Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Israeli Nuclear-armed Submarines

Here is an interesting headline that caught my attention:  “Israel to Dispatch Nuclear-Armed Subs, Report Says.” The GSN article in turn cites a Xinhua News Agency piece that mentioned that

Just weeks ago it was reported that Israel's "German-built" submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are about to be deployed to the Gulf, just off the coast of Iran.

The Xinhua News Agency piece, however, was not primarily focused on the deployment of Israeli submarines off the Iranian coast, but rather on the mysteries surrounding a German-Israeli submarine deal that dates back to the 1990s. 

In the 1990s, following the first Gulf War, Germany built and sold Israel three Dolphin class submarines, which Israel has operated for the last decade. Germany is also in the process of building two more submarines for Israel, due to be delivered by 2012. Germany covered more than eighty percent of the cost of the original three submarines, and is covering about a third of the later two. 

The Xinhua News Agency piece concerns conflicting media reports about a possible Israeli desire to purchase a sixth submarine but an unwillingness by the German government to subsidize the purchase in the face of domestic budget constraints. In the face of public reports, the Israeli Defense Ministry released a statement saying that

Following press reports, we wish to clarify that there are no negotiations with Germany for the purchase by Israel of an additional submarine

And AFP reported that

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said there were "no concrete negotiations between Israel and Germany about a sixth submarine" and he could not comment on possible "informal talks" on the subject.

The submarines cost between $600 and $700 million, a significant hurdle to an unsubsidized Israeli purchase. As Reuters explained

Israel would find it extremely hard to buy the vessels without German subsidies, having decided last week to trim its defense budget by 5 pct in 2011 and in 2012.

But besides the conflicting reports about whether Israel is interested in another submarine, whether the Germans are willing to subsidize that submarine, whether Angela Merkel and Benjamin Netanyahu have discussed the issue, and how the plans fit into future German and Israeli defense expenditures, nothing new has emerged. The more interesting news related to the Dolphin class submarines dates from a May 30th article from the Times of London which claimed that

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.

The article explained that while the submarines have visited the Persian Gulf before,

the decision has now been taken to ensure a permanent presence of at least one of the vessels.

The Times article provides little in terms of information about the source, but quotes unnamed Israeli naval service members about the capabilities of the Israeli submarines. According to the Times,

Each of the submarines has a crew of 35 to 50, commanded by a colonel capable of launching a nuclear cruise missile.

The vessels can remain at sea for about 50 days and stay submerged up to 1,150ft below the surface for at least a week. Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal.

“The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran,” said a navy officer.

Because Israel maintains a position of ambiguity about its nuclear status, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the claims, though outside experts widely agree that a portion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal based off submarines. Nevertheless, the sum of the various outside reports on the Dolphin class submarines, in addition to May 2000 reports about Israeli cruise missile tests, certainly seems to suggest that Israel has successfully developed and deployed an assured second-strike nuclear capability based off the Dolphin-class submarine. The nuclear submarines compliment the silo-based Jericho-1 and -2 missiles that form the other pillar of Israeli’s second-strike capability. Israel’s small size and close proximity to adversaries make it especially susceptible to a debilitating first strike, and therefore, emphasize the need for, and value of, an assured second-strike capability. In the strategic parlance of nuclear deterrence, an assured second-strike capability will make Israel less prone to use its nuclear weapons because it won’t need to adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude, and can have confidence that it can ride out any attack and still deliver a devastating response. With two foundations for its second strike capability (hardened silos and nuclear-armed submarines), Israel may feel less inclined to embrace an assertive deterrent strategy, and more willing to put confidence in its deterrent.  

Off Subject - here is a good music video dedicated to our fallen troops:

No comments: