In May 2000 Israel is reported to have secretly carried out its first test launches from two German-built Dolphin-class submarines of cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The missiles launched from vessels off Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean are said to have hit a target at a range of about 1,500 kilometers. Israel is reported to possess a 200kg nuclear warhead, containing 6kg of plutonium, that could be mounted on cruise missiles.
Israel has reportedly developed an air-launched cruise missile that could be operational by 2002, called the Popeye Turbo. The Popeye Turbo, with a range that is variously reported at between 200 km and 350 km, would appear to represent a turbo-jet powered cruise missile that may incorporate avionics and other components developed for the Popeye family of missiles. The AGM-142 HAVE NAP is a variant of the Israeli Air Force "Popeye" missile, which uses a solid propellant rocket motor. The Popeye II, also known as the Have Lite, is a smaller missile with more advanced technology. Designed for deployment on fighter aircraft, Popeye II has a range of 150 kilometers.
The Popeye Turbo missile is probably similar to if not identical with the Israeli submarine-launced cruise missile carried on the Dolphin-class submarines. The baseline Popeye missile with a range of 45 miles has a diameter of 21 inches, and is nearly 16 feet long. For comparison, the American MK-48 heavy torpedo is 21 inches in diameter, and 19 feet long, while the BGM-109 Tomahawk SLCM is 20.4 inches in diameter and 20.5 feet long [including the booster motor], and the Russian SS-N-21 SLCM is similar in configuration and dimensions to the American Tomahawk.
The reported range of 1,500 km for the SLCM tested in May 2000 is several times greater than the previously reported range for the Popeye Turbo. However, the Popeye Turbo is a poorly attested missile, and the open literature provides little information on this system. Indeed, because of the small size of the vehicle and the limited testing program to date, it is entirely possible that even the US intelligence community has only limited insight into the capabilities of this system. There is no particular reason to doubt that Israel could develop a variant of the Popeye Turbo with a range of 1,500 km, simply by lengthening the fuel tank associated with a 300-350 km variant reported by US intelligence. At present it is not possible to determine whether the US intelligence has under-estimated the range of this missile, or whether news reports have over-estimated the missile's range. The longer range reported in June 2000 is certainly consistent with Israeli targetting requirements.
It is generally agreed that these submarines are outfitted with six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes suitable for the 21-inch torpedoes that are normally used on most submarines, including those of the United States. Some reports suggest that the submarines have a total of ten torpedo tubes -- six 533-millimeter and four 650-millimeter. Uniquely, the Soviet navy deployed the Type 65 heavy-weight torpedo using a 650-millimeter tube. The four larger 25.5 inch diameter torpedo tubes could be used to launch a long-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM).
Three 1,925 ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines have been built in German shipyards for the Israel Navy. Modern submarines with the most advanced sailing and combat systems in the world, they combine extensive sophistication with very easy operation. The purpose of these submarines is to enable the Israel Navy to meet all the tasks faced in the Mediterranean Sea in the 21st century. The submarines cost $320 million each, and are twice as big as the aging Gal-class submarines that the Israeli navy has relied on to date.
The submarine has the capacity to carry anti-ship missiles, mines, decoys and STN Atlas wire-guided DM2A3 torpedoes. The surface-to-surface missiles may include the submarine-launched Harpoon which delivers a 227 kilogram warhead to a range of 130 kilometres at high subsonic speed. It is generally agreed that these submarines are outfitted with six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes suitable for the 21-inch torpedoes that are normally used on most submarines, including those of the United States.
Some reports suggest that the submarines have a total of ten torpedo tubes -- six 533-millimeter and four 650-millimeter. Uniquely, the Soviet navy deployed the Type 65 heavy-weight torpedo using a 650-millimeter tube. The four larger 25.5 inch diameter torpedo tubes could be used to launch a long-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). According to some reports the submarines may be capable of carrying nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles, with a goal of deterring an enemy from trying to take out its nuclear weapons with a surprise attack.
Under a system of rotation, some sources claim that two of the vessels would remain at sea: one in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the other in the Mediterranean. A third would remain on standby.
The project initially was structured to include an industrial team consisting of HDW and Thyssen Nordseewerke, lead by Ingalls Shipbuilding. The project, under which the boats would be built in the United States by Ingalls using US FMS funds, was cancelled in 1990. The crews of the submarines started training in 1994, and participated in the building process as well as in the acceptance procedures for weapon systems. Germany donated two of these submarines to Israel, which were delivered in 1997. Israel bought a third Dolphin submarine from Germany. The project to build the Israeli Navy's third submarine, named "Tekumah ," was launched in Germany on 09 July 1998 with the participation of Defense Ministry Director General Ilan Biran and other naval officers. Tekumah [T'kuma] is the Hebrew word for "revival." The third submarine arrived in Israel during mid-1999.
