In November 2005, reports surfaced that that Germany would sell Israel 2 AIP-equipped Dolphin submarines, to join its existing fleet of 3 conventional diesel-electric Dolphin Class boats. In 2006, the deal for 2 Dolphin AIP boats was finalized at a total of $1.27 billion, with the German government picking up 1/3 of the cost. The new boats are built at the Howaldtswerke-Deutche Werft AG (HDW) shipyard, in the Baltic Sea coastal city of Kiel, with deliveries originally scheduled to begin in 2010. Those have been delayed, and have not begun as of yet.
Reports that an additional sale may be in the offing have now been confirmed, but just absorbing these 3 new boats will be no small challenge for Israel’s “3rd service”…
The Dolphin Class, and Its Improvements
The Dolphins are quiet diesel-electric attack submarines that evolved from Germany’s famous and ubiquitous U209 Class. They can fire torpedoes and missiles from their 533mm torpedo tubes, perform underwater surveillance, and even launch combat swimmers via a wet and dry compartment.
Germany had already donated two Dolphin submarines to the Israeli navy after the Gulf War in the early 1990s. The first-of-class INS (Israeli Naval Ship) Dolphin was commissioned in 1999, while INS Leviathan was commissioned in 2000. The Israelis later bought a 3rd submarine for $350 million total, using a 50/50 shared cost arrangement with the German government. INS Tekuma (“revival, renewal”) also entered service in 2000.
The Dolphin subs are reportedly designed for a crew of 35 and can support 10 passengers. They displace 1,900t submerged, have a maximum speed of 20 knots (though as diesel subs, their underwater endurance at speed is limited), and a maximum range of 4,500 km/ 2,700 miles. The submarines incorporate Atlas Elektronik’s ISUS 90-1 TCS for provides automatic sensor management, fire and weapon control, navigation and operation.
Dolphin submarines are versatile and heavily-armed, with a wet and dry compartment for deploying underwater swimmers, and no less than 10 bow torpedo tubes. Four of the tubes have a 650mm diameter, which can launch larger cruise missiles, and are also useful for launching commandos in swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs). The other 6 x 533mm tubes can launch STN Atlas Elektronik’s DM2A3/2A4 Seahake torpedoes or UGM-84C Harpoon Block I anti-ship missiles. Underwater mines offer another option, and some manufacturers like Diehl (IDAS) are even developing tube-launched anti-aircraft missiles.
It’s rumored that Israel has tested a nuclear-capable version of its medium-range “Popeye Turbo” cruise missile design for deployability from the 650mm torpedo tubes in its Dolphin Class submarines. The 2002 Popeye Turbo launch test location off Sri Lanka suggested that the tests may have been performed in cooperation with India.
The rumors concerning Israel’s nuclear-capable cruise missiles had stalled additional Dolphin class sales in 2003, as had Israeli issues with the price tag. Israel’s Navy is widely considered to be last among the country’s services on the spending priority list, and so finds itself with less latitude than the Army and Air Force. Nevertheless, deals were eventually signed in 2006 and 2012 for larger Dolphin-II submarines, which displace 2,400t when fully submerged, and add an Air-Independent Propulsion module for longer underwater endurance without telltale snorkeling.
The AIP system chosen for the 3 newest Dolphin boats (#4-6) has not specified. While HDW owns Kockums AB and its successful Stirling AIP system, it also has its own technology using Siemens PEM hydrogen fuel cells. This HDW system is used in the U212/214 Class, which the Dolphins resemble, and which are also descended from the U209 1300/1400 sub designs.
The final Israeli-German deal for submarines #4 & 5 addressed Israeli price concerns to some extent, provided a job creation benefit for the German government, and completed the 2nd major long-delayed arms sale that the Schroeder government solidified during its final month in office. . The exact terms for sub #6 aren’t public.
Contracts and Key Events
2012 – 2014
6th sub contract; 4th and 5th subs handed over; Syrian strike from a sub?
