Thursday, December 7, 2023

Towards an evolution of the specifications for Polish submarines?

Long undecided, the Polish ORKA submarine program has been relaunched by the country's authorities, with new specifications.

The last few days have been full of announcements about the future of the Polish defense effort. In addition to the information concerning the land and air programs, the Polish Minister of Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak, also spoke on the occasion of the Defense24 Day event organized by the eponymous Defense news site, about the Orka program of Polish submarine.

Long in the making, this program, which aims to restore an advanced submarine attack capability to the Polish navy, seemed to be moving towards vessels of relatively low tonnage to operate in the Baltic Sea.

This is the reason why, until now, the European offers studied by Warsaw were based on the A26 Blekinge su Swedish Kockums, the Type 214 from the German TKMS and the Scorpene from the French Naval Group , ships operating between 1600 and 1900 tonnes, perfectly suited to such operational use. However, the expectations expressed by the Polish Minister of Defense during this event differ significantly from these specifications initially expressed , while the ORKA program must be officially launched during this year 2023.

The French Scorpene are candidates to become the future Polish submarines
Submarines weighing less than 2000 tonnes such as the Scorpène or the Type 214 no longer seem to meet the expectations of the Polish authorities.

Indeed, for Mariusz Błaszczak, Polish submarines must have great autonomy, the capacity to deploy cruise missiles launched from immersion, but also to evolve at high speed while remaining discreet as well. stay submerged for a long time while moving at low speed.

In addition, the ship must be able to carry out missions far from its base autonomously, while Warsaw intends to benefit from significant technology transfers to improve the skills of its own naval industry.

In fact, these needs are very different from those initially expressed, since the Polish Navy openly intends to equip itself with an oceanic rather than coastal submarine capability, also having great firepower both towards land and against naval and submarine targets.

And the ships initially proposed by Kockums, TKMS and Naval group do not correspond to these new specifications. Two of them, TKMS with the Type 212CD and Naval Group with the Merlin (Shortfin Barracuda) , have a more imposing alternative model that can meet the needs expressed.

As for Kockums, he will probably have to reproduce the partnership implemented with Lockheed-Martin to try to establish himself in the Netherlands, with a ship more imposing than the Blekinge.

KDX III Dosan South korea submarine
South Korean Dosan Anh Changho-class submarines are now likely favorites in the Polish competition

These specifications will probably attract other players likely to position themselves more effectively against European ships than previously. This is particularly the case of the South Korean submarines of the Dosan Anh Changho class, derived from the Type 214, but much more imposing with a submerged displacement of 3700 tonnes and above all a vertical missile launch system making it possible to launch works 6 to 10 cruise or ballistic missiles.

Knowing the closeness developed between the Polish and South Korean defense industries, the Dosan Anh Changho is now the big favorite, with specifications that seem tailor-made for it.

Japan, with the Taïgei class could also enter this competition, the 84 meter ship weighing more than 3,500 tonnes when submerged, is to date the only submarine equipped with lithium ion batteries to be operational. Finally, the Spanish S-80 Plus of the Isaac Peral class of 3,400 tons in diving could benefit from the overhaul of specifications to try to invite itself again into the Orka program, this time with a ship corresponding more to the expectations expressed .

Shortfin Barracuda pumpjet
The capabilities of Naval Group's Marlin make it the ship that best meets Polish expectations, but will it be enough?

It remains that the most efficient model to meet Polish expectations, particularly in terms of speed and autonomy, is very probably the Marlin from Naval Group, the only ship to be equipped with a Pump-jet inherited from the submarine program Suffren attack nuclear weapons, of which it takes some of the key characteristics in terms of discretion and performance.

Furthermore, a partnership between Warsaw and Paris in this highly critical area would be a most welcome symbol of the resumption of Franco-Polish cooperation in defense matters, after several years of more than tense relations. However, competition will be very tough for Naval Group, particularly given the omnipresence of South Korean industry in the country.

Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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