Israel’s Boomers On the Rise

By Joe Buff — Defense Tech Undersea Warfare Contributor

The State of Israel has long followed what early nuclear war-fighting theorist Henry Kissinger called a policy of nuclear ambiguity. Israel, officially, neither confirms nor denies possessing any nuclear arms, although many defense analysts, politicians, and diplomats the world over have long considered Israel an undeclared nuclear power. To have nukes for strategic deterrence would make sense for such a small nation surrounded by enemies. These enemies don’t just include today’s dangerously volatile nuclear aspirant Iran but also Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War (he did have some WMDs then and fired Scud ballistic missiles into Israel), Egypt’s unpredictable Soviet-backed Gamal Nasser in the ’60s, and even unsuccessful but aspiring nuclear power Nazi Germany coincident with Hitler’s Holocaust – a direct precursor to modern Israel’s birth as a sovereign nation.

Since 1948 the Israeli Navy has had mixed success, helping protect the country’s relatively long, two-part coastline from invasion from the sea by terrorists, defending its vital interests in the Med and Red Seas, but also losing vessels and crews to land-launched anti-ship missiles and tragically losing a diesel sub with all hands in the ’60s (to what was later shown to be a collision at sea). Don’t forget it’s been at the center of PR crises involving losses inflicted on foreign neutral warships and activist non-combatants alike.

Against this background, Israel has, for decades, maintained a small submarine force – interestingly, in partnership with Germany — maker of “frighteningly effective” (as Winston Churchill called them) diesel subs in WWI and WWII. Germany has since manufactured the Type 206, then the global best-seller Type 209 and most recently, the Howaldtswerke-Deutche Werft AG’s state-of-the-art Type 212 U-boats.  (Type 214 designates the export-model 212; Dolphin-class is Israel’s name for their customized 214s.) From the 209 on, these are available with conventional diesel-electric power plus air-independent propulsion. The fuel cell AIP system allows quiet, continuously submerged and non-snorkeling, low-speed cruising for up to 84 days at a time.

Israel is reported to have deployed, for some time, three pure-diesel Dolphin-class boats, and will expand via a total now of three additional Dolphins with AIP to a total of six subs by 2013. Each of these is supposedly armed with nuclear-tipped, torpedo tube-launched cruise missiles in addition to a handful of German-made wire guided high explosive torpedoes. An early version of such cruise missile was derived from the U.S. Navy’s Sub-Harpoon, with a rather small nuke payload and a range of some 75 miles. The boats patrol submerged (as much as each design permits) mostly in the Med but more recently also in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. They serve as a second strike capability, a sub-launched nuclear deterrent analogous to, for instance, the U.S. Navy’s current SSBNs; the aging nuclear propelled Ohio-class which usually go out for 70-day “Hide with Pride” patrols.

That is, except for the first 4 Ohios, which were modified into highly successful SSGNs for conventional cruise missile barrages and heavy special ops deployment and support. The basic German designs and/or the customizations for Israel can be SSGs too, since their (up to ten?) cruise missiles can certainly be conventionally armed. The subs can also carry a few (ten?) commandos with their gear, and deploy and retrieve them via an internal lock-in/lock-out chamber.  Swimmer delivery vehicles (up to four?) can be carried in the wider of the torpedo tubes (25.5-inch vice 21-inch) serving as ersatz dry deck shelters. These Israeli U-boats can also deploy undersea mines, useful in extremis in the littoral waters with heavy shipping where the IDF supposedly sends them.

Just last week, more information was released officially in Berlin and Jerusalem regarding Israel’s latest submarine deal; the purchase of a modified “Type 212” (does the media mean Type 214?) from Germany, with – as with prior deals – a substantial level of cost subsidization and financing by the German government.  The new sub is also “nuclear capable,” a term generally meaning it has been equipped with the additional electronics and mechanical systems needed for nuclear weapons safety, surety, and firing.

The media is saying this sub can launch ballistic missiles, though almost certainly this should say cruise missiles — such as Israel’s new Popeye Turbo with a range of nearly 1,000 miles at a Tomahawk-like speed of maybe Mach 0.7. The design limitations of both the small sub (22-foot beam) and a big, heavy theater ballistic nuclear missile (Scud B is 37′ x 35”) seem to preclude the one fitting inside the other. A ballistic missile’s fast warhead delivery time, via high hypersonic (Mach 16?) speeds and a necessarily trans-atmospheric trajectory (like the old V-2’s), though valuable for a second-strike weapon, comes at substantial cost in length and mass.  The problem is like trying to deploy Trident strategic ballistic missiles inside a lengthened and/or (noisy, unstable) hunch-backed Virginia-class SSN, as some sort of poor man’s Ohio-replacement SSBN.  However, in Israel’s case, theater-wide ranges with up to 90-minute delivery times, such as Popeye Turbo’s, are truly strategic.

