Spain has asked for Dutch submarines to return to the race

The Spanish Ministry of Defense has asked in a letter to the Dutch Defense Equipment Organization (DMO) whether the Spanish shipyard Navantia may also receive the request for the tender of submarines. Navantia has confirmed the existence of this letter to MarineShips.nl. The DMO says it will not respond significantly to communications between the defense and foreign armed forces.


Isaac Peral, the first submarine of the Spanish S-80 type, during sea trials earlier this year. The boat is currently in dry dock in Cartagena. In 2023, the boat will be handed over to the Spanish Navy. Read an update on the Spanish construction project here. (Photo: Navantia)

Navantia does not want to say much about the letter that was sent, as it appeared during the visit that MarineShips.nl paid the yard in Cartagena last Tuesday morning. The Spanish state shipyard is currently focusing mainly on the construction of the four S-80 submarines and the supply in India. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of misunderstandings at the yard about the early shutdown.

When the B letter was published in December 2019, Navantia was the only one of the four shipyards to drop out. The explanation was that, according to the Ministry of Defence, Navantia had indicated that it could not deviate much from the existing S-80 submarine. That reason was immediately doubted.

Boat or politics
Although in March 2017 the DMO had asked Navantia to participate in the Walrus Class Replacement project, by December 2018 it was expected by many who followed the project closely that Navantia would be the first to lose weight. These suspicions were mainly related to the fact that it would be easier politically to repel the Spanish than the French, the Germans or the Lady’s partner. In addition, in 2019 there were no criteria at all to expel one of the candidates from the project without the risk of legal consequences. However, going four yards is not a real option. From a capacity point of view at the DMO, but also in terms of credibility, the DMO had no choice but to reject recruitment for the next phase.

Even at the time, Navantia was convinced that their basic design, the S-80, would be the closest to the Dutch requirements of all the designs. During a visit by MarineShips.nl in 2018, the yard stated that based on calculations, the S-80 more than met all basic requirements (as far as known in the request for information). The S-80 is also slightly larger than the Walrus and, unlike its competitors, has more compartments, three diesel and torpedo tubes already suitable for US cruise missiles. However, Navantia also knew that the S-80 design had to be adapted to Dutch requirements. The company showed MarineShips.nl the plans for S-80 Flight 2 and talked about the talks and contracts with Dutch companies.

On the other hand, Navantia also saw that the basic designs of the competitors (A26, 212CD and Barracuda) needed to be made significantly larger or smaller. It was not for nothing that the company was asked to participate in the project in 2017, or so was the rationale, and the Dutch-Spanish cooperation in naval vessels (supply and amphibious transport ship) had previously been good.

Meanwhile, MarineShips.nl understood at the time from conversations with people close to the project that the DMO strongly suspected that Navantia was not seriously participating in the Dutch project and that the Spanish saw it as an exercise to participate in the tender in India. Furthermore, the DMO heard nothing from Spanish politics.
Although Navantia did not establish an office in the Netherlands and did not have a Dutch representative for a long time, Navantia was really serious about the supply in the Netherlands.

This was also evident when the Spaniards were rejected in 2019. In a letter to the DMO, Navantia clearly indicated that it did not agree with the decision. In the letter, Navantia tries to refute the arguments for elimination.

question mark
It was not only in Spain that questions were raised about the reason why Navantia was not invited to the dialogue phase. “MarineShips.nl spoke to submarine experts working in the Dutch defense industry last week who were surprised by the poor reasoning of the B letter,” this site wrote the week after the announcement. This was followed by parliamentary questions (which were answered perfunctorily).

Almost three years later, those question marks have not disappeared. In the many conversations that MarineShips.nl has had since 2019 with insiders and experts a little further away at home and abroad, the early shutdown of Navantia was regularly discussed. The impression many have is that the Spanish were not eliminated on the basis of their submarine design.

Now the Spanish design, like other submarine designs, does not perfectly match the Dutch wishes. For example, consider the position of the accommodation in relation to the command center (the crew must go through the center), the plus rudders instead of the x-rudder. But Navantia has indicated that it is willing to adjust the design.

There may be technical limitations in the design that make it impossible for the Spanish boat to meet the requirements (which were not yet determined at the time). However, whether this is the case is unknown. The question marks that were raised after the publication of the B letter remain. DMO replied today, after questions from MarineShips.nl, that they did not want to explain the choice in the B letter further.

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‘None’
Neither party wants to say anything openly about the letter and a possible response, but according to a source, the Armed Forces would have rejected the Spanish request to also receive the RFP. However, this message has not been confirmed.

Explanation
That recruitment is of course part of a tender. In order to arrive at an optimal boat for the Submarine Service, this is ideally based on, among other things, the yard’s qualities and technical specifications. In recent years, the impression has persisted that Navantia has lost weight for another reason.
However, this seemed like a done deal until the author of this article heard a rumor this summer that Navantia also wanted to send an offer and saw opportunities because, according to them, the tender procedure had been changed. After some insistence, Navantia gave MarineShips.nl permission to visit Cartagena. During that visit last Tuesday morning, an update was given on the S-80 and it was confirmed that a letter had been sent from the Spanish Ministry of Defense to the Dutch DMO. Then MarineShips.nl asked the DMO questions about the letter.


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