This week a major landmark was reached in the construction phase of Spain's first S-80 series submarine.
Four of the new S-80 are currently under construction in the Navantia shipworks in Cartagena, and on Thursday the first sections of S-81 were joined.
The submarines are built in "slices," each section formed separately in a line within the manufacturing plant, and this was the first of several joining ceremonies, the company planning to fuse all the sections of the prototype together by October.
The level of progress made on the build since the last press presentation is impressive, and the prototype S-81 has metamorphosed from a series of empty cylinders to the embryo of a submarine in just a few months. All efforts are being concentrated into completing this first prototype, the aim being to launch the first of these four submarines for the Spanish navy into the water by May of 2013. Following this, 20 months of intensive testing will be undertaken before the first submarine, which is to be named the Isaac Peral, is delivered to the Navy.
Although the next three submarines in the series are visibly under construction within the factory, the priority is to bring this first prototype into the water in order for final testing to be undertaken and any minor alterations made to the spec before three further vessels are completed. The question is also hanging over the workforce of the shipyard of whether the government will be economically able to financially fulfil the orders placed for the three remaining vessels, as economic belts tighten and cuts are forced through in a number of key strategic projects, the forces not immune from the budgetary butchery being undertaken in all Government departments.
Manuel Filgueira, Director of the Cartagena works, acknowledged the difficult economic conditions which prevail worldwide, "the crisis affects all of us. The economic situation which we are all facing is alarming, worrying, I'm not able to confirm at the moment how the economic problems are going to affect the rest of the S-80 production programme, we just have to wait and see."
With the knowledge that the local Spanish market is facing possibly several years of strict budgetary limitations, Navantia is keen to push all existing resources into this first prototype to enable them to compete in the international markets for military construction with a fully operational prototype.
Although Navantia are adamant that this is the most technologically advanced submarine competing in the international market today, there is serious competition from other nations, amongst them the Germans and French, all chasing after the same business worldwide.
There are several key markets which are examining the options open to them to renovate their submarine fleets at the moment, Australia, India and Norway being the most high-profile.
Australia has been looking at the designs of the S-80 with a view to purchasing up to 12 submarines, and although Navantia and the S-80 are amongst the final selection, the director is well aware that the country may choose to support its own shipbuilding industry and insist on any construction taking place in Australia, in local yards and not in Spain.
This is different from the situation in India in which two Scorpene vessels ( the forerunners of the S-80 but built in collaboration with a French shipbuilder) are being built in France, the next 4 to be built in Indian dockyards under a technology transfer agreement.
The potential Indian market is vast, the Indian military predicted to spend somewhere between 10 and US$15 billion on strategic military hardware during the next 10 years, forced into a situation of improving its own military position by the growing power of China and the necessity to protect trade routes and the lines of communication.
As part of a move to try and update its fleet more rapidly, India has leased a Russian nuclear powered submarine into its own fleet, an Akula -II class attack submarine, a vessel with the potential to remain submerged for long periods of time, and although it would have carried nuclear weapons had it entered service in the Russian navy, ( which it didn´t due to budgetary restraints) it will not do so within the Indian Navy under its new name of the "Chakra."
Norway is also another potential market for the S-80, and Navantia will soon be submitting specifications for consideration by the Norwegian Navy as its government is looking at the options to replace its six existing vessels, which will realistically reach the end of their working lives by the end of this decade.
The Norwegian Navy will spend up to €3 billion, either renovating some of their existing vessels to maintain a mixed fleet and buying some new ones or replacing their fleet completely.
The decision is likely to be made between 2015 and 2016, and as well as the Spanish vessels, submarines, made in Germany, France and Sweden will also be considered.
Manuel Filgueira acknowledged the degree of competition internationally, and also the length of time it takes to bring these major projects to fruition, although standing firmly behind the S-80 as being the most technologically advanced model entering the market.
He also affirmed that construction is proceeding on target and that all sections will be joined by October.
The timings are essential on this project with the potential market between 130 and 140 submarine units required worldwide between now and 2020. Submarines are becoming increasingly important in strategic military planning, difficult to detect and devastatingly effective, anything on the surface being a target for these deadly machines moving stealthily beneath the waters.
Nearly 100 million euros , seven years of work, 2 million engineering man hours and the input of 250 design specialists has gone into the development of the S-80, a vessel measuring 71 metres in length, equivalent to a 20 storey high building, filled with enough cabling to reach from Cartagena to Madrid, a distance of 450 kilometres.
This submarine has been designed to meet the challenges faced by modern day navies and modern warfare, and features the latest technology and weaponry.
They´ve been designed to travel at good speeds - 18 knots when submerged, and remain submerged for long periods of time, as well as incorporating low noise, infrared, magnetic and radar signatures which help to minimize the risk of detection.
The sophisticated AIP ( Air Independent Propulsion) system is a completely new system, based on a bioethanol processor. The output feeds a series of fuel cells provided by the UTC Power company, a company specialising in the latest fuel cell technology, and also supplying fuel cells for the Space Shuttle Programme.
The finished prototype will sport a shaft diesel AIP, 3 Bio-ethanol engines, each at 1200kw and the electric motor ( 3,500kw) with 1 AIP fuel cell unit. ( 220kw), giving 12 knots on the surface and 19 submerged, displacing 2,426 tonnes when submerged.
The vessel will also carry the latest weaponry, giving the first S-81 tremendous rôle versatility:
6 x 533mm torpedo launchers
DM2/A4 multipurpose torpedoes
MK48 Antisubmarine torpedoes
UGM anti-shipping missiles
UGM-109 Cruise Tomahawks
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