March 16, 2017

Advise to Saudi Arabia on Acquiring Submarines, Minisubs or UUVs

Youtube of a late January 31, 2017 suicide boat attack (20 seconds inby Iranian backed Houthi rebels. This damaged a Saudi frigate off the coast of Yemen and killed two Saudi sailors. If the Saudis had submarine for monitoring might this rebel activity have been prevented?
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As Saudi Arabia is so far behind the navies of powerful regional neighbours [1] in using submarines what steps could the Saudis take? 

My advice is Saudi Arabia should undertake the following, all at once:

-  utilising its submarine owning country connections (with the US, Europeans SSK owners and
   Pakistan) to monitor the Saudi's opponents including Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and 
   Iran itself,
-  seconding Saudi officers and senior crew to Pakistani submarine training establishments and then
   subsequently seconding them to Pakistani submarines.
-  if these secondments and minisub trials indicate subs are of value to Saudi Arabia could 
   consider:
   =  ordering lower cost, quickly built (by 2020?), S20s or at least refurbished Type 035 Mings from
       China (see next article about the Saudi increasingly looking at China as a weapons source)
   =  ordering medium sized subs from Europe or South Korea for delivery by the mid 2020s.
   =  asking Italy or South Korea to build minisubs (by 2020) 2 x 200 ton (Dolgorae type) or 400 ton
       HDS-400 minisubs .
   =  UUVs from US or Europe - ready soonest 2018 and at lowest cost? (mainly for radio intercept 
       duties)

[1] Large regional sub owning countries include Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and smallish Israel.

[2[ I’m aware submarines can monitor radio transmissions and phone calls but I’m unsure about the specifics. What makes submarines uniquely useful platforms to conduct electronic monitoring (in addition to close to the shore missions and undersea cables)? 

Pete

19 comments:

Josh said...

@Pete:

In my opinion a submarine would have provided no additional warning; that ship would look the same on sonar as it did on radar or to a lookout's mk1 eyeballs. In fact a sub would have less ability to determine ship type or intent, even less ability to inform friendly ships under attack, and practically no effective weapon against such a small target moving so fast. So I don't understand you're point re:submarines when it comes to a small boat used as a suicide/drone bomber.

I think its worth noting that if the Saudis were just at all alert they could have handled that situation with an M2 browning. That they allowed a ship to close with them at that speed and did nothing to maneuver or fire back (even if just warning shots) is indicative of the general rot that the Saudi forces suffer from due to the political and social limitations of their personnel (ie, underlings and foreigners led by princes and half princes). As far as I'm concerned the incompetence displayed in this incident is exhibit A in why they will never be able to field useful submarines, no matter how much money they are willing to spend. Your mileage may differ.

Cheers,
Josh

Josh said...

@Pete

In regard to radio intercepts, subs are not ideal for this purpose. They sit low in the water and have limited room for equipment for these purposes, where as a surface vessel has generally much more room for a given amount of tonnage, especially for larger antennas. A sub's main advantage is you don't know when its listening to you. Against a peer opponents' shore or naval exercises this can be decisive for gathering intelligence. But against the Yemen rebels, a surface ship or some kind of multi-engined aircraft configured for SIGINT would be better IMO.

Cheers,
Josh

Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete,
IMO the Saudi's should talk to Russia on the Amur/Improved Kilo class SSK or talk to China on the Yuan or Type 053 SSK.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

I'm mainly thinking of radio interrcept actions a sub could take days before the actual footage of the Youtube. Subs indeed may have their main strength as covert intercept platforms.
- In contrast surface ships in the Middle East demonstrably attract suicide boats or at least "dumb" RPG 7 rockets.

A sub's intercept work - perhaps for weak cellphone, "walkie-talkie" or other emissions may be just a small portion of the total intel gathering effort - which includes land, air and humint etc.

Long stay UUV-signals intercepters save on the huge effort of subs.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

The Saudis may be less impressed with the large size, old tech (even "Improved") Kilos, no AIP demonstrated. The non-existent Amurs also lack AIP as yet.

The "Type 053" - I think you mean Type 035 Mings, are old, loud, tech but refurbished versions may be available soonest.

The Chinese may build the S20s (smaller "Yuans" with AIP) fairly quickly and at low prices.

Regards

Pete

Josh said...


If I was the KSA navy chief and you held a gun to my head and asked me to buy subs, I'd go with something along the what the DPRK or Iran make: small, super shallow, low endurance boats with 2-4 torpedoes. That's enough to close the Gulf. The KSA doesn't have any other mission for which submarines are appropriate. And if for some weird reason they did, they possess a submarine force already: its called the USN. Until oil drops to $25, at which point the KSA stops being a country anyway in my estimation.

Cheers,
Josh

Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete,
I think for the Saudi's, it's either the S20/Yuan class SSK or the Russian Improved Kilo class SSK.

