June 8, 2012:
German media are running stories revealing proof that German built Israeli submarines were equipped, in Germany, with a special hydraulic ejection (from torpedo tubes) systems for launching missiles with nuclear warheads. This is actually misleading, as well as being old news. The German built Dolphin class subs have long had the ability to launch Harpoon anti-ship missiles and longer range cruise missiles from the torpedo tubes. It makes no difference if the warhead has high-explosives or a nuclear bomb in it.
For over a decade Israel and Germany have played down this capability. For example, a decade ago Israel denied that it had submarines capable of firing cruise missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. But the U.S. navy had reported spotting such missiles being tested by an Israeli sub in the Indian Ocean two years earlier.
Twelve years ago it was widely reported that Israeli's Dolphin class subs were being equipped with nuclear weapons. The 135 kilometer range Harpoon missiles were being modified to carry a nuclear warhead and Israel was developing a submarine launched 350 kilometer range cruise missile. Both of these weapons were launched from the subs torpedo tubes. Since then Israel has developed a new cruise missile, with a range of 1,500 kilometers and carrying a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead. These nuclear equipped subs were to provide an extra degree of security as all other Israeli nuclear weapons were in land bases and, in theory, could be wiped out by a surprise missile attack. A nuclear missile equipped submarine at sea would be much more difficult to find.
Germany continues to build Dolphin class boats for Israel. This past February, after a year of haggling, Germany agreed to pay 20 percent of the cost of a sixth Dolphin class submarine, which was ordered a year earlier.
Two more Dolphins are under construction and will arrive in the next two years. The sixth one should arrive in 2015. The first three arrived in 1998-2000. The new Dolphins cost about $650 million each, with Germany picking up a third of the cost on two of them. The first two Dolphins were paid for by Germany, as was most of the cost of the third one. This is more of German reparations for World War II atrocities against Jews.
The three older boats have since been upgraded to include larger fuel capacity, converting more torpedo tubes to the larger 650mm size, and installing new electronics. The fuel and torpedo tube mods appear to have something to do with stationing the subs off the coast of Iran. Larger torpedo tubes allow the subs to carry longer range missiles.
The larger fuel capacity makes it easier to move Dolphins from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Although Israel has a naval base on the Red Sea, Egypt, until recently, had not allowed Israeli subs to use the Suez Canal. So the Dolphins were modified to go around Africa, if they had to. The new government in Egypt is now claiming ownership of the Israeli territory, and port, on the Red Sea.
Currently the Dolphins can stay at sea for about 40 days (moving at about 14 kilometers an hour, on the surface, for up to 8,000 kilometers). Larger fuel capacity extends range to over 10,000 kilometers and endurance to about 50 days. The three Dolphins under construction have a fuel cell based (AIP or Air Independent Propulsion) system which enables them to stay under water for over a week at a time. The Dolphins are also very quiet and very difficult to hunt down and destroy. The first three Dolphins didn't have the AIP system.
The 1,625 ton Dolphins can carry 16 torpedoes or missiles and have ten forward torpedo tubes (four of them the larger 650mm/26 inch size). The Dolphins are considered the most modern non-nuclear subs in the world. The first three cost $320 million each. All have a crew of 35 and can dive to a depth of more than 200 meters (660 feet). The Dolphin design is based on the German 209 class subs but has been so heavily modified that it is considered a different class.