A major role for hunter, killer and patrol submarines is the destruction of enemy submarines and shipping. In order to achieve this, the submarine must load, store and launch a range of stores. The submarine must also detect its target while attempting to remain covert. The Israel Navy has three Gal submarines. They were built in the 1970s at the Vickers shipyard in Britain, based on German blueprints. The Gal submarines are an important part of the main combat force of the Israel Navy.
The German Type 209 diesel electric submarine is the most popular export-sales submarine in the world, and sales continue as smaller nations modernize their aging fleets. Greece was the first country to order this type of submarine from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) of Kiel, Germany, and the first batch of these submarines entered service in 1971. The 1,200-ton Type 209 submarine is a hunter killer submarine that India purchased from HDW, Germany. The initial contract was for 2 submarines to be sold and for 4 more to be constructed at the Mazagaon docks in Mumbai. The deal however went sour when it was hit by a bribery scandal, after the first four ships were delivered to the Indian Navy.
Advances in electric drive and power conditioning were introduced into the German Type 212. This German submarine has low and balanced signatures including acoustic signatures, longer submerged mission capability and a modern combat system with sophisticated sensors and state of the art torpedoes. The technologies inherent in this design include a fuel cell air independent propulsion (AIP) system with a back up single diesel generator, highly modular arrangements of critical areas and the frame carrying the diesel generator and auxiliary equipment such as the hydraulic pumps, compressors, etc.- is enclosed in a sound absorbent capsule and isolated from the pressure hull. The AIP system utilized is more commonly called 'MESMA'. Translated it means Autonomous Submarine Energy Module and was developed for submarines.
The 1,720-ton Dolphin class is evidently somewhat larger than the 1,500-ton Type 212 submarines, and incorporates a conventional diesel-electric propulsion system rather than the AIP system.
The detection that the submarines were equipped with two types of torpedo tubes (533mm and 650mm respectively) fueled speculation that the submarine might have a possible nuclear role, given that 533mm torpedo tubes would have been sufficient for the weaponry that was to be installed on board.
When questioned about this in parliament, the German government confirmed the presence of the 650mm tubes in the Dolphin submarines but could not provide an explanation, other than that the tubes were to be fitted with liners upon delivery to reduce the tubes' diameters to 533mm. Because 50% of design rights are reported to belong to Israel, and, as a result it had no 'design authority', the German government claimed that it could not have any knowledge of the larger tubes' purpose.
An article published by the Los Angeles Times in mid-October 2003, indicated that Israel had successfully modified American-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles for use with nuclear warheads on its submarines. The process would have involved reducing the size of the warheads to fit inside the missiles as well as altering the guidance systems so as to be able to hit land-based targets, but would enable Israel to deliver nuclear weapons from the sea virtually unimpedded. The claim was however disputed by Israeli and others who questioned the ability of the Harpoon missile to carry a nuclear payload.
As of early November 2003, it was reported by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung, that Germany`s leading shipyard company HDW was involved in negotiations with Israel to construct two additional Dolphin submarines. HDW confirmed these conversations, which were said to be of a purely technical nature and claimed the German government had approved them. It was also reported that Israeli engineers had modified the missile launching pads of earlier Dolphin submarines at the Kiel's HDW dockyard, possibly to accomodate nuclear warheads.
The German Focus magazine reported on November 24, 2003, that the German government had halted the delivery of the two submarines to Israel. It was later clarified that while Israel did have an interest in additional submarines, given the financial burden associated with such a deal for Israel, Washington or Germany, only technical negotiations were being conducted with HDW, and that as a result, neither a formal nor preliminary request for any export license had been issued. The German Green party, however, who had originally opposed the delivery of the first three dolphin submarines, demanded that, in the future, additional submarines could only be delivered to Israel on the basis of a binding assurance that they would not be used as nuclear weapons platforms.
Displacement 1640 surfaced
1,720-1900 [est] submerged
Propulsion Diesel-electric 3 diesels, 1 shaft, 4,243 shp
Length 57.3 m (188ft)
Beam 6.8 m (22.6ft)
Draft 6.2 m (20.5ft)
Height 12.7 m
Speed 20 knots submerged
11 knots snorkeling
Operating Depth Deeper than 200m (600 feet)
Armament 6 x 21 inch (533mm) torpedo tubes (14 torpedoes & Harpoon SSM) German-built
4 x 25.6 inch (650mm) bow torpedo tubes
Range 4500 miles at 8 knots
Provision More than one month
Number Name Year Homeport
?? Dolphin 5/1998 --
?? Leviathan 1999 --
?? Tekumah 1999 --
?? -- ? 2006 --
-- -- ? 2007 --
Based at Haifa, the Israeli Navy (IN) currently operates three modern, diesel-electric, Dolphin-class submarines. The IN is reportedly interested in acquiring at least two more units. In December 2003, two of Israel's three decommissioned Gal-class submarines arrived in Kiel for refits and modernization at Germany's Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft. They are to be reactivated for the IN.