  • Robert Mandel

    Are the mullahs concerned about a retaliatory strike,or are they willing to die in order to just get off a nuclear first strike on Tel Aviv? Does anyone have any idea as to whether Teheran is willing to risk nuclear obliteration? I do not think any body really knows.

    • BGrubbs

      The fact that you even raise the question should be enough of a scare for us all. Even in the depths of the Cold War, we new the Soviets were rational actors who would not commit national suicide for their dogmatic beliefs. MAD worked with the Soviets. I wish we were as confident with Iran.

    • GunnyJames

      Probably, since most of the “religous” leaders are in Qom.

    • Jorge Banner

      No, they don’t. They expect a kind of 2nd Coming of their own or something of the kind so they’ll walk willingly into their own nuclear holocaust if they think that they will thus hasten their religious fantasies.

      • Cranky Observer

        Kinda like the End Times thing?


  • Khu43

    Why is the German taxpayer forced to pay for Israel’s submarines? Is that part of the 6billion the Germans are required to pay Israel till the end of time?

  • TLAM Strike

    “Type 214 designates the export-model 212; Dolphin-class is Israel’s name for their customized 214s.”

    That is incorrect the Dolphin is a highly modified Type 209 1300/1400/1500 design. The Type 212 incorporated some of the streamlining features from the Dolphin.

  • Joe Buff

    TLAM Strike: thanks much for your comment. What I said is the info given me privately for this article to clarify ambiguities/errors in what is said in the media, including military-oriented trade press. That person is a former Submariner Skipper then 4-striper who actively consults to the US SubForce now. But perhaps he is also wrong?


    * I like how the above facts are based on Wikipedia.

    I think it’s awesome that Israel is getting U-boats.

    Who would of thought.


    • Joe Schmoe

      On that same note of irony; Israel’s first planes were mainly BF-109’s and first rifles were KAR-98’s.

  • Roland

    They (Israelis) wont probably need us (USA) in the event of a conflict with Iran if they have 1000’s of this.

  • gue

    According to Jpost: “Germany donated Israel’s first two submarines after the first Gulf War and, according to the German press, split the cost of the third with Israel.”
    And according to Reuters (as quoted on Wikipedia): “The two submarines [4 & 5] cost, overall, around 1.3 billion euro, of up to one-third was paid by Germany.”
    And again Jpost/Der Spiegel about n. 6: “[Germany] will subsidize the deal with a total of 135 million euros… The vessel will cost between $500 million and $700m.” => a 20-25% subsidy.

    The subsidy decreases over time. Make of it what you will.

  • John Moore

    Why are they green as opposed to black like most other subs?

  • PolicyWonk

    While Isreal officially neither confirms or denies having nukes, the US Army DID confirm Isreal having nukes a year ago last Spring in their international capabilities assessment report. That sort of puts the US into a quandry, as it is illegal fo rhte US to give aid to nuclear countries that deny having them.

  • PolicyWonk

    Oh yes – the Iranians, even if they get nukes, might make a lot of noise, but they’ll NEVER attack Isreal. Because they know Iran will be turned into a sea of glass in the retaliatory strike – just like it was between the US and USSR.

  • Lance

    This is a must for Israel since this is the only way they could take out Iranian nuclear facilities is with a missile attack by sub from the Indian ocean or Persian Gulf.

  • Cranky Observer

    Actually about 3 years ago the Prime Minster of Israel confirmed, albeit accidentally, that Israel does possess nuclear weapons. Which as noted above creates an immediate conflict with US Non-Proliferation Act, which conflict was immediately ignored.


  • justaying

    Since when did scud missiles become WMDs?

  • Hunter78

    Israel cannot claim “foul” when her neighbors develop nukes.

  • Joe Buff

    The delivery system is not the WMD, the warhead is the thing.

  • In reference to PolicyWonk:

    You could be correct to assume that Iran/Israel is similar to USSR/US(and allies) but the REAL reason that Iran is not going to nuke Israel is because just as Israel sees Israel as the holy land given to them by God, Muslims also believe that the same ground is holy to them, and that the land should be incorporated into the all-muslim state of ‘Palestine’.

    That’s not to say however, that one of Israel’s enemies might sanction a contained and restricted attack on a smaller city or military base. But why would a Muslim country destroy want they want for themselves. The greatest danger to Israel involving nuclear weapons is that posed by freelance or organisational terrorists.

    and also, in reference to the WMD debate, in my view, a delivery vehicle counts as a WMD when it’s only use is as a weapons vehicle. For example, a SSBN (like the US ohio) could be used for cruise missiles or special forces (like someone mentioned earlier in this article), just as a bomber aircraft can be used for cargo, air-drops, other weapons, transport etc. However a delievery body such as Trident is only used as a nuclear carrier, therefore it is a WMD

  • LEP1

    The article erroneously mentions that the Israeli IDF Navy has lost warships to land-based anti-ship missiles. In the late-1960s (after the June 1967 Six Day War) Egyptian Soviet-made fast attack missile boats (Komar class?) sank the Israeli IDF Navy destroyer EILAT with Styx SSMs (EILAT was a British-built ex-Egyptian Navy destroyer that had been captured by Israeli forces during the 1956 Suez Crisis and returned to service under Israeli colors) . IDF Navy missile boats of the Saar (modified French Combattante I class) successfully engaged Syrian Soviet-built missile boats during the October 1973 War with SSMs, and were also able to defend against incoming high trajectory and very subsonic Styx SSMs both with ECM and conventional 20 mm and 12.7 mm A/A fire. On July 12, 2006 the IDF Navy missile corvette HANIT (Saar VII class) was hit by an Iranian copy of the Chinese C802 SSM or by an Iranian-made Kowsar SSM that was launched from land by Hezbollah forces in the area of Beirut, Lebanon. HANIT suffered serious damage and lost four (4) of her crew but did not sink and since then has been repaired and returned to active duty.

  • Oblat

    Makes a strong case for an Iranian nuclear deterrent.

  • Earren

    For those that actually care to be informed and can read without prejudging, i recommend the following book: The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation; by Thomas C. Reed. Enjoy.

  • Roland

    Maybe Israel needs to reinvent itself and produce its own subs for thier country’s self defense.

    • Tom

      The cost of building a domestic submarine building base in Israel (which has no significant shipbuilding industry) would be prohibitively expensive given the small number of submarines they have.

  • israeli

    I think a strong israel in the middle east is the west interest, just imagine the middle east with out israel?
    who will be in charge?

    • none of them would effectively rule the ME. They’d spend too much time quarrelling about who was right or wrong. Much like parliment, only nation states

    • aSDF

      why is it the west interest? peaceful saudi arabia is for example.

  • aSDF

    the funny thing is that iran has had WMD for a long time – chem and bio, and nobody is complaining much.

  • Jean

    Why does the American gov’t continue to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to Israel when all they do with it is buy weapons that help enslave the native arab population? This seems to go against everything American was founded upon.

  • bubba birner

    Great let Israel nuke the Iraqis and all the other rag heads and do the job for us

  • madhur

    this news report about K-15 Sagarika / Sea Lance is shared development between India and Israel absolutely fantastic imaginative reporting from some journalist…where is the proof so support such speculation ?

  • another israeli

    germans are not stuped
    they are giving to israel for free 3 subs israel buynig 3 subs
    the next year every one how has the $ want to buy german subs
    why not ,they are the best disel subs there is – israel has some.
    look at the hestory -” f-16 fighters” today everyone has them
    it’s simple ,just good business – that’s all .

  • jgarbuz

    First of all, Germany’s debt to the Jewish nation is ETERNAL and it is the duty of the German nation to do everything possible to help protect the existence of the Jewish nation FOREVER. Nobody is asking Germany to send troops to fight alongside the IDF, but all Israel asks is the hardware with which to defend itself.
    As for the Restitution payments paid out by Germany, they come out to maybe $15,000 for every Jew they murdered. Only a few thousand Nazis ever paid with their lives for the crimes they committed. Just the amount of Jewish properties lost and destroyed alone is estimated to have been 3 times that which Germany has paid out to date. And the number of Jews living in Germany today is only 1/4 of what it was before 1933, and Polish Jewry was 90% wiped out, with only 1% left in Poland today.

  • Elijah

    Just thinking about going underwater scares me. Its hard to tell what one may lose down there.