The production hall is gigantic. Here at Saab’s shipyard in Karlskrona, the hall is so large that both a submarine and a Visby-class corvette, each standing in its own corner, look quite insignificant. Ships for the Swedish Navy are built here, and ships are also regularly brought in for overhaul and modification. The business unit designs, builds, modifies and maintains a range of sea craft: submarines, surface vessels and autonomous underwater vehicles (such as mine reconnaissance vehicles). A large submarine project named A26 attracted the most publicity during 2014 and in one part of the production hall there is a large, shiny cylinder – a full-scale test section of a submarine hull.
“We use the section to test processes, methods and tools – to ensure that all risks are minimised before production goes live,” explains Anders Hermansson, a project leader. “We had the opportunity to produce this test section thanks to our customer FMV (the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration), which is equally interested in minimising the risks to the programme.”
The majority of the A26 design work took place in Malmö, and production is handled in Karlskrona.
Preparations for production are now in full swing. Saab expects to obtain the construction contract in 2015, and the first submarine is expected to be ready for the customer in 2022.
The shipyard’s latest Gotland-class submarine was a success, making an excellent
impression abroad, especially in the USA. But, according to Per Nilson, programme manager for A26, the next generation of submarines will be a step further yet again.
“It will be much quieter, the sensors will be better and there will be a number of new capabilities such as a hatch in the bow for small manned or unmanned vehicles,” he says. “It will be a first-class intelligence-gathering platform, and we see a large potential international market.”
The A26 is robust, silent and very technology-intensive, but there’s more. “We have several advantages,” says Nilson. “On one hand there are our production methods with an optimised, modular workfl ow – and on the other, a competitive price. We also have a good working relationship with FMV, which results in a high level of efficiency. As the main supplier we are also responsible for the procurement of the many subsystems that will be brought together.”
Compared with the Karlskrona shipyard’s experience of surface vessels, its history with submarines is short. Surface vessels have been built here since 1679, going from from oak to steel to today’s carbon-fibre composite – which is the material used for the Visby corvettes.
“The Visby corvette is a multi-function vessel, which means that it can conduct mine reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare,” says Daniel Nyström, project manager for the Visby. “In addition, the vessel has helicopter capability. Much of the technical equipment on board comes from Saab, such as the management systems, underwater vehicles and anti-ship missiles, so we can supply a vessel that is almost entirely manufactured by Saab.”
The corvettes are built with stealth technology and powered by waterjet propulsion. Because of its carbon fibre composite material, the ship is light, strong and non-magnetic. Combined with the advanced overall design, this results in very low signatures, making the vessels difficult to detect on radar and by other sensors.
“These vessels are relatively cheap to operate,” says Mats Hansson, programme manager for surface vessels. “Since they are light, the engines can be smaller, thus reducing the fuel consumption. The surface requires very little maintenance because it doesn’t rust.”
Saab also manufactures vessel superstructures from carbon-fibre composite material. Right now, intensive work is underway in the composite hall to assemble the superstructure for a ship that has been ordered from Singapore.
Project manager Robert Edlund says, “we obtained the design order in spring 2013, and in April this year we received a contract for the production. The customer has scheduled its launch for summer 2015, when Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday. All the ministers have already been invited, so it is urgent.”
The composite panels are produced on a large vacuum table and shaped using a water jet cutter. The panels are then assembled and all joints laminated. Lying on the floor of the composite hall, the superstructure is an impressive sight. On the upper level there will be a combined bridge and combat management system.
“This is the first of eight superstructures ordered,” says Edlund. “We will completely finish this one before starting on the next. In order to optimise production, we will carry out a review that we call ‘Find the Flow’, which involves everyone who was involved in the construction of the first one.”
There is no doubt that the shipyard will survive; there is strong confidence in its future after the shipyard’s integration into Saab.
“Both we and Saab want to be at the cutting edge of technology, and Saab focuses on research and development,” says Nilson. “That feels really good.”