Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Boat Won't Float

How bizarre can a news item be? It’s hard to believe that Spain spent huge amounts of money on a new submarine that won’t float, but the Associated Press and other sources say it’s true.

Spanish engineers made a miscalculation in the design; it appears that way back in the early planning stages someone put a decimal point in the wrong place. As a result, the first of a new class of diesel-powered subs is 70 tons overweight. Officials fear if it goes to sea it will be able to dive but won’t be able to resurface.

To fix things, the Spanish Defense Ministry will pay our Electric Boat Company $14 million for a three-year study to determine how to reconfigure the submarine to make it useful. Spain already has
It dives, but doesn't surface!
invested about $2.9 billion in its new S-80 submarine program.

If it ever sails, Spain’s modern submarine armada will include four 233-foot-long boats. Each will carry a crew of 32, eight special forces personnel, and advanced weapons systems for surface and anti-submarine warfare.

When I finished guffawing about how a single misguided decimal point could create such havoc, I nearly cried thinking about this fiasco on another level. Spain has one of Europe’s weakest economies; unemployment stands near 25 percent. The banking system required huge bailouts to stay afloat, and substantial cuts in government pensions and social programs have gone into effect or are on the horizon. How could the Spanish government justify tossing big bucks into a new underwater adventure?

Exactly which foreign powers are threatening Spain?  None come to mind. Internal conflicts, however, are another matter. In the Pyrenees Mountains the Basque population occasionally launches various forms of violence against Spaniards they view as occupiers of their ancestral lands. To the east of the Basques, all of the Catalonia region is gearing up for a referendum next year on whether to secede from Spain. The Catalans think they are paying much more to the central government in taxes than they get back in services. Maybe the S-80 program is a factor; the new subs are being built in Cartagena, not Barcelona.

If the Basques and Catalans have developed navies to back their demands, it would be yet another bizarre news story. Both groups are fairly peaceful at the moment, so naval warfare involving them probably is not even a remote possibility.

We might wonder, then, why a cash-strapped Spanish government has blown $2.9 billion on four submarines whose only apparent reason for existence is to train for the day that some unknown enemy might attack Iberia from the sea.

If Spain, a land without serious external enemies, can’t curtail wasteful military weapons spending in the face of financial pressure from all sides, can we ever expect U.S. legislators to rein in the unnecessary weapons spending sponsored by our powerful military-industrial complex? 

6 comments: said...

My son worked for the US Navy in Spain (ROTA) and I don't think they need much self-protection, given their NATO involvement and US ships in the Mediterranean fleet.

Given the problems in Spain with budget and cut-backs to social programs, it boggles the mind they are trying to develop their own sub and spending billions in the process...pure madness. I'm sure the US would sell them one of our used subs??

PiedType said...

Perhaps they started their submarine program well before before their economy tanked? That sort of thing takes years of planning and development. Maybe they're thinking it would be better to try to salvage their investment rather than flush it. Admittedly, I don't see any need for Spanish submarines. Sad and funny at the same time -- subs that won't float.

Tom Sightings said...

Don't they remember the Armada?

Jhawk 23 said...

Interesting. I hadn't heard this story.

I would guess Spain might need submarines to fulfill its obligations to NATO for the defense of Europe. All NATO nations contribute forces and equipment; it's not a one-way street in which the US just defends everybody at no cost to them -- although we DO pay a greater share.

Some countries are also finding that small subs are helpful in combatting illicit nonmilitary activities like drug smuggling.

That said, there are countries and companies that already make such submarines, so it's hard to imagine why they saw a necessity to design and build their own. They could just buy them (and if they were 70 tons overweight they could send them back for a refund!)

Big John said...

How about us Brits ? Our government is building two huge aircraft carriers, but can't afford the planes to go with them !

Bob Lowry said...

Governments tend to be run by old men who stick with what they know. Fighting and preparing to fight somebody (anybody) is their default position.

Considering the length of Spain's coastline, a few subs make no sense on so many levels. BTW, who is paying for them..Germany?