HELSINKI — Saab’s open ambition to acquire ThyssenKrupp’s Sweden-based submarine and naval shipbuilding facilities should strengthen the strategic importance of the group’s lower-profile naval business and Underwater Security division.
Saab’s plans to bolt on a submarine-building capability to its naval business are linked to its non-binding agreement with ThyssenKrupp, reached in mid-April. Saab is aiming to negotiate a takeover agreement by the end of the third quarter of this year.
Although better known as a producer of fighter jets, vehicles and weapons, Saab’s naval branch, which incorporates its autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) units, contributed US $366 million of the group’s 2013 revenues, totaling $3.65 billion.
Acquisition of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (formerly Kockums) would boost Saab’s mine warfare and submarine detection systems business, which includes Saab’s Underwater Systems division and the production of mine-detection and mine-hunting long-range AUVs and UUVs.
“If we are able to build and sell submarines to such a sizable customer as the Swedish Navy, then this also increases the legitimacy of our other systems. The submarines can contribute to the sales of our other related products,” Saab CEO Håkan Buskhe told shareholders on April 25.
Saab’s Underwater Security division will continue to invest in mine countermeasure (MCM), AUV and UUV solutions. The primary focus is on modular-designed, intelligent, next-generation mine-hunting and disposal AUVs and UUVs, said Carl-Marcus Remén, Saab’s senior business development manager for future products.
Security tensions driven by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine will drive naval demand in Europe for enhanced MCM solutions and greater AUV and UUV capability, he said. “MCM operations are coming more and more into the littoral arena. Blue water operations have not been, and is not, our main focus,” Remén said. “Our strong position in this market segment has been developed and refined by developing unmanned vehicle operating technologies based on our mine-hunting and disposal experience in the Baltic Sea, which is one of the toughest environments for MCM operations.”
Double Eagle Leads Way
Saab’s development of underwater systems centers on advanced modular versions of its Double Eagle and AUV62 independent craft, which can be unleashed from dedicated platforms, or submarine-, ship- or shore-launched. Both AUV and UUV types are equipped with a remote one-shot mine disposal capability, and operate at depths of 500 meters.
In 2009, the FMV, Sweden’s defense procurement agency, contracted with Saab to upgrade the Double Eagle MK1 mine disposal UUV, which was updated to Double Eagle MKI1 status. That order comprised five Double Eagle UUVs for the Navy’s Koster-class minehunters, including upgrades of onboard systems and training. The Navy also employs Double Eagle UUVs on its Visby-class corvettes, including the Double Eagle SAROV, a hybrid dual-role AUV and remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
The Double Eagle SAROV has a relocation sonar and a mine disposal charge. Precise maneuvering allows the ROV to place a mine disposal charge close to a mine. The Double Eagle SAROV can release and dock to the tether cable underwater during operations, allowing the same vehicle to be used as an AUV and as an ROV. “The Double Eagle has a flatfish-like frame, which can be launched from surface vessels using the ship’s crane or shore-launched,” Remén said. “The torpedo-shaped AUV62, which has the same diameter as a heavyweight torpedo and is available in the mine reconnaissance variant AUV62-MR, can be launched either from a surface ship or from a submarine’s torpedo tubes.”
Saab says prospects are strong it will supply AUV62-MR and the Double Eagle SAROV craft to Sweden’s planned next-generation A26 stealth submarine program.
“We hope the A26 submarine will be equipped to launch both the AUV-62 and the Double Eagle SAROV,” Remén said. “The A26’s final design is not decided yet, but if the submarine does opt for larger tubes, we do not see any problems in launching the flatfish AUV Double Eagle SAROV from it. Alternatively, AUV62 vehicles can be launched from regular heavyweight 21-inch torpedo tubes.”
Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and France have been the main customers for the Double Eagle.
The torpedo-shaped AUV62-MR (total weight 600 to 1,500 kilograms), which is 4 to 10 meters long, has been primarily developed as an autonomous mine reconnaissance and rapid environmental assessment craft. It can communicate with its parent vessel either surfaced, using a wireless local network or satellite communications link, or submerged via a hydro-acoustic link. The AUV62-MR has a nose-mounted camera for object identification and can create 3-D images of objects.
The Seaeye MuMNS (multimine neutralization system) is among Saab’s latest offerings. Capable of being fitted to a variety of ROVs, it’s a multishot, reusable mine disposal system, which attaches charges to mines by a manipulator arm.
The Seaeye’s communications system enables multiple mines to be charged for sequenced or simultaneous detonations. Saab sees strong sales potential from Europe, the US and Asia, particularly from customers with a requirement for mine countermeasure systems that can operate from smaller unmanned surface vessels. The next generation’s AUVs and UUVs will become increasingly intelligent and have a greater decision-making capacity, Remén said.