Not much is known about the operations carried out by Israel’s submarines. But then again, that’s exactly the point.

By 2014, Israel is scheduled to increase its fleet of submarines from three to five and it is currently in talks with Germany to purchase a sixth submarine, which, if ordered, would arrive a few years later.

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Widely believed to be Israel’s second-strike capability with their reported ability to launch cruise missiles with nuclear warheads, the Navy’s submarines are shrouded in an aura of mystery and prestige.

Israel ordered its first two Dolphin-class submarines after the first Gulf War. Reports of Iraqi chemical warheads – which were never fired – being developed with the help of German companies strained relations between Berlin and Jerusalem. That led the German government to offer humanitarian and military support in the form of two submarines free of charge. The third submarine was ordered a year later, and the cost was split by Germany and Israel.

The new vessels being assembled in Germany will be fitted with a propulsion system combining a conventional system – consisting of a diesel generator with a lead acid battery – and an air-independent propulsion system used for silent slow cruising, with a fuel cell equipped with oxygen and hydrogen storage.

“With the new German technology,” a Navy officer said on Sunday, “the new submarines will be able to remain submerged for much, much longer than the older Dolphin models.”

While they are eight meters longer than their predecessor, the Gal-class sub, Dolphin-class submarines pale in comparison to the US Trident-class nuclear-powered submarines, which boast a length of 166 meters.

Nevertheless, the Dolphin-class vessels are totally automated and computer-integrated, with systems developed by several major Israeli defense companies, including Tadiran, Elbit, IAI and Rada. They are equipped with both low frequency and passive sonar, and their integrated fire control system allow them to track and evaluate a significantly large number of targets.

According to the reference book Jane’s Fighting Ships, the Dolphin submarine has the capability of launching swimmer delivery vehicles carrying eight frogmen through its torpedo tubes.

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