Both mega projects — the estimated $2 billion, three-vessel Dolphin-class air independent propulsion (AIP) program and the estimated €500 million (US $560 million), four-ship Sa'ar-6 corvette program — are subsidized in part by the German government.
They also involve extensive Israel-unique engineering modificatoins, which a top officer in Israel said benefits not only the Israeli Navy but the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) shipyards, too.
"Building for the Israel Navy enriches your brand as a marine company," Rear Adm. Yossi Ashkenazi, head of the Israeli Navy's Materiel Command, said of TKMS, the Kiel-based prime contractor for both programs.
Aside from the employment gained as a result of these long-running, multiyear programs, proprietary Israeli technology developed for both programs improves the competitive standing of the shipyard and its string of subcontractors, said Ashkenazi.
"When TKMS goes on a road show around the world and they show our Israeli products, it puts them in different places compared to other civilian industries and competitors. … The same is true for the providers of electric motors, gear boxes and other major components of the programs."
The Israeli officer noted that while Israel owns the intellectual property for technologies and engineering changes developed for the two programs, such technologies could be marketed for other customers. "It's not only the shipyards that benefit from working on an Israeli project, but also the major suppliers."
A TKMS spokesman characterized the Israeli Navy as "a longstanding customer … who places the highest demands on their naval capabilities."
"We always strive to work together with our customers closely in order to tailor our solutions to the customer's needs and to further advance our systems based on customer feedback and operational experience," he said.
INS Dakar Comes Together
Israel's sixth and final Dolphin-class submarine with AIP capability on order from TKMS – the INS Dakar – is at the stage where nearly all sections of the sub are fully equipped and aligned, ready for mating into a single, 220-foot-long hull.
"About a year ago, you'd only see random sections, with all the equipment outside," Ashkenazi said. "Today you see most of the equipment is already after installment in the body of the sub. The sections of the entire submarines are aligned … and in about six months, it will assume the shape of what we're calling the INS Dakar."
Like the INS Tanin that arrived in Israel in 2014 and the INS Rahav that reached home port in January of this year, the Dakar features an AIP suite that is unique to Israel's Navy, he said.
"It's not a design that you can find on the market. It's not Type 123 or 300 or 400. Yes, others have AIP, but the combination of all our subsystems create a Dolphin 2-class Type that is characterized only by our fleet," he said.
The officer said sea trials could be delayed until later next year to ensure that Israel has incorporated the most advanced technologies in the platform. "We don't have an exact date, because we're evaluating other technologies in the fields of navigation and detection. There are things we may want to add to the submarine, so it could be delayed by a few months."
When the submarine finally leaves Germany, it will embark on what is called an administrative sail, meaning the vessel is equipped with navigation, communication and self-defense capabilities but without the combat weapons suite, which will be integrated in Israel.
On the way home, it will make a ceremonial stop at the point near Crete, where wreckage from the original INS Dakar was discovered, to honor the crewmen who perished in 1968.
Designing a New EEZ Defense Fleet
Co-located at TKMS headquarters in Kiel is another Israeli Navy team dedicated to supervising the shipyard's Israeli-tailored design of four new, 2,000-ton warships loosely based on the Blohm+Voss-class 130 corvettes.
Intended for defending offshore energy facilities and other strategic sites in Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the new ships — known in Israel as Sa'ar-6 Magen (Shield) — will be larger than the three 1,300-ton US-built Sa'ar-5s that now form the backbone of Israel's surface fleet.
And like the Dolphin 2-class submarines, Israel's new surface fleet will feature Israeli-developed technologies and significant engineering changes to render the German baseline platform militarily robust and uniquely capable of accommodating indigenous sensors and combat gear.
In this program, TKMS is the prime contractor responsible for design of the corvettes, while a separate, competing organization — German Naval Yards Kiel (GNYK) — will manage production.
"There's some complexity involved because TKMS and GNYK are separate organizations with different cultures that compete on other projects," Ashkenazi said.
Nevertheless, he added, "by forging an alliance with these two organizations we hope to get in the end a very unique, quality product … no less than the level we are expecting and receiving on the submarine project."
"We're in the advanced design phase now," said the Navy captain, who reports to Ashkenazi but was not permitted to be identified by name.
According to the captain, the new corvettes will feature Barak-8 and Iron Dome interceptors, both of which will be supported by the Elta ELM-2248 Adir surveillance, track and guidance radar. In order to accommodate the radar's four phased-array panels, the service is redesigning the topside arrangement of the baseline ship and its supporting hull, mechanical and electrical systems.
Officers here said keel laying should take place next summer, with delivery of the first ship by early 2019. "After delivery of the first one, we hope the others will follow in six month intervals," Ashkenazi said.
He estimated that it could take another six months to one year to equip the new vessels with the radar, sensors and weaponry needed to defend EEZ assets.
"These two mega projects — the subs and the corvettes — will put the Israel Navy in another league, in terms of technology and capabilities. When we speak about the near sea arena, and we look at the major investments in our neighbors' fleets, these assets will give us the added flexibility and agility we need to retain our edge," Ashkenazi said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.