Polskie Forum Bezpieczeństwa

Wiedza, Niezależność

15 sierpnia 2014

What submarines for Poland

The programme of technological modernisation of the Polish Navy includes plans of acquisition of three submarines by the middle of the next decade. The value of the entire project, code-named Orka, is estimated at between 7.5 and 9 billion zlotys, which makes it the most expensive part of the revitalisation of the fleet. Financial expenses and the organisational, technological and other challenges related to the intended acquisition of new submarines raise the question, what is going to be their role in the defence system of the country. Polish maritime tradition, and it is worth noting that the first submarine ORP Ryś - was commissioned on 2 August 1931, this kind of naval forces has been closely connected with tactical, or at most operational level tasks (such as participation in blocking the Gulf of Finland in the event of war with the Soviet Union, planned in the interwar period). Currently, this approach is far insufficient. Poland, preparing to bear the significant cost of acquiring new submarines, simply cannot afford to use them in a way that was typical for past wars. They must enter the system of deterrence by creating, thanks to the specifics of the environment in which they operate, its component that is the hardest to destroy by surprise.

The above assumption of absolute priority fundamentally determines the answer to the question about desired capabilities of new Polish submarines. It is absolutely indispensable that they meet the following basic requirements:

- armed with submarine-to-ground class missiles, capable of performing long-distance and effective strikes on selected objects located deep inside the territory of a possible enemy;

- large autonomy and prolonged underwater cruise without the need of charging batteries, which translates directly to equip them with a propulsion system independent of the ambient air (conventional submarine is most vulnerable to detection in its base, while returning to it and when going out to the sea, and then during recovery of energy resources that is battery charging);

- capability to carry a large ammunition establishment (for reasons similar to those mentioned above, in a conflict situation of high or medium intensity, the return to base in order to replenish ammunition has to be considered extremely unlikely, and performing such an operation in a foreign harbour, even an allied one, can depend on very many non-military factors; one should note here in this context that Kiel in Germany might prove the nearest point of combat replenishment for Polish submarines).

These elements should determine the choice of a particular technological solution, and therefore the partner with whom Poland will work to renew her submarine force. One cannot fail to notice that, paradoxically, the very acquisition of new submarines is a task easier in the context of their integration into a deterrence system. To visualise the scale of challenges suffice it to say that when realising the assumed possibility, the following issues would remain solely on Polish side:

- development of national procedures for the combat (or operational) use of submarines carry out tasks within the system of deterrence, including the construction of a system of communication, command, target indication transfer, decision authorisation for use of long-range missiles;

- preparation of the organisation, technical and administrative-staffing solutions to allow maximised utilisation factors of the submarines, that is increased number of days per year spent by ships at sea (this would probably require organisation of their combat duty in a treble system, significant improvements to the engineering maintenance system and building a twin-crew operation system);

- creating from scratch a system of training and vetting of personnel dedicated for service on submarines performing the main task in the system of military deterrence (minimally shared experience of fleets that operate nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles indicate the need for a different distribution of weight of individual predispositions in relation to the officers, and especially commanders, of strategic and hunter submarines).

The inclusion of submarines in the system of deterrence, as well as its construction, is a very complex and challenging project, requiring not only knowledge and hard skills, but also intellectual and political courage. However, submarines without the deterrence capability may prove in the coming decades as inadequately useful, compared to the cost of their acquisition.