Israel Navy Planning to Replace 3 Submarines in Coming Decade

Fleet will not increase beyond six, but Defense Ministry is negotiating with Germany to buy three new Dolphin-class subs.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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A Dolphin submarine. A better option for strategic deterrence.
A Dolphin submarine. A better option for strategic deterrence.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Navy is not planning to enlarge its fleet of submarines beyond six, a senior naval officer has told Haaretz, following reports that negotiations were underway to acquire additional submarines from Germany.

The new submarines will replace the three oldest submarines in the fleet, said the officer. “There’s no plan for Israel to have seven, eight or nine submarines. When an agreement is signed in Germany, they will replace the first ones,” he added.

The German government recently confirmed that Israel is considering the purchase of three new submarines, which would enter service a decade from now at the earliest. According to the officer, there is a preliminary memorandum of understanding between the two countries and the talks are being handled by the Defense Ministry.

German officials noted that its government is expected to help finance the submarines’ construction, in a manner similar to the most recent transaction, in 2012, when it covered a third of the cost due to Germany’s “special responsibility” to Israel’s security.

Prime Minister Benjamin addressed the plan for the first time on Tuesday. Netanyahu told the Knesset that during the winter session Israel is expected to receive F-35 jets from the U.S., and sign an agreement with Germany to obtain three additional submarines.

Israel has determined that submarines have a life span of 30 years. The oldest Dolphin-class submarines being used by the navy arrived in Israel in 1999. Therefore, during the Israel Defense Forces’ multiyear plan discussions, it was decided to launch a long-term process in which the oldest submarines will be replaced “when their time comes.”

“The contract is aimed at gradually replacing the older submarines,” the officer said, confirming that the new subs would go online at least a decade from now.

The Dolphin submarines are the most expensive weaponry the IDF has. The newer submarines are a more advanced model that can remain underwater for longer periods of time – which improves their ability to conduct clandestine missions. These newer submarines cost an estimated 400 million euros ($438 million).

The navy’s sixth submarine from Germany, which has yet to arrive and will only become operational in three years’ time, may actually replace one of the older submarines immediately, leaving Israel with only five submarines. According to the naval officer, that decision will be made when the submarine is delivered.

Until then, once the new agreement with Germany is signed, the navy will be focusing on the specifications of the new submarines. “We want to upgrade them with new weaponry and technology,” the officer said.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli submarines can carry cruise missiles with a range of thousands of kilometers and can be equipped with nuclear warheads. According to these reports, Israel’s submarines are meant to offer a second-strike capability in the event of a nuclear attack.

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