The Transformation of Norwegian Defense: Germany, Norway and Submarine Acquisition


2017-02-12 By Robbin Laird

Last week, I attended an airpower conference sponsored by the Norwegian Air Force and held in Trondheim, Norway.

The title of the conference was about the shaping of a fifth generation air force, but in reality the conference focused on multi-domain integration and defense transformation in the extended defense of Norway.

In effect, a new phase of NATO development is underway whereby anchor states in key geographical regions take Article III of the NATO treaty seriously and focus on national defense in an allied context.

If you don’t the ability of any other state to help you is limited.

For Norway, this means raising the bar on the defense of Norway by acquiring new platforms, fully integrating those platforms into a national C2 system, but doing so in a plug and play context whereby key allies can more easily interoperate with Norwegian defense and thereby providing simultaneously extended Norwegian defense and enhanced Northern tier defense for NATO.

The week before the conference, the Norwegian defense minister announced the decision to acquire four submarines from Germany as part of the transformation process.

The Minister is a very engaging person, who is a ball of energy and one suspects a pretty tough customer.

I would not let that elfin smile fool you!

The purchase of the German submarines is more than that.

What Norway is looking for is to be interoperable with allies who are operationally prepared to provide for defense of the Northern region.

This means that the manufacturers who sell new equipment to Norway need to understand that they are committed to effective sustainment of the force in Norway under a wide spectrum of conditions.

It is not just about selling a platform.

And for Germany, the Minister of Defense and the Chancellor need to understand that they are committing themselves de facto to active defense of the Northern region, including Baltic defense.

It is not simply about selling equipment; it is about active engagement and enhanced interoperability.

According to the Norwegian MoD, the decision involves a broad and long-term Navy-to-Navy cooperation encompassing submarines and other naval capabilities.

The cooperation will include training, exercises, spare parts, maintenance and lifetime management of the new submarines. The identical design of the six boats also would enable the swap of crews.

It is not just a market opportunity to save the German submarine maker from the end of the line which how it has generally been reported.

Illustration of German submarine published by Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

According to a press release published on February 3, 2017, the acquisition was announced by the Norwegian MoD.

After a comprehensive evaluation process, the Norwegian Government decided on Germany as strategic partner for new submarines.

The partnership is based on a German-Norwegian common purchase and lifetime management of identical, new submarines.

The decision involves a broad and long-term Navy-to-Navy cooperation encompassing submarines and other naval capabilities.

The cooperation will include a purchase of identical submarines and cooperation on training, exercises, spare parts, maintenance and lifetime management of the new submarines.

The submarines will be based on the 212-design already in service in Germany and Italy. The cooperation also includes cooperation between Norwegian and German industry.

Submarines are amongst the Norwegian Armed Forces’ most important capabilities and is of great significance for our ability to protect Norway’s maritime interests. It is important that we have found a strategic partner that we can build a broad and long lasting cooperation with.

This lays a good foundation for the long-term relations we need to maintain a credible submarine capability in the future.

Submarine cooperation with Germany will ensure that Norway gets the submarines we require, and at the same time contributing to Smart defence and more efficient defence material cooperation in NATO, says the Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide.

The Norwegian Ministry of Defence has practised equal treatment of the suppliers and their nations.

The same amount of time and effort has been spent towards France and Germany, and the activities towards both have been balanced. It has been clearly communicated on all levels that it is the totality of the offers that will be the determining factor.  

Both France and Germany offer excellent submarines that meet Norwegian needs, and both nations have been given good opportunities to come up with a total offer on new submarines and cooperation.

Norway will now enter into final negotiations with German authorities. When a government-to-government agreement is in place, a German-Norwegian negotiation towards the German submarine supplier thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (tkMS) will commence. tkMS is the largest producer of conventional submarines in Western Europe. The shipyard has long experience with building advanced submarines and a large production capability.

The plan is to sign a common contract for new submarines in 2019. This will enable delivery of new submarines from the mid-2020s to 2030. 

This timeline ensures a continuous Norwegian submarine capability as the Ula-class submarines reaches end of life and starts decommissioning.

– The submarines Norway and Germany will procure ensures a submarine service for the future. Norway has an evolutionary approach to new submarines, and will base the procurement on an existing submarine design.

This way we avoid an extensive development project with the risks and costs this would involve. In addition, together with Germany, we will get a larger scale in the production, says the Minister of Defence.

Norwegian Minister of Defense, Ine Eriksen Søreide. Credit: Second Line of Defense

Independent of this decision, the work to establish further cooperation with other nations continue in order to achieve even greater synergies and economies of scale. Norway has for several years worked closely towards the Netherlands and Poland to create a broad submarine cooperation. This work will continue.

Norwegian industry is world leading on some of the technology used in submarines, and the Norwegian Government will use the procurement as an opportunity for the Norwegian Defence industry.

The procurement of new submarines will be used actively towards international partners to further develop a competent and competitive Norwegian Defence industry.

The scope of the industrial cooperation with Germany is in line with the ambition of the Norwegian Parliament.

It will provide good opportunities for the Norwegian defence and security industry in the prioritised technological areas as stated in the white paper Meld. St. 9 (2015-2016) Nasjonal forsvarsindustriell strategi.


Submarines are a strategic capability that contribute to the Norwegian Armed Forces deterrent effect, and NATO’s collective defence. The white paper on the future of the Norwegian Armed Forces, St. prp. 151 S (2015-2016), underlines the importance of submarines and their place in the future development of the Norwegian navy.

The Ministry of Defence has been working on different solutions for the future of the submarine service since 2007. Establishing a broad and long lasting international submarine cooperation with partners has been one of the goals in this work. 

The plans for the procurement of the new submarines are ready and the Government is planning to present the investment project on new submarines to Parliament in the spring of 2017.

For other stories on the Norwegian decision, see the following: