Submarine threat heats up in the Middle East

John Keller, Editor in Chief

The Israeli navy’s purchase in August of two more sophisticated attack submarines, which experts say are capable of firing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can hit targets in Iran, highlights an emerging and dangerous submarine arms race in and around the Middle East.

This naval armaments race, which revolves around the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, is placing growing pressure on U.S. undersea forces to monitor developments in the region and contain crises as they inevitably will emerge.

The growing regional submarine force poses a far different threat from the global open-ocean submarine force of the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s.

Centered principally in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Mediterranean, the Middle East submarine threat is primarily a shallow-water coastal affair, which places a premium not only on super-quiet submarine technology, but also on sophisticated digital signal processing to enable U.S. and allied sonar systems to detect submarines quickly in noisy and sonically complicated littoral areas.

Israel is one of the region’s chief players in undersea warfare. In August Israeli military forces announced its order for two more German-made Dolphin-class submarines.

These boats not only can fire nuclear-tipped cruise-missiles-based Israeli Popeye Turbo, but they also may have super-quiet air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems that render them as quiet as advanced U.S. nuclear attack submarines.

Israeli nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missiles are believed to have ranges in excess of 930 miles. Most likely, moreover, Israeli submarines in a crisis could launch nuclear missiles while submerged; as such they would be virtually immune from interdiction or retaliation.

Put simply, with submarines operating in the Mediterranean, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, or Persian Gulf, there is not one target in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, or anywhere else in the Middle East that is out of range of a potential Israeli nuclear strike-not Tehran, not Damascus, not Riyadh, not Cairo.

This, of course, is a central component of Israeli military strategy. With the emerging nuclear weapons threat of Iran in mind, Israel has the ability to respond to a future Iranian nuclear attack on Israeli soil covertly in a massive and devastating way. This capability would have to make even the most radical, hard-line regime in the region think twice before unleashing a nuclear attack.

The U.S. Navy, which has tasked itself with monitoring submarine traffic and developments throughout the world, has its work cut out for it in this volatile region that is rife with terrorism. The Middle East submarine threat today will pale in comparison with what’s in store for the future.

I pose this question simply out of curiosity: how long might it be before this capability to launch nuclear missiles covertly falls into the hands of rogue regimes, or worse, into the hands of powerful terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or al-Qaida?

The submarines operating today in Middle Eastern waters are not always the rickety, obsolescent, poorly maintained boats that one might expect. The Israeli Dolphins are some of the quietest and most advanced submarines in the world, and are not the only submersibles in the region with air-independent propulsion.

India, for example, has what experts believe to be at least 12 to 15 submarines, some of them quite sophisticated. Moreover, India has six submarines on order-at least three of which are expected to have AIP capability.

India is acquiring six Franco-Spanish Scorpene diesel-powered submarines, with an option for six more. These boats will be built in India, and will be super-quiet vessels, some of them with AIP, which can give diesel-electric submarines the ability to operate submerged for as long as four to 18 days-perhaps longer-without surfacing or snorkeling.

Translated, that means AIP-equipped submarines like the Israeli Dolphin class are undetectable to all but the world’s most advanced and sophisticated sonar systems.

AIP systems, furthermore, are not limited in the region only to Israel. In coastal Central Asia, India may have as many as six AIP-equipped submarines as part of their submarine fleet, experts believe.

Pakistan, meanwhile, operates a fleet of at least eight submarines, four diesel-electric French Daphne-class submarines purchased in the 1970s, two French Agosta-class diesel-electric submarines, and two advanced French Agosta 90B-type quiet diesel-electric submarines that could be improved even more with AIP.

This certainly is not the end of the list of Middle Eastern countries with at least some sort of submarine capability.

Iran reportedly has three submarines, admittedly, however, of the 1980s-vintage Russian Kilo class of diesel-electric boats, which are vulnerable to advanced antisubmarine warfare equipment, have young and inexperienced crews, and are limited to laying mines in undefended waters.

Iran, however, also is reputed to possess advanced maritime mine capability, including nonmagnetic, free-floating, and remote-controlled mines, as well as pressure, acoustic, magnetic, and rocket-propelled rising mines.

Egypt reportedly has four 1960s-vintage Russian/Chinese Romeo-class diesel-electric submarines, while Saudi Arabia reportedly operates only mini-submarines, but is trying to acquire as many as eight full-size submarines from European suppliers.