Also Did you hear about this from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Navy Commissions Two Type 035G Diesel-Electric Submarines from China
http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2017/march-2017-navy-naval-forces-defense-industry-technology-maritime-security-global-news/4989-bangladesh-navy-commissions-two-type-035g-diesel-electric-submarines-from-china.html

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

As Iran is very much KSA's mortal enemy I'm sure the Iranian's might put a gun to their heads regardless of subs.

The Italians have been in their ongoing mini-sub business decades longer than non-exporter(?) DPRK. I think it was Italian Cosmos mini-subs that Italy supplied to both the Koreas and to Vietnam.

The wheels of Submarine Matters turn quickly. See http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/currentpotential-saudi-chinese.html concerning SOUTH Korean HHI shipbuilding help to Saudi Arabia at http://www.marinelink.com/news/shipyard-largest-arabia416700

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky [at 16/3/17 3:27 PM]

Thanks for http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2017/march-2017-navy-naval-forces-defense-industry-technology-maritime-security-global-news/4989-bangladesh-navy-commissions-two-type-035g-diesel-electric-submarines-from-china.html

I've had my own article "The 2 Chinese Mings to Bangladesh" on the boil for a while. May publish it tomorrow.

Regards

Pete

MHalblaub said...

Considering the potential enemy a Chinese submarine would be sufficient for operations and first experiences.

Due to the waste of waters these submarines have to control an SSK is somehow oversized. I would recommend a small submarine without a Diesel engine. Maybe battery only or fuel cell AIP. Far easier to maintain. No weird hull cuts in the future to get the diesel out.

For KSA and the potential operators KISS will be very useful.

The problem in this region (but not limited to it) could be described as machismo. Israel has big Dolphin-class submarines so KSA needs bigger ones.

Regards,
MHalblaub

karthik said...

M , the last sentence of your last comment deserves a thousand likes. You have succinctly summarized the madness that is causing misery to every one. Arab obsession with military toys as source of scrotal strength is one amongst the many reasons there has been endless violence in the middle east from the 7th century.

Anonymous said...

Bigger subs for KSA? May be Soryus?

Closing the straits of Hormuz would be detrimental to both Iran and KSA and plenty of other nations. It would be an act of war for all.
KQN

Josh said...

@Pete:

I had forgotten about the Italian penchant for minisubs. Yes, clearly Iran won't sell them and the DPRK are a questionable source; I used those as examples because I forgot about the Italians and couldn't think of any equivalent platform (I believe the Iranian models involved Bestest Korea cooperation). The Italians would be a natural choice for the KSA and a boat on that scale is perhaps something the Saudis might actually effectively be able to operate. The Gulf doesn't particularly lend itself to anything below periscope depth and visual detection is a very real problem. However as noted in the previous post, the KSA's purchases have more to do with biggest and greatest and/or buying political capital in the country selling the equipment. Actual combat effectiveness rarely enters the calculation.

Cheers,
Josh

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub [at 16/3/17 7:43 PM]

My guess is the Saudis may eventually buy 3 or 4 x advanced-AIP Scorpenes, or 214s (from Germany or South Korea [1]) or Yuans.

[1] note South Korea may set up a whole shipbuilding industry for the Saudis http://www.marinelink.com/news/shipyard-largest-arabia416700

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi karthik [at 16/3/17 9:40 PM]

Yes Arab culture seems to value clan or tribe over the alien concept of nation. This obstructs major weapons or nuclear building programs.

Unfortunately the Iranians and Pakistanis seem more Persian ie. used to the concept of nation and well capable of large high-tech programs. Pakistan has succeeded with the "Islamic Bomb" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction

and Iran may have most of the components.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN [at 17/3/17 12:14 AM]

I think Japan would not risk selling Soryus to the KSA because of KSA close relationship with Japan's main "enemy" China. Japan really needs to develop a lower spec 1,800 ton submarine for export to catch some of the big Middle East and broader Asia-Pacific market.

Becuase of Iraq sinking tankers "Tanker War" in the Persian Gulf in the Iran-Iraq War there was near closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the 1980s - much USN/Western convoy activity https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Iraq_War .

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

Maybe minisubs will capture the Arab imagination for heroic raiding :)

Looks like South Korea's Vogo Engineering has taken over Cosmos business http://www.vogoeng.com/bbs/swimmer-delivery-vehicle.html

US SOCOM, with likely close KSA ties, is also developing all-LIBs minisubs http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/us-dry-submersible-program-russia.html

Regards

Pete

karthik said...

Don't tell the Al Bakistanis that they are Persian ;), they would be most offended as they are very proud of their descent from Arab raider Bin Qasim and other Meccan Arabs. Weak Hindus like me and blasphemous Shia Moslems like the Persians are all 'wajib ul qatal'( deserving of murder)
A combo of decent scientists left over from partition helped through 1970s. The rest is totally Chinese driven with some limited but good local talent. Driven by hatred they could make centrifuges but not bicycles or steel. Hatred is a powerful stimulant and explains the outsized influence of the military complex and a neurotic security state.

Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete,
I think for KSA, it would be a Type 210MOD, Improved Kilo class SSK or something similar to the Type 206.