time and were meant to defend against an enemy attack on Norway. Kobbens entered service between 1965 and 1967 and were retired as the Ulas entered service. Both Kobbens and Ulas served over three decades and the 212CD is expected to do the same.

The 212CD is the latest upgrade of the basic design, which entered service in 2005 with the German navy and is still being built for export customers. Later models of the 212 were among the first to use AIP fuel cells for Air Independent Propulsion. AIP enables a diesel-electric sub to quietly operate underwater for weeks at a time. They still have diesel propulsion, but this is only used for surface travel when the batteries are recharged. The 212's are also very quiet, quieter than most nuclear boats in service. This makes them an even match for a current nuclear boat equipped with better sensors. The 1,450-ton 212's are much smaller at 57 meters (188 feet) long than nuclear boats. The new U.S. Virginia class SSNs, are twice as long and displace 6,200 tons on the surface. The nuclear boats are also used for a lot more than just hunting other ships and subs.

The Type 212CDs are 1,600-ton boats with AIP and a new generation of sensors and fire control systems. Complete details have not been released. The first of the six Type 212CD boats will enter service in 2029 and Norway will get the first two, with Germany getting the third and last one. All will be delivered by the late 2030s. Germany and other export customers are expected to buy the Type 212CD or variants of it. Israel has already ordered three larger (2,500-ton) variants called Dakar. For decades Israel has obtained major variants of German sub designs.

While the 212's are mainly attack boats, and well designed and equipped for it, they can, because of their AIP, be used for intelligence collection and landing commandos. While Germany is an American ally, their development of fuel cell technology for subs, and use of these boats in their own navy, helped this technology mature, and eventually become available to many more nations. The first 212 boats were expensive, at about half a billion dollars each. That's less than a third the cost of a nuclear boat. The Type 212CDs cost about twice as much as the earlier 212s and have a new hull design that is stealthier. In addition, the 212CD has additional stealth features for the hull and propulsion system. The 212CDs are meant to make the Russians less aggressive and annoying if the 212CD stealth works as advertised.

All 212's are highly automated, requiring a crew of only 27. But with six torpedo tubes, and a dozen torpedoes, plus anti-ship missiles, launched from the tubes, as well as mines, they could be, in the wrong hands, a major threat to the U.S. fleet. Cheaper to buy and cheaper to run, because you don't need as many skilled sailors for the crew, the 2012s are very lethal. American admirals always pay attention to who the Germans export these boats to. Most of the exports are the less expensive Type 2014, which are 212s without a lot of the highly classified tech. For export customers, the 212s were reliable and worked as advertised.

Norway is a NATO member that shares a land and maritime border with an increasingly aggressive Russia. The barter deal with Germany creates a lot more strategic cooperation between Germany and Norway while also making tiny Norway’s defense industries more important internationally. Norway is doing what Israel has always done and concentrated on neglected areas of weapons technology and providing effective solutions first. Export potential will increase more for Norway than for Germany because of the NSM/JSM/212CD deal. Germany has long been Norway’s largest trading partner and one of its closest NATO allies.




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