Finland operated a small but moderately effective submarine force during World War II, but according to the peace terms of the conflict this was disbanded and the submarines either scrapped or in the case of Vesikko retired as a museum vessel. In the mid-90’s following the fall of the Soviet Union the possibility of acquiring submarines was given serious study, with ex-German Type 206 and ex-Swedish A11 Sjöormen submarines being the offers that came closest to fruition. Eventually the Finnish Navy decided that the operating costs were prohibitive even if the acquisition costs would have been low, and the submarines offered ended up in the Colombian and Singaporean navies instead.
With a number of articles appearing in Finnish media in a short time span discussing the upcoming A-26 Blekinge-class and the value of submarines in the Baltic Sea, Naval News reached out to Saab for a comment about whether the company saw market opportunities for their submarines in Finland. In recent years Saab has scored a number of key contracts for the Finnish Navy, including for ASW-torpedoes as well as being the prime contractor for the combat management systems of the upcoming Pohjanmaa-class (also known as Squadron 2020) corvettes. Saab noted that:
“We are open for discussion, should Finland show interest in enhancing their underwater capabilities,“
The Swedish shipbuilder, however, did not comment further whether there had been any interest shown so far. The Finnish Navy has in recent years expanded its capabilities further out to sea from traditionally having been focused on hit and run attacks as well as mining operations in the cluttered Finnish archipelago. This has brought with it a renewed focus on underwater warfare, with programs such as the acquisition of torpedoes bringing new capabilities. This has also highlighted the need for realistic training, with joint ASW-exercises with the Swedish submarine force having been a priority in recent years.
The Swedish submarines have generally been held in high regard by analysts, in particular in narrow seas, but they have faced a hard time breaking into the export market dominated by Germany, France, and the Soviet Union/Russia. As the country’s traditionally neutral status has been a popular scapegoat, the prospect has been raised that Sweden’s coming NATO-membership might offer new opportunities, in particular among alliance members. Saab is however hesitant, even if they acknowledge that it certainly won’t hurt:
“From an industrial perspective, we see no disadvantages with Sweden joining NATO. However, it is too early to comment on market opportunities for specific products.”
In the meantime, Saab together with Damen are one of three proposals in the running for a replacement of the Walrus-class in the Netherlands. The A26 (as well as the opportunity to acquire retired A17 Södermanland-class boat Östergötland and possibly Södermanland from Sweden as a stop-gap solution) has also been offered for the Polish Orka program, though the future of that program as a whole is uncertain.