In an interview with Anadolu Agency, STM CEO Ozgur Guleryuz revealed STM’s submarine projects. He stated that the first Agosta 90B class submarine was delivered to the Pakistan Navy in April 2021, followed by the second in December 2022. He sees this project as critical in terms of winning the tender against the submarine’s manufacturer and demonstrating Turkiye’s submarine modernization capabilities to the world in such a large project.
Guleryuz also discussed the STM500 mini-submarine project, saying “Although the detailed design is nearing completion, production of the pressure has already begun in June 2022. Our efforts continue intesively.” He also stated that the STM500 will be Turkiye’s first indigenous submarine, with the Turkish Navy and other countries as potential customers.
Of course, the most critical information Guleryuz shared is about the “unmanned submarine” project.
“Our submarine projects do not stop with manned platforms. Unmanned submarines, which can achieve very effective and successful results, are also on the agenda. Our research and development efforts on these issues are ongoing.”
Ozgur Guleryuz, CEO of STM
Guleryuz did not reveal any details about the unmanned underwater vehicle’s specifications, but sources claim that it will be slightly larger than an average seal delivery vehicle (SRV). According to sources in the Turkish defense industry, the Turkish Defense Agency has been supporting and monitoring such projects, and these boats can be used for search and rescue missions, seabed warfare applications, peacetime underwater studies, and other purposes.
H I Sutton, a popular OSINT analyst and regular contributor to Naval News, stated that the increase in the number of extra-large UUV projects around the world reflects the maturing technology. He underlined that leading navies such as those of the United States, Britain, and China are already well down this road, paving the way and proving the concepts.
“Companies such as STM can design large underwater vehicles which now seem feasible, whereas they may have appeared fantasy just a few years ago. Many navies are now looking seriously at these vehicles.”
H I Sutton, OSINT Analyst
Sutton also pointed out that UUVs will be a new field of success for Turkiye, that already proved itself in unmanned technologies. “It stands to reason that Turkiye, already a leading producer of uncrewed air vehicles (UAVs), would look to underwater equivalents too. Yet the technologies required are very different, such as navigation and communication.” Sutton said.
H I Sutton also touched on the tactical advantages of such assets in Naval Warfare (particularly in Littoral Waters), because these vehicles are inherently suited to operations close to the enemy coast. “Not just because they are smaller and so can operate in shallower water, but also because they are also often expendable in a way crewed platforms never are,” Sutton stated.
Though developing such high-technology assets is not easy, the large uncrewed underwater vehicle space is quickly becoming very competitive. Sutton states that so few players have much of any early-starter advantage. “The barriers for entry are technologically high, but not out of reach for players such as STM.” he added.
Submarines are naturally strategic assets in naval warfare. They have always been the most critical and dangerous missions, both in peace and war. Though UUVs are not expected to perform all of the missions that a submarine does, performing even a portion of these missions with unmanned assets will be a breakthrough in naval warfare.
Due to the high underwater noise and spread of sound signals in these seas, detecting and tracking a submarine in littoral waters is always a challenge for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) units. While finding a diesel-electric submarine in coastal waters is difficult, detecting such a small submarine will be nearly impossible for ASW units. Unmanned submarines may provide outstanding benefits to any navy because they can penetrate enemy lines, provide critical intelligence, and engage adversary assets at their most vulnerable times, and they are expandable because there is no risk of human loss.
There are still challenges to operating UUVs in combat roles, such as command&control and communication. The current UUV projects’ operational range is insufficient to carry out combat missions. With actual submarines, underwater communication remains difficult, and coming communication depth or surface increases the risk of detection. Using such vessels autonomously is an option, but it is not currently considered 100% safe. As a result, defining UUVs as unmanned submarines is overly ambitious given current technology, but they look promising.