As with many European military services, the Swedish Navy is under-funded, making do with aging equipment and personnel shortages. MS&T’s Dim Jones visited Karlskrona to view how the Naval Warfare Training System is helping get the most from their resources.

The city of Karlskrona was founded as a naval base by King Karl XI in 1679, and has remained a naval base since then; in 1998, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the southern coast of Sweden, some 270 miles south of Stockholm, and 100 miles ENE of Malmö, it was constructed on an archipelago, of which the largest island is Trossö. Karlskrona is one of the Swedish Navy’s two main bases, the other being Berga, south-east of Stockholm. It is home to Sjöstridsskolan - the Naval Warfare Centre (NWC), the 1st Submarine Flotilla, and the 3rd Naval Warfare Flotilla.

From the end of WWII until the early 1960s, the Swedish Navy was organised around three light cruiser groups, but the decision was then taken to scrap the cruisers, leaving a fleet of 24 destroyers and frigates to carry out anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tasks, mainly in the Baltic Sea. The destroyers and frigates were, in turn, decommissioned by a government decision in 1972, and reliance placed on a fleet of smaller vessels; by the 1980s, it had become apparent that these vessels and their equipment were inadequate for the task. Today, the largest surface vessels in the Swedish fleet are the 640-tonne Visby-class corvettes, the first two of which were built by Kockums AB and delivered to the Navy by the procurement agency Försvarets Materielverk (FMV) in 2009. The current fleet of corvettes, patrol boats, mine countermeasures (MCM) vessels and submarines combines ASW, ASuW and MCM duties with a better capability, endurance and seaworthiness than their 1980s predecessors.  

The 3rd Naval Warfare Flotilla at Karlskrona comprises three Visby-class corvettes, two Malmö-class patrol boats, two Koster-class and one Spårö-class MCM, the ocean patrol vessel HSwMS Carlskrona and a support unit. The 1st Submarine Flotilla is made up of three Gotland-class diesel submarines, two of which have been extensively modernised, and two Söderman-class, of which only one is currently active. They are supported by the submarine rescue ship, HSwMS Belos, and the SigInt vessel, HSwMS Orion. Two new A26-class submarines, to replace the Söderman-class, are being built by Saab-Kockums, and the first will be delivered in 2022. This programme has, to say the least, had a colourful history, involving temporary cancellation in 2014 and resurrection following the purchase by Saab AB of Kockums from its previous owner, Thyssen-Krupp.

The Swedish Navy, in its main ‘brown-water’ operating area of the Baltic Sea, faces some unique challenges, especially in ASW operations. These include the relatively shallow waters, variable and sometimes unusual sound propagation, and low salinity. One can add to this that the ASW helicopter, the NH90 – equipped with a sonobuoy capability and a dipping sonar – is operated by the Air Force and cannot land on any Swedish Navy deck. The challenges are not only operational; the Navy, like its Army and Air Force counterparts, has suffered from decades of under-funding and, although this is being slowly reversed in the light of an increased regional threat, progress is slow. Swedish defence spending as a percentage of GDP is at an all-time low of 1.03%, compared with the NATO target (by no means universally attained) of 2%. There is an associated shortage of manpower, partly caused by demographic change and the public perception of the armed forces as a career, and partly by non-competitive pay levels, compared with the civilian sector. A system of selective conscription has recently been reintroduced, but overall numbers are low and the great majority of recruits are expected to be earmarked for the Army. For those few assigned to the Navy, training will absorb a large proportion of a short commitment, and it is not expected that conscripts will serve at sea.        

The NWC comprises three divisions: Diving and Naval Medicine; Education and Training; and Development and Procurement. Its roles are: developing the skills and competence of all naval personnel; developing strategies and tactics for naval operations; and

supporting development of naval materiel. To carry these out, it has a staff of 195 officers and NCOs, 21 sailors and 56 civilians. The Education and Training division is responsible for training all sailors and NCOs up to Grade OR9, all junior officers up to OF3, plus all basic and specific naval training, and diver training. The Training and Evaluation department plans and conducts exercises, and is responsible for the naval ‘Lessons Learned’ process. Practical training in navigation and seamanship is carried out in two schooner-rigged training ships and school training vessels.

Synthetic Training Increasing

Extensive use is made of synthetic training in all facets of the NWC’s work, this usage increasing as ST becomes more realistic, more integrated, more generic and more cost-efficient. Areas for improvement have been identified as the pedagogical employment of simulators, their involvement in procurement projects, the increased use of scalable systems and COTS equipment, and increased co-operation with the simulation industry.

In pursuance of these objectives, CAE developed the Naval Warfare Training System (NWTS) which entered service in 2016, and for which an upgrade and capability expansion was announced this September. The NWTS is used for training in a range of disciplines, including sensor operations, Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4), and weapons systems. A total of 52 student stations and 13 instructor operator stations allow the Swedish Navy to train and rehearse for operations in ASuW, Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), ASW, MCM and Search and Rescue (SAR), and the system can simultaneously support up to six separate exercises. The student stations include a range of core CAE technologies, such as simulation systems for sonar (12 stations), radar (30), and communications (10). The instructor stations can be used either to tutor individual operators or to control exercises. The synthetic maritime environment has been built to the Open Geospatial Consortium Common Database (OGC CDB) standard, an international standard for the creation of synthetic environment databases.

During a media visit to Karlskorna prior to the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference, CAE’s Vice-President and General Manager for Europe and Africa, Marc-Olivier Sabourin, commented on the Swedish Navy’s procurement strategy, whereby a fixed budget was established, and the functionality of the system expanded to make maximum use of that budget.

The CAE Director of Naval Market Development, Rear Admiral (Ret) James Rapp, a former RN Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST), briefed on current CAE presence in the naval domain, which is significantly less than in other fields, notably civilian and military pilot training. Rapp pointed out they have been providing systems engineering to navies in support of operational systems for over 35 years, and current offerings embrace individual, team and whole-ship training. Other ongoing programmes include a Naval Training Centre (NTC) for the UAE, and a partnership, with Lockheed Martin Canada and others, in the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) programme. The UAE NTC will provide for individual, team and joint training, and will include: reconfigurable whole-ship simulators representing multiple classes of ships, and involving Bridge, Operations Room and Machinery Control Room (MCR) training; briefing and debriefing rooms; full audio, video and data recording; Task Group Staff planning room; a digitised tactical floor; a simulation control room (thereby reducing controller personnel requirements); and connectivity to distributed sites, such as naval facilities, naval air, land sites, and to ships alongside and at sea. The NTC will be delivered in mid-2020 and will cater for 14 classes of vessel.

Meanwhile, CAE have recently contracted to upgrade the Swedish NWTS. Phase A of the upgrade programme is funded, and will include active sonar training, additional electronic warfare training capabilities, improved mine warfare training scenarios and a range of computer-generated forces (CGF) entities to simulate both friendly and enemy forces, thus delivering a more realistic virtual training environment. The Swedish Navy have a ‘wish-list’ for a Phase B NWTS enhancement, but this is not yet funded.

The NWC also has a range of simulators which are not covered by NTWS. These include: a reconfigurable bridge simulator, supplied by L-3 and Transas, plus other small- and medium-sized bridge simulators for navigation training; an Ops Room simulator, replicating the layout of a Visby-class Ops Room, incorporating all operating positions with real equipment but a slightly more spacious layout; a submarine simulator replicating the Gotland class; and a Koster-class MCM simulator. The Visby Ops Room simulator was created using equipment purchased and destined for the HMS Uddevalla, which was subsequently cancelled, and it is possible that, in the future, use may be made of other purchased equipment to broaden the scope of functionality toward a ‘whole-ship’ simulator.

The Visby-class simulation environment is part of the equipment installed in the ships themselves, allowing simulated exercises to be carried out while alongside and, theoretically, at sea, although the difficulties of blending synthetic and real-world, especially in an Ops Room the size of the Visby, is well-recognised.

A simulator for the new A26 submarine, with Combat Management System by Saab and sonar by Atlas Elektronik, is in an advanced stage of development, and will be operational well before delivery of the first vessel. The A26 boats will lack a conventional periscope, this being replaced by optronics, and incorporating laser range-finding. The MCM simulator is particularly cost-effective, in that a routine training package for sonar and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operators can take up to 48 hours, during which time – if it had to be done at sea – the rest of the crew would be doing nothing.

Notwithstanding the small size of the Swedish Armed Forces (about 22,000 active-duty personnel) and of the Royal Swedish Navy (about 3,000, of which the NWC represents a significant percentage), our visit to Karlskrona revealed a very professional approach to getting the most out of limited resources, in which the Naval Warfare Centre, supported by industry partners including CAE, plays a pivotal role.    

Published in MS&T issue 6/2019.