Aug 30/14: #4 heads home. INS Tanin, the first Dolphin-II AIP submarine, preps to leave Kiel and head for Israel. She was handed over on May 3/12, and has spent a great deal of tie in Germany undergoing comprehensive testing. That isn’t unusual for what is effectively the first boat in a new class, with totally new technologies. There’s more to come, too, as the boat will only receive certain Israeli systems once she docks in Israel. That’s scheduled to happen by the end of 2014, which means mid-2015 is a reasonable expectation for the INS Tanin to enter operational service.
INS Rahav (q.v. April 29/13) is undergoing tests of its own, and is scheduled to arrive in Israel during 2015. The 6th boat won’t arrive until 2019. Sources: Breaking Israel News, “IDF’s Newest Submarine to Set Sail for Israel” | Defense News Intercepts, “Israel’s Deadliest Submarines Are Nearly Ready” (incl. photos).
Feb 25/14: Deployments. The Times of Israel sheds some light on a little-discussed topic:
“According to a senior Israel Navy officer, 58 percent of the navy’s submarine flotilla’s time at sea in 2013 were in operational deployments, while the remaining 42% were for training purposes. That marks a dramatic increase from the three previous years, when submarines spent just 36% of their time at sea in operational deployments. The navy’s submarines also conducted 54 special operations in 2013, a similarly sharp increase from previous years. The operations included deployments to the Lebanese coast and deployments lasting several weeks that took the submarines thousands of kilometers from Israel.”
The Syrian Navy is clearly a focus for the Israelis, but the Israelis have also taken a strong interest in Hezbollah activities and Iranian supply lines, which include Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia as well as Iran itself. Sources: Times of Israel, “IDF sees steep rise in submarine operations”.
July 14/13: Whodunnit? Here’s what we know: on July 5/13, the Syrian port city of Latakia experienced major explosions at an arms depot. Israel hasn’t taken responsibility for the attack, but many sources attribute it to them. Initial reports suggested that the Israeli air force flew from bases in Turkey to launch the strike, flying over the Mediterranean and staying out of Syrian air space. Now, reports have surfaced that the strike was launched from a Dolphin Class submarine offshore.
The target of the strike appears to be new shipments of P-800 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship and strike missiles. The missiles were delivered by Russia, and create a potent barrier to foreign naval blockades or interventions, while protecting Russia’s Syrian naval base in Tartus. The flip side is that their 180 mile range, accuracy and flight profile can threaten most of Israel from inside Syrian territory. With Iran’s Hezbollah foreign legion playing a significant role for the Assad regime in Syria’s civil war, weapon transfers are more or less expected. Syria is known to have transferred anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah before, hence Israel’s solution of eliminating the weapons.
The IAF’s favorite weapon for this sort of thing is their Delilah cruise missile. If a submarine conducted the strike, however, it would use a conventional version of the Popeye Turbo cruise missile. Jerusalem Post | Russia Today | yNet News (air strike).
April 29/13: INS Rahav. HDW hands over Israel’s 5th submarine, INS Rahav, in a ceremony at the Kiel dockyards. INS Rahav is expected to reach Israel within several months and dock at Haifa. A 6th submarine is expected to arrive in 2017.
Anglicizations can be tricky, and we apologize for not looking at the original Hebrew. Bantam-Megiddo 1986 defines “Rahav” as “boasting,” but Israeli correspondents say its live usage is closer to fearlessness, and can be used for arrogance. The name Rachav/ Rahav/ Rahab has an interesting history from the Book of Joshua. She was an inkeeper/ prostitute in Jericho who was good-hearted enough to hide Joshua’s spies from agents of the king, as the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Jericho’s walls would later go down in a series of loud blasts, after which Rachav and her family became part of the Jewish people.
In anglicized form, the word and the name can be rendered the same way. In Hebrew, that subtle difference you see is a different letter entirely, and they aren’t the same word. yNet News.
#5 handed over
May 3/12: INS Tanin. HDW hands Israel’s 4th submarine over to the Israeli Navy, at a ceremony in Kiel, Germany. The new boat is due to enter service in 2013, following at-sea testing and evaluation.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz places Tanin’s cost at $500 million, as part of a EUR 1.4/ $ 2.04 billion overall cost for boats #4-6. In return, they report that the German government will cover 33% of the total cost, and buy another EUR 400 million worth of equipment from Israeli suppliers. The Israeli equipment used in these submarines counts, and Germany is already buying Israeli equipment for its own use, so that total shouldn’t be a problem.