Put together, this is a formidable maritime threat that the U.S. and its allies face in the Middle East. In response, U.S. military officials are developing advanced anti-submarine and countermine capability for the U.S. Navy’s future Littoral Combat Ship (see “New ship takes lead in countermine and anti-submarine warfare, M&AE August 2006, page 28).

U.S. officials also are launching a research program called Tango Bravo to lead the design of a new attack submarine with the capabilities of the state-of-the-art Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine, but at half the Virginia’s size.

A program of the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Tango Bravo revolves around advanced submarine technology in five areas: propulsion not constrained by a centerline shaft; externally stored and launched weapons; conformal versions of today’s spherical sonar arrays; simplified hull, mechanical, and electrical systems; and machine automation to reduce crew workload.

Programs such as Tango Bravo, to augment upgraded Los Angeles-, Sea Wolf- and Virginia-class attack submarines, are coming none too soon to help contain a growing submarine threat in a dangerous part of the world.

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

XPedite7572 | 5th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module with SecureCOTS™

The XPedite7572 is a secure and high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the...

XCalibur4501 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction-Cooled 6U CompactPCI Module

The XCalibur4501 is a high-performance 6U CompactPCI single board computer that is ideal for rugg...

XCalibur4500 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U CompactPCI Module

The XCalibur4500 is a high-performance 6U CompactPCI single board computer that is ideal for rugg...

XPedite7501 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled XMC Module

The XPedite7501 is a high-performance, low-power, XMC module based on the 5th generation Intel® C...

XPedite7570 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7570 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XPedite7530 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U CompactPCI Module

The XPedite7530 is a high-performance 3U CompactPCI single board computer that is ideal for rugge...

XCalibur4540 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur4540 is a high-performance, 6U OpenVPX™, multiprocessing, single board computer that ...

XPand6200 Series | Small Form Factor (SFF) Sub-½ ATR Rugged COTS System utilizing 3U VPX, XMC, and PMC Modules

The XPand6200 Series is a true Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Rugged system, supporting many 3U ...

XCalibur4401 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U CompactPCI Single Board Computer

The XCalibur4401 is a high-performance, 6U CompactPCI, multiprocessing, single board computer tha...

XPedite5205 | Embedded Services Router (ESR) with Cisco IOS® on an XMC/PMC Module

The XPedite5205 XMC/PMC-based Embedded Services Router (ESR) router runs Cisco IOS® Software with...

Related Companies

Advanced Conversion Technology Inc

ACT designs and manufactures, since 1981, an extensive range of AC-DC and DC-DC power supplies (switching, linear, ra...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

Reynard Corp

Manufactures custom precision optical components and thin-film coatings 0.2–50 µm (UV to far-IR) to demanding specifi...

Active Silicon Inc

Designs and manufactures frame grabbers and embedded vision systems in PCI express, PCI/104-express, PMC, cPCI and C...

North Atlantic Industries Inc

The top 10 defense companies worldwide rely  on NAI Solutions NAI is a leading independent provider of specializ...

Streamline Circuits Corp

Streamline Circuits is a leading provider of high quality printed circuit boards. Streamline Circuits is committed to...

Electronic Development Labs Inc (EDL)

Since 1943, EDL has strived to provide quality products, outstanding customer service, and superior technical support...

TXO Systems Ltd

TXO Systems is the world’s leading telecoms network asset management specialist. Founded in 2005 and operating on fiv...

ProMation Engineering Inc

Manufactures a wide array of reliable industrial dual acting electric actuators including quarter-turn, failsafe quar...


PTC (Nasdaq: PTC) delivers technology solutions that transform the way companies create, operate and service their pr...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

Model INCX-4001

The INCX-4001 consists of a high quality audio transceiver specifically designed to implement a complete fiber optic intercom.

Model PS-1210

The PS-1210 is a 1A, 12VDC stand-alone or rack mountable non-switcher (no RF noise) power supply.

Model OS-3121

Optical switches are utilized to disconnect, bypass and reroute fiber optic communications. All of these optical switches are purely optical path, there is no optical to e...


New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

The Latest from Paris Air Show 2015

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

May 2015
Volume 26, Issue 5

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles