Navantia and their Submarine Offer to the Philippine Navy

The Philippine Navy is pursuing its submarine acquisition project in its full aspiration of having a capable naval force, whereby getting such platforms may help improve the naval service branch's minimum credible defense efforts that come alongside the overall aspirations of the Philippine Armed Forces. 

As the Philippine Navy submarine acquisition project usually comes with two competing shipbuilders that aim to secure the contract for this project, this topic will involve the third shipbuilder that recently joined the competition as they offer their indigenously designed platform as they aim to secure this segment of the country's national defense market for sophisticated military hardware.

Isaac Peral-class submarines, Navantia, S-80 Plus Submarine, Spanish shipbuilder, Philippine Navy, PN Submarine Acquisition Project
The Spanish shipbuilder offered their S-80 Plus Submarine to the Philippine Navy.
Image Source.

For the past few months, the Philippine Navy's Submarine Acquisition Project received multiple updates, of which we have it discussed on a separate article, although the highlight points out to the recent comprehensive packages that both France's Naval Group and South Korea's Hanwha Ocean has offered to the fleet, which at this point comes as a complete submarine acquisition package.

The former focuses much on providing a submarine base for the Philippine Navy on top of just providing a pair of Scorpene-class Submarines, comprehensive training for the aspiring submarine crew onboard, and a credit line financing arrangement with the French Government. The latter comes with their own set of offers that also provide their own credit line financing, training for personnel, and the delivery of a pair of DSME-1400PN submarines that are designed after the South Korean Chang Bogo-class.

On this report that involves a press briefing coming from the Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, their offer for the Philippine Navy's submarine acquisition project involves at least a pair of S-80 Plus submarines or more known in Spain as the Isaac Peral-class Submarines, while they also come with similar packages that involve training with the Spanish Navy, a credit line financing that comes directly from the Spanish government, and their own set of plans involving a submarine base.

Unlike the usual Agila Shipyard enhancements for a submarine base that the likes of Naval Group marketed before the planners within the Philippine Navy, the version provided by Navantia presented an entirely different location for a submarine base, specifically pointing to the place of Ormoc, Leyte. The location comes far from the West Philippine Sea, although the area presents an idea that the submarines can travel in the southern parts of the country in a short time.

Also in the same report comes Navantia's another offer to the Philippine Navy, this time with their Close-In Weapons System pitch, as they offer the Rheinmetall Oerlikon Millenium  35mm CIWS guns that are intended for the two Jose Rizal-class Frigates that are currently serving actively in service within the Philippine fleet. This means that they are directly in competition with Turkish ASELSAN GOKDENIZ 35mm CIWS gun, a platform that may likely on its way onboard the upcoming HDC-3100 corvettes.

This means that a shipbuilder like Navantia is actively pushing for its entry into the Philippine Navy's naval defense market, whereby getting such access may provide them multiple opportunities within this ever-growing defense market in the long term as the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines embark on its largest pool of acquisition projects yet under the 3rd Horizon of the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349.

In this topic, we will delve deeper into the shipbuilder that provides the submarines under this project, the submarine involved and its design, the specifications and subcomponents it have as compared to the two other competing platforms under the submarine acquisition project, and some other historical background that comes relevant to this discussion matter.

Isaac Peral, Philippines, Spain, Submarine, Philippine Navy, Spanish Navy, S-80 Plus
Spain has an interesting history of submarine development, with the likes of Isaac Peral designing his country's first submarine, which was an electric-powered vessel.
Image Source.

As the Philippine Navy seeks to have its own set of submarines in the year 2023 that this article gets published, Navantia's mother country of Spain comes with its interesting history of putting submarine concepts into design development and testing, whereby these things took place while the Philippines was still an overseas possession of Spain. It also comes as an explanation that there was once a road in Manila that got named after this person, before it became known as the United Nations Avenue today.

This person refers to Isaac Peral y Caballero, a great sailor and inventor that contributed to the development of Spain's maritime capabilities. The submarine he invented (see image above) comes apparently with an electric-powered capability, of which this counts as an advanced technology getting employed during his time. His career within the Spanish Navy prompt him to develop a war machine that can compete against other nation's most advanced naval weaponry employed in the late 1800s.

