Sweden’s Submarine Fleet Ready to Set Off in Baltic Sea to Deter Russia

Photo by Koya Ozeki / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Swedish Navy Flotilla Commander Paula Wallenburg stands beside a Gotland-class submarine at the military port in Karlskrona, southern Sweden, on Dec. 12.

KARLSKRONA, Sweden — With Sweden’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nearing, a jet-black submarine, which will be on the front line of efforts to deter Russia, is quietly ready for departure from the naval base in Karlskrona, southern Sweden.

On a recent day, I visited the Gotland-class submarine, stationed beside the quay in the Baltic Sea. I descended the ladder from the deck and proceeded to the rear of the underwater craft through a narrow passage. Near the aft end of the 60-meter-long submarine was a mass of steel on both sides of the passage.

The logo of Swedish heavy industry giant Saab was engraved on the surface of the masses. They are part of the air-independent propulsion (AIP) system developed by Saab’s shipbuilding division, and are the heart of the submarine. The quiet engine system makes it difficult for AIP submarines to be detected by enemy vessels. It also allows the submarines to stay underwater for a long period of time.

An officer who guided me through the submarine said it can stay underwater for at least three weeks without resurfacing. The air around the system was slightly warm, and there was a thick, machine oil smell.

In 2005, the submarine participated in military exercises with U.S. forces and managed to score “attacks” on the USS Ronald Reagan, showcasing that the submarine was in a position to sink the U.S. aircraft carrier. If it had been real warfare, the submarine would have taken out an important enemy ship.

I told Swedish Navy Flotilla Commander Paula Wallenburg, “I heard you ‘sank’ Ronald Reagan.” She nodded and said, “Yes, many times.”

The Swedish Navy has three AIP-type submarines and will add two new ones in four years. This underwater force, known as squadron 1, is seen as the most important force Sweden will bring to NATO.

A map shown at the squadron’s headquarters in the port had numerous lines drawn along the Russian coast. NATO countries have restricted the passage of Russian goods since February last year when Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began, which has led to a sharp increase in maritime traffic.

I found that the Swedish Navy was within close enough distance to make one feel the heightened tensions on their skin.