counter-terror duties in the Mediterranean. The boats in question, using their
air-independent propulsion, can spend a week or more underwater, stalking
transport ships suspected of participating in terrorist operations.
Germany have each deployed one of their new Type 212 submarines (
A new generation of
non-nuclear submarines like the Russian Amur/Lama, the French Scorpene, and the
German Type 212, have been entering service in the last few years. Unlike past
non-nuclear submarines, which used diesel-electric plants, these new boats use
fuel cells or other forms of air-independent propulsion. Germany commissioned
its first Type 212 boat, using air-independent propulsion, two years ago. Four
of these are being built. These are special boats, as they possess fuel cells
(or AIP, Air Independent Propulsion) , which enable them to quietly operate
underwater for weeks at a time. They still have diesel propulsion, but this is
only used for surface travel. The 212s are also very quiet, quieter than most
nuclear boats in service. This makes them an even match for a current nuclear
boat equipped with better sensors. The 1,500 ton 212s are much smaller than
nuclear boats (188 feet long, compared to 360 feet and 6,200 tons for the new
U.S. Virginia class SSNs). The nuclear boats are used for a lot more than
hunting other ships, and subs, while the 212s are mainly attack boats, and well
designed and equipped for it.
While Germany is an
American ally, their development of fuel cell technology for subs, and use of
these boats in their own navy, are making this technology mature, and
eventually available to many more nations. These 212 boats are, expensive
(about half a billion dollars each), but that's less than a third the cost of a
nuclear boats. The 212s are also highly automated, requiring a crew of only 27.
But with six torpedo tubes, and a dozen torpedoes (plus anti-ship missiles,
launched from the tubes, as well as mines), they could be, in the wrong hands,
a major threat to the U.S. fleet. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to run (you don't
need as many skilled sailors for the crew) and very lethal, American admirals
are watching very closely who the Germans export these boats to.