The name INS Tanin (Heb.: “crocodile / dragon”) is biblical, and interesting because it also works well in English. “Gator ship” is traditionally used to refer to ships that do a lot of work close in-shore. A submarine that spends a lot of time of special forces landings and pickups would certainly fit that description. Then again, there are rumors that these submarines are nuclear capable. Nile Crocodiles are well-known for hiding in the water and unleashing sudden, devastating attacks. Arutz Sheva | Ha’aretz | Russia’s RIA Novosti.
#4 handed over
Feb 5/12: 6th sub contract. The Jerusalem Post reports that the deal for a 6th Dolphin submarine is now a signed contract:
“Christian Schmidt, [Germany’s] secretary of state for defense, told the Post that the contract was signed a few weeks ago and that Germany had agreed to subsidize its cost… The submarines under construction will be fitted with a new [AIP] propulsion system… Schmidt said that Germany was looking to increase its defense cooperation with Israel and was specifically interested in learning from the IDF about training and military doctrine. He said that Germany was also considering buying the Heron TP long-range unmanned aerial vehicle later this decade to replace the Heron 1 it is operating in Afghanistan.”
1 more Dolphin-II sub
Recruitment is key; Political wrangling over submarine #6; A glimpse into the fleet.
Dec 18/11: INS Dolphin. The Jerusalem Post reports that INS Dolphin has returned to service, following a 2-year, NIS 100 million (about $26.4 million) major refit at the Israeli Navy’s Haifa shipyard. Renovations reportedly included dismantling, inspecting, and restoring all of the submarine’s valves, pipes and sonar systems; doing the same to the engine; and making sure the submarine body is cleaned and all cracks re-welded. INS Dolphin isn’t named specifically, but only 1 submarine entered service in 1999.
The fact of this refit was not previously disclosed, so that Israel’s enemies wouldn’t know that 1/3 of the existing submarine force was out of service. The report adds that new construction of hardened berths in underway for the next 2 Dolphin subs, and the question for Israel’s enemies is whether a similar overhaul for INS Leviathan or INS Tekuma will wait until they arrive.
That may matter, because Israel is has just put together a “Depth Corps” for long-range operations, which will initially include special forces and supporting air, land, and sea assets. The Navy’s Flotilla 13/ Shayetet, which just won the IDF’s annual “Chief of Staff Award” for operations in 2011, will be part of that group. The Navy’s submarines can also be expected to play a major role.
Nov 30-Dec 3/11: Politics. The 6th submarine sale is back on. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tells German lawmakers that she has dropped her opposition to the subsidized sale, after Israel agreed last week to unfreeze the transfer of $100 million a month in customs duties and other funds to the Palestinian Authority. Iran may also have helped, as “protesters” recently stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, triggering a backlash by allied countries. The new Israeli submarine is expected to arrive by 2016.
Israel’s funding clampdown had been triggered by the PA’s violation of the Oslo Accords’ peace talk framework, via an attempt at unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN, including a recently-granted seat on the socio-cultural body UNESCO. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu qualified Israel’s actions, adding that Israel would consider renewing the ban if the Palestinian Authority “resumes taking unilateral steps.” Arutz Sheva | Israel’s Globes | Ha’artez | Jerusalem Post | Washington Times.
Oct 31/11: Politics. Der Speigel cites “Government sources” who have reportedly confirmed that Germany is threatening to stop the delivery of the 6th Dolphin Class submarine to Israel, after approving EUR 135 million in subsidies for the sale (vid. July 17/11). The move reportedly comes in response to the Israeli government’s decision to approve the construction of 1,100 new homes in Gilo, an Arab part of Jerusalem captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. The Israeli government’s official position is that Gilo is part of its capital, Jerusalem, hence part of Israel.
