Forces: January 23, 2005

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: The Israeli Navys plans for some large ships have been shelved until at least 2008 by the new navy commander. Among the shelved designs are a 13,000-ton helicopter assault ship, a 4,000-ton frigate comparable to the LCS, and a 2,750-ton corvette that would have been equipped with the Aegis combat system. Instead, the funds will be used to increase Israels force of Dolphin-class submarines and to procure more Saar 5-class corvettes.

The Israeli Navy is the smallest of the combat arms, with a peacetime strength of some 7,000 sailors, and 4,000 reservists. The Israeli Air Force has over 32,500 active-duty personnel and 54,000 reservists; the Israeli Army boasts 125,000 active-duty personnel and 600,000 reserves.

The major units of the Israeli Navy are the Dolphin-class submarines and the Saar 5-class corvettes. The Dolphin-class submarine is probably Israels most lethal weapon. Built in Germany, they displace 1,900 tons, have a top speed of 37 kilometers per hour, and have four 25.5-inch and six 21-inch torpedo tubes with a total of 16 weapons (a mix of DM2A3 torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles). The 25.5-inch torpedo tubes are reportedly for a submarine-launched cruise missile allegedly a variant of the Popeye. Other explanations for the larger torpedo tubes include launching swimmer deliver vehicles or reports that Israel was installing liners to reduce the diameter to 21 inches. In any case, these submarines clearly outclass the Romeo-class submarines in the Egyptian Navy. Israel currently has three Dolphin-class submarines, and is looking to purchase two more from Germany at a cost of $350 million each.

The three Saar 5-class corvettes (also referred to as the Eliat-class) are Israels best surface vessels. The 1,075-ton vessels are 281 feet long, and carry an impressive amount of firepower: 64 Barak surface-to-air missiles, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, eight Gabriel anti-ship missiles, two triple 12.75-inch torpedo tubes firing Mk 46 torpedoes, two 25mm Sea Vulcans, and a 20mm Phalanx CIWS (for destroying incoming missiles). Top speed is 61 kilometers per hour. These vessels entered service in 1993 and 1994. They are still perhaps the best surface combatants in the region, with Egypts four second-hand Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates as perhaps the only real vessels capable of standing up to them. The decision to consider purchasing more of the Eliat-class vessels is probably an indication that the Israelis are somewhat concerned about the quantitative disadvantage they are facing.

Israel also has seven Saar 4.5-class vessels (also known as the Hetz-class). These 450-ton vessels also pack a punch: 32 Barak surface-to-air missiles, eight Harpoon and six Gabriel anti-ship missiles, a 76mm gun, and a Phalanx. These vessels supplement the Eliat-class vessels, and versions have been exported to Chile, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

The toughest opponent of Israels Navy is not from any Arab force, but probably the Israeli Air Force. The Israeli defense budget stayed at its 2004 level of $8 billion. The increase in costs has led to the various services (Army, Navy, and Air Force) fighting to keep their operational capabilities. The Israeli Air Force, in particular does not wish to lose anything to the Navy. Due to the lack of a significant threat from Arab navies, the Israeli Navy is on the short end of the stick for now. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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