Isaac Peral was born in the Spanish Mediterranean coastal city of Cartagena, which is also currently the area where Navantia's shipyard for submarine construction situated, and the area where Spain developed and produced their S-80 plus submarines that it seeks to offer to the Philippine Navy, with first units made for the Spanish Navy submarine division. Dedicated to Spain's great electric submarine inventor, they named their first submarine as the S-81 Isaac Peral.

His notable invention is the electric-powered Peral submarine, the technologically advanced war machine that comes revolutionary with its design and military application in the late 1800s, well before the mainstream use of U-boats in the first and second world wars. The specifications of the Peral submarine comes with 22 meters in overall hull length, three meters in beam/width, and a maximum speed coming from its 60 horse-powered electric-powered motors of around eight (8) knots.

While the submarine comes as an advanced platform of its time in the late 1800s, the concerns of the leadership within the Spanish Navy of that period regarding its performance, coupled to the ever-increasing difference of opinion between the authorities and Isaac Peral himself, resulted to the dismantling and discontinuation of the project. 

Since then, the invention made by Isaac Peral served as an inspiration for the Spanish Navy to keep on improving its submarine program, which comes to this point that they have produced the largest non-nuclear submarine developed on-date, and aims to export this type of submarine to other countries like the Philippine Navy as they keep on competing against other shipbuilders like Naval Group and Hanwha Ocean.

Isaac Peral's life ended in Berlin, as his health worsened by skin cancer that have started when a barber accidentally cut off a wart during his duty in the Philippine islands, which was still a Spanish overseas territory during that period. While he, as a person, went away from a long time ago, his legacy still lives on, with a Spanish submarine with a class named after him currently being offered to a Navy of what is now the independent Republic of the Philippines.

Navantia, Philippine Navy, S-81 Isaac Peral, Guaiqueri-class OPV, Avante 2200 warship
Navantia also produced the Avante 2200 OPV for the Venezuelan Navy. The same ship also marketed to the Philippine Navy for its Frigates, only to lose to South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries.
Image Source.

In terms of basic knowledge, Navantia is a Spanish state-owned shipbuilding entity, technically operating in a manner similar to Indonesia’s PT PAL Persero, with its primary customers being the Spanish Navy itself. Aside from the Spanish, it also delivered several naval vessels to countries like Venezuela and their Avante 2200 Offshore Patrol Vessel, and Australia with both of their Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock and the Hobart-class Aegis Destroyer.

The shipbuilder is 100% owned by the Spanish government’s primary holding company named SEPI, abbreviated as Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales or State Company of Industrial Participations as translated into English. SEPI operates more like a Sovereign Wealth Fund, managed by Spain’s Ministry of the Treasury with the purpose being a primary entity that oversees not only Spain's state-owned companies but also the investments made by this entity into other firms that generate income to the country.

Navantia has multiple shipyards across Spain, one of which includes the one that produces the S-81 Isaac Peral-class submarines in Cartagena, the place where the original Peral submarine visualized, developed, and produced a real functioning prototype. The other shipyard it has is with Ferrol in the province of Galicia, that is in Spain’s northwestern part. It is in the Navantia Ferrol Shipyard that the Alvaro de Bazan-class Aegis Frigates gets produced for Spanish Navy use. 

Navantia’s history traces back to 1717, when Spain received its first modern shipyard in the Real Arsenal de la Carraca by Quartermaster General José Patiño. The country’s modern shipyard expanded when it opened shop in Cartagena in 1731 and eventually into Ferrol in 1750. This comes earlier than Isaac Peral’s first invention of a modern electric-powered submarine in Cartagena that makes it not only as an iconic location to visit museums relating to the history of this submarine’s development but also Navantia’s current aims of getting the submarine it developed into production, eventually for the Spanish Navy to use it as its mainstay maritime asset while getting the Philippine Navy into considering their offer.

As with other government-owned shipbuilding entities, Navantia’s predecessor, presented by the three aforementioned shipyards, specializes primarily on the repair and construction of vessels, servicing the Spanish Navy and projecting Spanish influence to its overseas possessions that include the Captaincy General of the Philippines. Today, it still serves the Spanish Navy and exports its naval orders to other countries as it expands its market share in the global defense market as with other shipbuilding companies that want to win the Philippine Navy’s series of acquisition projects.

The Spanish shipbuilder isn’t a stranger regarding its participation in the acquisition projects under the Revised AFP Modernization Program with the Philippine Navy. At one point, it took part in the Frigate Acquisition Project before it got shortlisted between India’s Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers or GRSE and South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries, of which the latter won the bid and eventually delivered the Jose Rizal-class Frigates. Navantia’s offer was the 98-meter Avante 2200 Combatant.

With the record that Navantia has in producing warships of various types and exporting them into countries like Australia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, the Spanish shipbuilder build its export market further, hoping that it will eventually penetrate the Southeast Asia’s national defense market for military and naval assets, especially that countries like the Philippines increased its budget for the acquisition of submarines, on top of forming its own submarine force from scratch.

Isaac Peral, Isaac Peral-class submarine, S-80 Plus, Navantia, Philippine Navy, Submarine Acquisition Project, PN
S-81 Isaac Peral submarine of the Spanish Navy seen launched from Navantia’s Cartagena shipyard.
Image Source.

Like any other military hardware, the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarine of Navantia undertook development phases, whereby the indigenously designed and produced submarine of Spain isn’t always came with smooth-sailing flow of getting the process step-by-step, as the phase of getting the submarine design altogether comes with miscalculations, delays, and cost overruns, even before getting it tested and eventually marketing it to other countries’ navies like the Philippines.

While its first test dive took place in March 2023, the initial plan for developing a new Spanish-made submarine actually traces back to 1989 under the Spanish Navy’s Project ALTAMAR, whereby Navantia’s predecessor Empresa Nacional Bazan, started studies from that period until its successful completion in 1991. It took the Spanish planners at least six (6) to seven (7) years for them in laying out clear objectives that may define the direction of the Spanish submarine development along the way.

Since the comprehensive program layout throughout 1997 and 1998, additional contracts secured signatures for four (4) more years until 2002, of which, by that time, Spain’s Empresa Nacional Bazan and its merger with Astilleros Españoles S.A. or (AESA) took place in 2000 to become IZAR, or Spanish for “hoist”. The approval for construction received a go-signal in 2003, followed by a construction award in 2004, which is the year IZAR’s military shipbuilding became what is now Navantia

From this point, it took almost two decades for Navantia to sort out the design development and revisions regarding the S-80 submarine design, pushing back launching deadlines and tests into 2023. Within this period, Navantia conducted a critical design review in 2007 that determined the submarine requirements that the Spanish Navy looks from the development of the first variant called as the S-80A Submarine, seeking submarine subsystems from different suppliers as this is a common practice across military shipbuilding.

Take note that when the S-80A comes in its early development, Navantia’s predecessor Empresa Nacional Bazan, then IZAR, has a partnership with Naval Group’s predecessor DCNS in developing and producing the Scorpene-class submarines, which is now the Naval Group’s offer to the Philippine Navy’s Submarine Acquisition Project. From this point, the significant process regarding the development of S-80 submarines by Navantia rendered it as a sign of the Spanish shipbuilder’s departure from this partnership with their French counterparts.

Going through 2010s, issues with the submarine design and the delays associated with it continued that there is a discovery of a critical design flaw regarding the submarines’ overall weight attributed to a single error in the input of a decimal point. This issue involving the submarine’s weight imbalance further delayed the project that the first vessel should enter Spanish Navy service by 2015, with a second one followed in 2016. 

It prompted Navantia to seek help from General Dynamics to get the design rehashed by increasing the submarine’s size, which makes it the largest non-nuclear submarine produced to-date. Since then, there has been progress regarding the ongoing tests of the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarines, especially with the ones that took place in the early 2020s. The launch of the first submarine, S-81 Isaac Peral, took place in 2021 and since then has progressed, with the latest one being its March 2023 sea trials.

S-80 Plus, Isaac Peral-class submarine, Navantia, Philippine Navy, Submarine Acquisition Project, PN, AIP, Air Independent Propulsion, Tomahawk Missile
The S-80 Plus submarine came with an Air Independent Propulsion System as a feature.
Image Source.

Understanding the capabilities of the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarine that Navantia offers to the Philippine Navy will never go complete without understanding the details of its subsystems and subcomponents that define the design rationale and requirements that Navantia and the Spanish Navy (Armada Española) comes in mind. Take note that the Spanish shipbuilder fully markets the advantages that the submarine they offer has as opposed to the competitors of the submarine acquisition project of the Philippine Navy.

The first featured capability that Navantia showcased with its S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class Submarines to the Philippine Navy is that it came with an Air Independent Propulsion system or AIP, a much-needed feature for diesel-powered submarines that enable it to recharge its batteries while spending its time underwater. This increases the Spanish-made submarine’s overall endurance under the sea that lessens its need for surfacing, as opposed to its competitors in the project.

In context, the submarine offers made by France’s Naval Group and South Korea’s Hanwha Ocean regarding their Scorpene-class (Riachuelo variant) and DSME-1400PN, respectively, does not come with such feature, making their submarine offer less capable than Spain’s Navantia, although the contract price associated with their offers came less than the Spanish offer. This comes as all shipbuilders taking part have the support of their governments providing credit facility shall the Philippines choose their offer.

Another capability that the Spanish-made submarines possessed is that it can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles and the Harpoon anti-ship missiles from its torpedo tubes, enabling it to project power and deterrence for the Philippine Navy far beyond its usual role of sinking OPFOR warships without getting detected by their anti-submarine systems in place. France and South Korean submarines offered limited munition options to torpedoes and anti-ship missiles and could not launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The capabilities of the Spanish-made submarines offered make it a highly competitive one for the Philippine Navy officials and the key decision makers in the Department of National Defense to consider, as it further advance the submarine force of the Philippine Navy with its integrated subcomponents and design ability that enable it to be a more formidable threat far beyond than just the Philippine Navy having the submarines for operation.

Aside from the submarines offered, Navantia also offered packages as a way of competing with both Naval Group and Hanwha Ocean, whereby they also have their own respective packages for the Philippine Navy to weigh and consider. One of those offered is the credit financing for the submarines wherein the Spanish government may provide at least 100% of the contract as a way of support for its state-owned shipbuilder’s marketing pitch as it seeks to expand its reach into Southeast Asia through the Philippines.

While having such improved capabilities, its competitors have an edge on having the reliability and experience in producing, operating, and maintaining the submarine offers, whereby Naval Group’s Scorpene submarines are serving the navies of Chile, Brazil, India, and Malaysia, while DSME-1400PN derived itself from South Korean Navy’s Chang Bogo-class submarines. Navantia’s S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarines, in this case, still need a lot of time to prove its reliability as it comes closer to entering Spanish Navy service.

Isaac Peral-class submarines, Philippine Navy, Navantia, Spain, S-80 Plus Submarines, Submarine Acquisition Project
Here are the detailed specifications and other information regarding the S-80 Plus submarine.
Diagram Courtesy of H.I. Sutton.

This portion will tackle more on the dimensional specifications of the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarines, whereby the designs incorporated by Navantia define the capabilities it possesses, while providing a cross comparison of the submarine’s design and propulsion to the other two competitors’ offer for the Philippine Navy’s submarine acquisition project.

As gathered directly from Navantia’s website, the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarine comes with an overall length of 81 meters, maximum beam (width) of 11.6 meters, a draught of 6.3 meters, diameter of 7.30 meters, surface and submerged displacement of 2,965 tons, 50 days endurance, and accommodation of 32 crew plus 8 Special Forces. Its test depth is at around 460 meters (1,510 feet). The dimensions provided define it as the largest non-nuclear submarine developed and produced to-date.

Comparing it to the other offers provided by competitors like Naval Group’s Scorpene-class submarine, the latter comes with only 1,700/1,750 tons, a length of 66.4 meters (67.5 meters for Royal Malaysian Navy variant), 6.2 meter in maximum beam (width), and a draught of 5.8 meters (5.4 meters for Royal Malaysian Navy variant). Its operating depth is at around 350 meters or 1,148 feet, which is 160 meters or at least 362 feet less than what Navantia tested with its submarine. 

Meanwhile, regarding the Hanwha Ocean’s DSME-1400 PN submarines offered to the Philippine Navy from this South Korean firm, it primarily derives itself from the Chang Bogo-class submarines currently serving the South Korean Navy. As being patterned after the Type 209-1200 submarine design of Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, the South Korean submarine comes with 1,200-1400 tons, 56 meters in hull length, maximum beam of 6.3 meters, draught of  5.5 meters, and has an endurance of 50 days and a crew of 33. It also has the lowest operating depth, of around 500 meters or 1,600 feet.

As for the engines, the S-80 Isaac Peral-class submarines come with a propulsion capability of at least 12 knots on the surface and 19 knots when submerged, as its power plant configuration comes with at least three diesel engines rated at 1,200 kilowatts each, a 3,500 kilowatt main electric engine, and its main feature being the 300 kilowatt Air Independent Propulsion system or AIP. The latter of which is the primary marketing point of Navantia’s offer for the Philippine Navy’s submarine acquisition project.

In comparison, a Scorpene-class submarine’s propulsion system comes with a capability of getting a speed of at least 12 knots on the surface and over 20 knots when submerged, making it just as par as the capabilities presented by the Spanish submarine. The French submarine’s engine configuration comes with at least four (4) 2,500 kilowatt diesel generators. Take note that Naval Group’s submarine offer does not come with an Air Independent Propulsion system as opposed to what Navantia offered with their S-80 Plus.

Completing it up, a Chang Bogo-class submarine, using as a reference for the DSME-1400 PN offer made by Hanwha Ocean for the Philippine Navy, comes with a speed of 11 knots on the surface and 21.5 knots when submerged. Like the S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarines, the engines onboard a DSME-1400 PN give it with an endurance of at least 50 days, as its engine configuration comes with at least four (4) MTU 12V 396 SE diesel engines and at least a single Siemens electric motor with 3,700 kilowatt power.

The submarine base offered by Naval Group to the Philippine Navy.
Image Source.

The Philippine Navy’s submarine acquisition project recently earned a third interesting shipbuilder, as this said shipbuilder refers to Spain’s Navantia and its S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class offer, a submarine that comes larger and more capable than the two other offers from Naval Group of France and Hanwha Ocean of South Korea in terms of integrated subcomponents found onboard. The Spanish offer is promising, even though the two other offers are designs that are proven and currently serving recipient navies.

Case in point, Naval Group’s Scorpene-class submarines serve Chile, Malaysia, India, and Brazil, whereas the DSME-1400 PN design is a derivative of the Chang Bogo-class submarines currently serving the South Korean Navy. Navantia’s S-80 Plus Isaac Peral-class submarines are relatively new in this field even though its design came from a submarine concept within the Spanish Navy for its submarine fleet that took place a decade or two ago.

While the current submarine concept that the Spanish visualized in getting the S-80 Plus submarine design developed, the country itself is not a stranger to submarine developments as the S-80’s namesake, Isaac Peral, was an inventor that developed and produced the world’s very first electric-powered submarine in an era that still relies on steel gunboats and sees such technology as a state-of-the art and very advanced. Employment of similarly developed submarines didn’t take place until the First World War.

As the submarine acquisition project of the Philippine Navy pushes through, and with the increase of the contract price to around Php 97 Billion, this may push both Naval Group and Hanwha Ocean to provide better offers as opposed to Navantia, as all the three aforementioned shipbuilders provided the training of Philippine Navy personnel in maintaining and operating the submarines, along with submarine basing and credit line financing for the Philippines to avail that makes the acquisition bearable.

With the entry of Navantia into this project, this will encourage further competition between the three shipbuilders that are actively taking part in this acquisition project of the Philippine Navy, whereby any winning proponent under this submarine deal may also win entry into the country’s defense market and also those in the region, while the Philippine Navy benefits in the increase of its capabilities as it exerts effort in prepares to play a key role in the country’s external defense posture.

The Philippine Navy’s submarine acquisition project only comes as a part of its grand scheme of things within its modernization program alongside the other branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, whereby some of its projects like the Corvettes and the Offshore Patrol Vessels are already on their way into shipbuilding production. Getting the submarines may help the Philippine Navy increase the country’s minimum credible deterrence in the region, joining countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

In the end, the decision-makers in the Philippine Navy will choose the preferable shipbuilder for this acquisition project, as the options are now increased to at least three shipbuilders that are taking their part in this project, with Navantia presented its newly developed submarine and also the largest one among the candidates offered. All of which may help the Philippine Navy get the capabilities it needs in gearing itself into external defense, as with the other branches within the armed forces.

(c) 2023 PDA.

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