In an additional twist, Der Spiegel has also reported that the submarine subsidies may be a way of settling a 1953 German-Israeli reparations agreement for $500 million that had been attributed to East Germany, but never paid. This would help to explain the unusual spectacle of difficult negotiations over how much the selling country will subsidize the buyer. Der Spiegel | Ha’aretz | UPI.
Sept 10/11: ynet news speaks to Israel’s Colonel Oded, who recently completed his tenure as the commander of that country’s submarine fleet.
July 17/11: #6 Oked. Der Spiegel reports that German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere has given the formal go-ahead for the 6th Dolphin submarine deal. An initial EUR 135 million (about $191 million) transfer will provide the financing for initial construction activities, and serve as Germany’s subsidy for the project. Subsequent reports place its value at about 33% of the cost. Jerusalem Post | Ha’aretz | ynet News.
May 5/11: Deal? Reuters reports that a deal is done for a 6th submarine, after previous efforts ran aground on the $500-700 million price tag:
“It’s finalized – we will be getting another submarine from Germany, with payments spread over several years,” an Israeli official briefed on the negotiations said. The official did not immediately say how much the Dolphin would cost Israel or whether Germany would arrange a discount.”
Subsequent reports in Arutz Sheva and ynet News place the price tag at $1 billion for this 6th sub, though how that figure was arrived at is not specified. Those reports also note the opposition of the Israeli Defense Forces to the buy, given the cost and other IDF priorities. The drive to expand the submarine fleet was made as a political decision.
April 6/11: Negotiations. That 6th sub again. The Jerusalem Post reports:
“Talks on the Dolphin submarine deal stalled last year after the Germans declined to underwrite it, as they had done with previous purchases. Israel sought up to a third off the $500 million to $700 million price for the new Dolphin… “We’re still hoping for a discount, and the prime minister will raise this matter” in a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel scheduled for Thursday, the Israeli official said without elaborating.”
In the current climate of austerity, one doesn’t have high hopes for his chances.
Jan 9/11: Recruitment. Expanding a submarine force from 3 to 5 vessels is not a trivial matter. Those submarines need crews, which has to be done without crippling the quality of existing crews. In response, the IDF journal Bamachaneh reports that the number of soldiers selected for submarine warfare has grown by 30% in the latest IDF recruitment batches. That’s significant in a country that has traditionally emphasized the Army and Air Force as destinations for its top quality recruits. In parallel, more officers are being trained for submarine posts, and the number of cadets who will be trained for submarine command positions is rising by 35%. Arutz Sheva.
Negotiations over submarine #6.
July 25/10: Negotiations. The Israeli MoD takes the unusual step of denying that talks are in progress to acquire a 6th Dolphin Class submarine. From The Jerusalem Post:
“The statement clarified that since Israel was not in talks with Germany regarding the procurement of a sixth submarine, there were, as a result, no talks regarding an Israeli request to receive German government financial assistance for the deal. The Defense Ministry statement came amid reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had decided to turn down an Israeli request for financial assistance in purchasing the Dolphin-class submarine and new [MEKO frigates]. In another rare statement, the German government, which rarely talks about defense sales, also denied it was holding talks with Israel on subsidizing new naval vessels. “There are no negotiations between Israel and Germany about submarines,” government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm was quoted as saying by Reuters.”
Jan 23/10: Negotiations. Philadelphia’s The Bulletin relays a Der Tagesspiegel report that a delegation of 7 Israeli government cabinet ministers, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, held a joint cabinet meeting with their counterparts in Berlin, Germany. The sub deal was reportedly on the agenda, as was “Israel’s intention to station new German-made submarines in the Persian Gulf on a permanent basis.”
If true, this would seem to be about deploying Israel’s nuclear deterrent so that a retaliatory strike from the country’s short-to-medium range submarine-launched nuclear cruise missiles would be able to reach deep into Iran.
Jan 18/10: Negotiations. Defense News reports that Germany and Israel are in talks concerning a $1.45 billion naval deal that would add 1 Dolphin Class submarine, and 2 MEKO-derived frigates as the beginning of Israel’s next-generation frigate program. Current reports do not see a January 2010 agreement as likely, and Defense News claims that Israel is asking Germany to pay for 33% of the cost as a German industrial stimulus program, just as it did with Israel’s previous 2-sub order.
