Forces: U-Boats Rule The Eastern Mediterranean


May 13, 2020: In April Egypt received the third of four Type 209 submarines from manufacturer. The first one arrived at the end of 2016. These German-built boats displace 1,300 tons, are 59 meters (183 feet) long, have eight torpedo tubes, and carry 14 torpedoes (or anti-ship missiles) and a crew of 36. The top speed on the surface is 21 kilometers an hour and twice that submerged. That speed difference is because of the tear-drop shape hull, which the 209 was among the first diesel-electric boats to adopt. The 209s can operate for up to 50 days on internal fuel and supplies. Operating with a snorkel (a periscope like device which allows the diesel engine to be used while submerged) they can operate for 30 days. Operating submerged on just battery power they can operate for about 100 hours (moving at 7 kilometers an hour, a third of the cruising speed while using the diesels). Max depth is 500 meters (1,600 feet).

These are world class subs that first appeared in the early 1970s and are still in production. Only three of the 61 put into service have been retired because these boats proved quite durable and amenable to refurbishment and upgrades. Currently, Type 209s cost $500-600 million each, depending on how you equip them.

These 209s replace four Chinese Type 033s acquired in the mid-1980s and were refurbished and upgraded by the United States in the late 1990s. These are still in service. The Type 033 is a copy of the Russian Cold War Romeo class and Egypt has late model versions that comprise most of thirty or so still in service. A total of 133 were built between 1957 and 1984, most of them by China. Russia built twenty between 1957 and 1963 before turning the design over to China and North Korea. Russia developed two further classes of diesel-electric subs before introducing the revolutionary and successful Kilo class in 1980. A much improved Kilo, the Lada class, was delayed by the end of the Cold War and did not arrive until 2010.

The Romeos were the second Russian sub influenced by the revolutionary 1,600 ton German Type XXI class sub that, fortunately for the allies, did not see wide use by the end of World War II. The German subs (U-boats) did more damage than anyone else’s. The Germans kept improving the design of their U-boats and Type XXI was, at the end of the war and for a decade after that, the most advanced diesel-electric sub available. Russia and China were so impressed that they built 236 Whiskey class subs in the 1950s using a lot of the Type XXI innovations. The 1,475 ton Romeo was basically an improved Whiskey. The Romeos had eight torpedo tubes and carried 14 torpedoes or 28 mines. Top speed was (on the surface) 27 kilometers an hour. There was a crew of 54. The Kilo class was the first with a teardrop shaped hull which meant it was faster underwater than on the surface. All current diesel-electric and nuclear subs use this hull shape.

Syria also had three early model Romeos which were retired and scrapped in the 1990s. Everyone else in the eastern Mediterranean has used the German type 209. Turkey has bought 14 Type 209s, the first six between 1976 and 1989. The remainder, which were an upgraded model, arrived between 1994 and 2007. Turkey has already retired two of its older 209s. Greece bought eight Type 209s. The first four arrived between 1971 and 72. One has been retired. The second four arrived in 1979. Both Turkey and Greece received some type 209 boats. Greece received four between 2001 and 2005 while Turkey received three between 2015 and 2015 with three more on order.

Neighbor Israel has six Dolphin class subs, which replaced the older three German Type 206s by 2002. These are much upgraded Type 209s. The first one entered service in 1999 and the fifth one in 2016. The sixth one is undergoing testing and expected to enter service by the end of 2020. The Israeli Dolphin class subs have evolved into a separate class. The first three Dolphins entered service in 1999 and 2000. These 1,600 ton boats were recognized as modified (to Israeli specifications) Type 209s. But the second three were 2,050 ton boats that were called Dolphin 2 types instead of 209s. A further three are being designed and these are called the Dakar class and not very similar to Type 209s at all. The Dakars are supposed to enter service in the late 2020s.




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