As previous conflicts involving Israel began with naval blockades, Israel's submarine force is viewed as critical to national security. It is intended to exercise sea control over the Eastern Mediterranean and secure sea lines of communication; Israel is dependent on imports of grain, crude oil, and raw materials.[2,3]
Given Arab-Israeli tensions, and the alleged development of WMD capacities by some of its neighbors, Israel increasingly has been devoting funding toward countering these threats. Acknowledging Israel's lack of strategic depth, its officials have pointed out that only submarines can provide a secure weapons platform in the future. While HDW has stated that Israel's Dolphin-class submarines were equipped with weapon systems similar to those installed on other diesel-electric submarines, various sources have reported that upon their arrival in Israel, the submarines were modified, and fitted with cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
Some reports suggest that Israel has adapted Harpoon cruise missiles, which have a range of 130 kilometers, to carry an indigenously developed nuclear warhead and guidance system, though other experts argue that such modifications to a Harpoon missile are not feasible. Others believe that Israel has developed an indigenous cruise missile with a range of 320 kilometers that is believed to be a version of Rafael Armament Development Authority’s Popeye turbo cruise missile. Still others believe that the missile may be a version of the Gabriel 4LR that is produced by Israel Aircraft Industries. Once encapsulated, it could be launched in 533mm torpedo tubes similar to the Harpoon. Such speculation was further fueled by an unconfirmed test of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) in the Indian Ocean in 2000. Some reports claimed targets 1,500 kilometers away were hit.[7,9] Such a range, however, implies an entirely new type of missile.[7,8,10] However, the Israeli Defense Forces denies any such missile tests.[7,11]
In June 2002, former State Department and Pentagon officials confirmed that the U.S. Navy observed Israeli missile tests in the Indian Ocean in 2000, and that the Dolphin-class vessels have been fitted with nuclear-capable cruise missiles of a new design. Israel issued new denials, albeit in an indirect manner. In October 2003, unidentified senior U.S. and Israeli officials were quoted as saying that Israel had successfully modified nuclear warheads to fit its Harpoon missiles.
Whatever the missile currently arming Israel's Dolphin-class submarines, it seems clear that Israel is interested in the acquisition of new cruise missiles. Its request for U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles was rejected by the Clinton administration in 2000, since such a sale would have violated the Missile Technology Control Regime, which prohibits the transfer of missiles with a range exceeding 300 kilometers. However, it is likely only a matter of time before Israel is capable of mounting nuclear weapons on its submarine-launched missiles, if it has not done so already.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the arming of Israel's submarines has received a great deal of attention. The Dolphin-class was designed in accordance with Israeli demands, and includes a "wet and dry" compartment for special operations as well as four 650mm torpedo tubes, which could be used for Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). However, the German Defense Ministry has stated that these larger tubes were intended to fire Harpoons. Upon delivery to Israel, liners were to be fitted to decrease the diameter of the tubes to accommodate the 533mm Harpoon containers. However, the Dolphin-class is equipped with six 533mm torpedo tubes as well, which are capable of launching Harpoons. It seems possible, therefore, that the 650mm tubes might have been designed to accommodate indigenously built, long-range SLCMs. The German government has acknowledged that it could not rule out different equipment being installed on the submarines.
The IN has long been interested in acquiring at least two additional submarines, ideally of the same type. In November 2005, outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder approved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines to Israel for a total of €1 billion ($1.17 billion USD). Berlin is ready to provide up to €333 million in funding from the German federal budget. The new boats will be equipped with 650mm torpedo tubes—again leading to much speculation that the Israelis intend to outfit the submarines with nuclear-armed cruise missiles. For more information on Israeli submarine imports, see the Israel: Import Behavior file.
Before obtaining the Dolphins, the IN depended upon three Gal-class submarines, designed by Germany for Israel, and constructed at the Vickers Shipyard in the United Kingdom in 1973-77. The Gal-class is a modified Type 206A coastal submarine. The Gals were decommissioned when the Dolphins were commissioned into the IN, and Israel had planned to sell the vessels. However, Israel eventually decided not to sell the submarines; instead, it will recommission them after they have been modernized by HDW.