The MEKO ships would be Israel’s alternative to a very modified version of Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship design, which Israel rejected due to its expected $700+ million cost. Even so, American components in the total naval package could reach up to $200 million. This is important because Israel can use US military aid dollars to buy them, instead of hard currency.
Jan 5/10: Negotiations. Israel’s Hebrew-language Ma’ariv newspaper quotes a “senior” Israeli source as saying that submarine-related negotiations with Germany are at an advanced stage, with a possible announcement during Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Israel later in January. Papers in the UAE and Brunei characterize it as revolving around an additional submarine, as opposed to payment or acceptance negotiations concerning the 2 submarines that were slated for delivery beginning in 2010.
2005 – 2009
contract for submarines #4 & 5; False reports of delivery; Trainers delivered.
Dec 3/09: Training. Acorn Energy subsidiary DSIT Solutions Ltd. announces the successful completion and delivery of Stage I of the Dolphin Submarine Tactical Trainer project for the Israeli Navy.
Work on the final Stage 2 is well underway, and expected to reach completion in 10 months. It will bring the submarine tactical trainer to a state of full representation of the entire spectrum of Dolphin submarine weapon systems, sensors, and command and control systems.
Sept 29/09: Disinformation. Reports surface that Israel has taken delivery, thanks to quotes from an anonymous Israeli military spokesman that “We have received two Dolphin-class submarines built in Germany.” Delivery was initially expected in 2010, and confirmation is iffy.
June 21/07: Sub-contractors. Acorn Energy subsidiary DSIT Solutions in Givat Shmuel, Israel announces the $8 million Dolphin Submarine Tactical Trainer project, following an international tender. The trainer to be supplied by DSIT will simulate all sonar and weapons systems on board the Dolphin Class submarines, allowing the Dolphin tactical team of officers and operators to practice in an environment that duplicates that of an actual submarine at sea.
DSIT has worked with the Israeli Navy for the past 15 years on a range of advanced sonar and acoustic related projects, including sonar simulators, as well as shipboard consoles.
Aug 22/06: #4-5. The Jerusalem Post reports a formal contract signing for 2 SSK Dolphin Class diesel-electric submarines. EADS is also a player in the deal following its acquisition of Atlas Elektronik. Unlike their 3 predecessors, these submarines would incorporate an AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) system in order to allow them to spend far more time submerged; most likely HDW’s system used on the U-212 Class.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the contract was signed after a long dispute over the price and financing, though the final cost in dollars ($1.27 billion) is slightly higher than the 2005 reports of EUR 1 billion/ $1.17 billion. A third of the deal (about $425 million) will still be financed by the German government, however, effectively offering a foreign aid subsidy to jobs and production at HDW.
The same article also noted that the Israeli Navy is also considering a Fixed Underwater Sonar System off its coast, in order to improve detection of foreign submarines.
2 Dolphin-II subs
fn1. Before the Israeli submarine contract was issued, the outgoing German government broke another logjam, and agreed to sell 298 surplus Leopard 2 battle tanks to Turkey.
* Naval Technology – SSK Dolphin Class attack submarines, Israel.
* Dolphin Israel Submariners Association – The Dolphin Project. 2005 snapshot. A more detailed assessment and set of information than the Naval-Technology page.
* Israeli Weapons – SSK Dolphin Class attack submarine.
* Kockums AB (now a Saab subsidiary) – Stirling AIP system.
* defenceWeb – Fact file: STN Atlas DM2A4 Seehecht torpedo. Long-range heavyweight torpedo that can also bve be controlled via fiber-optic cable.
News & Views
* Der Spiegel (June 4/12) – Operation Samson: Israel’s Deployment of Nuclear Missiles on Subs from Germany
* ynet News (Sept 10/11) – Doomsday weapon: Israel’s submarines. Includes quotes from Colonel Oded, who recently completed his tenure as the fleet’s commander.