The Norwegian government will soon ratify a decision on what new submarine type will replace the navy's aging Ula-class vessels. A decision could be made within one to two months.
Norway plans to acquire up to four new Arctic-class submarines.
The competition to replace the Norwegian navy's Ula-class boats is now a straight contest between France's Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) and Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).
Significantly, Nordic industry cooperation has once again failed to affect Norway's final-stage selection, with Saab-Kockum's A-6 submarine offering having been cut from the shortlist of final candidates.
The submarine acquisition program represents a pivotal part of Norway's scaling-up of its air-surveillance, surface fleet and underwater capabilities, particularly in the strategically important High North region.
Aside from the new submarine acquisition program, Norway has struck a deal to purchase five P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from Boeing.
Both large-scale capital programs are timely, and take place against a backdrop where Russia continues to invest and expand its submarine, air force and missile installations in the High North.
Acquiring the means to adequately protect Norway's borders will remain a priority in the government's spending plans moving forward, said defense minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.
"The P-8A Poseidon is a formidable platform for monitoring our oceans, and will provide both Norwegian and allied civil and military authorities with a sound basis for decisions," said Søreide.
The five P-8s will replace the Norwegian Defense Force's (NDF) current fleet of six P-3 Orion and three DA-20 Jet Falcon surveillance planes.
The defense minister described the new submarine-class acquisition program as fundamental to giving Norway an effective deterrent to secure its borders and protect NATO's flank in the north.
First deliveries of the new submarines are planned to commence in 2025-2026 and continue until 2030.
Norway's fleet of six Ula-class submarines began service in the early 1990s. All are due to be retired in 2030-2032.
The shortlist of DCNS and TKMS marks the culmination of a submarine fleet evaluation process that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) began in 2007. The competition attracted six potential suppliers. Norway is also interested in discussing cooperation with other possible client nations like the Netherlands and Poland.
The Norwegian government has identified a broad range of subcontracting opportunities for indigenous suppliers in the eventual submarine contract, said Bernard Nilis, an industry analyst based in The Hague.
"This is one of those big capital projects where the government will expect a strong degree of industrial cooperation between the supplier and Norway's defense and specialized technology sectors. Norway has companies like Kongsberg which are leading global suppliers of niche systems and technologies used in submarines," Nilis said,
Kongsberg Defence Systems (KDS) has already secured a four-year contract worth US$26 million to upgrade part of the main weapons system of the Navy's Ula-class submarines.
The Ula subs use a combat system delivered by KDS. The company has also carried out a number of upgrade programs in recent years covering the vessels' electronics and torpedo-handling systems.
"The update program will ensure the Ula-class's operational capability until the new-generation submarines arrive," said Eirik Lie, KDS's acting president.
With the formal decision-making process on selection nearing completion, the next stage in the submarine acquisition project will involve a political review.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg's minority coalition, composed of the Conservative and Progress parties, is expected to present the submarine acquisition solution to the Storting, Norway's national parliament, during the first half of 2017.
The submission to the Storting will include the government's cost framework for the project. This will form the cornerstone for the selection decision the government plans to present to parliament.
According to Nilis, Norway's decision to exclude Saab from the shortlist reflects its twofold need to find both a NATO-aligned international partner as part of the submarine acquisition solution and find a submarine type based on an existing design.
"Nordic defense-industrial cooperation is made more complicated by differing national priorities. If Nordic cooperation had greater depth Norway would probably have bought the Gripen instead of the F-35 Lightning II, while its collaboration with Sweden on the joint purchase of the Archer artillery system would not have broken down," said Nilis.
The submarine, P-8A Poseidon and F-35 acquisition programs are included in the Norwegian government's Long Term Defense Plan, which was adopted by the national parliament in mid-November.
The Long Term Defense Plan, said Søreide, underlines the government's commitment to ensuring that the NDF has the right tools to do its job.
"We still have a long way to go, but this [Long Term Defense Plan] is an important first step towards building a more capable and sustainable armed forces for Norway," Søreide said.
Combined, the big-ticket new submarine, fighter and maritime patrol aircraft will comprise the core of Norway's integrated defense solution for its High North territories. The P-8A Poseidon aircraft will operate in support of underwater and surface naval assets to better monitor High North waters in the face of an elevated Russian submarine presence.
The P-8A Poseidon funding plan will also cover the acquisition of systems to strengthen Norway's ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability. The maritime patrol aircraft contract will also include a funding provision to purchase advanced sensors, new anti-submarine weapons, surveillance and support systems.
The cost estimate on the five aircraft P-8A Poseidon program, including support systems, is expected to run to around US$1.1 billion. The aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in 2021-2022.