Israel currently has six Dolphin-class submarines and the three older ones, which entered service in 1999 and 2000, are being replaced by three new Dakar-class subs Israel is buying from the German firm that built the Dolphins. The second three Dolphins were much more capable than the older three and the Dakars are improvements on the second three that entered service between 2014 and 2021. The first Dakar is to enter service by 2027. The three Dakars cost $3.5 billion and that is the most Israel, or anyone else, has ever paid for diesel-electric subs.
Few details of the Dakars have been revealed but, as with the Dolphins, they tend to be improved versions of the latest model the builder is offering. In this case it is the Type 212CD (common design), which is the most advanced German sub design so far, a more specialized version of the Type 214. The 212CD is designed to be modified to suit customer needs and six are already on order, two for Germany and four for Norway. The three Israeli Dakars make that nine. The 212CD is a 2,500-ton (surface displacement) boat that comes standard with AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) as well as a lot of new electronics and no hull-penetrating periscope. All periscope and communications masts will be deployed by a power cable and controlled from inside the sub. The 2021CD also has two diesel-engines, which increases performance and endurance (time at sea.) The 2012CD hull is built with stealth features, making it more difficult for sonar or other sensors to detect. The Dakars have all that as well as a longer sail, which can contain VLS (Vertical Launch Tube) for ballistic missiles or facilities for divers to leave and return, perhaps using a battery powered sled to carry gear or return with captured items. Dakar is also highly automated, with a crew of less than 40 and berths for underwater operatives, passengers or prisoners.
Israel has always been secretive about what its subs were capable of or how they spent their time. That changed in 2014 when Israel revealed what its Dolphin-class boats actually did. In 2013 these submarines spent 58 percent of their time at sea on combat missions while the rest of the time was spent for training. This was before the first late-model Dolphins arrived in 2014 and 2016. Israel revealed that their subs sometimes go far (to Iran and the Red Sea) from their bases on missions. Since Israel is not at war with anyone with a navy, these missions are probably related to collecting information on the ships and ports of potential enemies. In 2013 that included Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Sudan and so on. The navy revealed that the subs undertook 54 “special operations” in 2013 and that was a big increase from previous years.
No details were given on what the special operations were but, based on what kind of surveillance operations Israel has conducted in the past, it was probably similar to what U.S. subs did in those same areas during the Cold War. Israeli subs have probably been using their passive (listen only) sonar to collect information about ports and warships as well as deploying and retrieving larger electronic sensors placed underwater near where enemy ships operate. Israel may also be tapping underwater communications cables. For some of these operations the Israelis would use divers carried on the subs as passengers. Israel has a small force of naval special operations troops similar to the American SEALS and the British SBS.
All of the Israeli subs are built in Germany, where the local media periodically pretends to be appalled at what the Israelis actually do with these subs. Back in 2012 revelations in German media that the Dolphin class boats were equipped in Germany with a special hydraulic ejection (from torpedo tubes) systems for launching missiles with nuclear warheads caused a stir. This was actually misleading, as well as being old news. The 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 played down this capability. Shortly after September 11, 2001 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 before 2001.
In 2000 it was widely reported that Dolphin class subs were being equipped with nuclear weapons. The 135-kilometer range Harpoon missiles were alleged to have been modified to carry a nuclear warhead and also that Israel was developing a submarine launched 350-kilometer range cruise missile. Both of these weapons were launched from the subs torpedo tubes. Subsequently Israel 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.
The second three 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 German reparations for World War II atrocities against Jews.
The three older Dolphins were later 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, until 2012 Egypt did not allow Israeli subs to use the Suez Canal. Because of that Dolphins were modified to go around Africa if they had to. In the last decade Egypt and Israel have become informal allies against the Iranian threat.
As built the first three Dolphins could 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 extended range to over 10,000 kilometers and endurance to about 50 days. The second three Dolphins have a fuel cell-based AIP system which enables them to stay submerged 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 AIP.
The first three Dolphins displaced 1,625-tons each and could carry 16 torpedoes or missiles and have ten forward torpedo tubes (four of them the larger 650mm/26-inch size). These Dolphins were 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 was based on the German 209 class subs but has been so heavily modified that it is considered a different class and only Israel had them.
With the three Dakars replacing the older Dolphins Israel will continue to have the most modern and capable diesel-electric submarine force in the world.