South Korean naval defence prime Hanwha Ocean will offer the KSS III conventionally powered diesel-electric submarine (SSK) for Poland’s long-running Orka programme, which will see the acquisition of a new fleet of SSKs for its navy.

The Orka programme, first launched in 2014, was reconfigured in May this year as new requirements were outlined for industry, which had already put forward platforms such as Sweden’s A26 Blekinge class, the German Type 212CD, and the French Scorpene SSK.

Poland currently operates a single 1980s-era Russian-origin Kilo-class SSK and is likely planning to acquire up to four new submarines under the Orka programme.

The move from Hanwha Ocean, formerly known as Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), could extend the country’s burgeoning defence relationship with Poland, which already includes the provision of K9 155mm howitzers, K239 Chunmoo multiple launch rocket systems, and K2 main battle tanks on land, and KA-50 light attack fighters in the air domain.

In a 29 November release, Hanwha Ocean stated that was “read to offer” the KSS III submarine to Poland in a partnership agreement.

Currently in active service with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy, the 3,600 tonne (t) KSS III SSKs are 83.3 metres (m) long, 9.6m wide and have a draught of 7.62m. With a gross tonnage of approximately 3,000t, the submarines are capable of accommodating a crew of 50.

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Hanwha’s offer would also include a training programme for the Polish Navy in collaboration with the Republic of Korea Navy, encompassing basic submariner courses, equipment operational training, simulator-led tactical training, and at-sea training.

Hanwha Ocean also stated that the Korean Navy was willing to support sea trials and training, as well as share its submarine operation and maintenance expertise with the Polish Navy.

A further commitment was made to establish a submarine maintenance, repair, and overhaul centre in Poland, as well as pursuing other partnership opportunities in the civil energy and academic sectors.

KSS III class development details

South Korea’s KSS III project involves the development of nine attack submarines being built in three distinct batches, each offering generational improvements over their predecessors. Then DSME, now Hanwha Ocean, and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), were initially contracted to build the fleet of nine submarines for South Korea.

The Agency for Defence Development (ADD) of South Korea issued a total of five requests for proposals for the KSS III submarine project in February 2009.

The Ministry of Defence of South Korea awarded a contract to DSME in December 2012 for the construction of two KSS III Batch 1 submarines. The contract for the third Batch 1 submarine was awarded to HHI in November 2016.

The steel-cutting ceremony of the lead submarine of the KSS III Batch 1, Dosan Ahn Chang-ho (SS-083), was held at DSME’s Okpo shipyard in November 2014. The submarine was launched in September 2018, while commissioning took place in August 2021.

The keel for the second submarine, Son Byong-hi, was laid down in July 2016. It will be delivered by the end of 2022.

Construction of the third and final submarine of Batch-I began at South Korean shipbuilder HHI’s facility in Ulsan in June 2017. Named Yi Dongnyeong, the submarine was launched in September 2021.

The construction of KSS III Batch II submarines was approved in March 2019. South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration selected DSME for the Batch 2 basic design in May 2016. The final submarine of the project is expected to be delivered by 2029.