The rain in Spain – submarine edition

I’m sure those who follow musicals remember this song from the 1964 movie “My Fair Lady“.

I daresay the Spanish Navy and Navantia are wishing, round about now, that they too had “got it” years ago concerning their new S-80 class of submarines.

The saga began in 2013, when it was discovered that while the new ships would submerge, coming up again was likely to be a little … er … problematic.  As you can imagine, this would have done little to enhance crew morale.

A new, Spanish-designed submarine has a weighty problem: The vessel is more than 70 tons too heavy, and officials fear if it goes out to sea, it will not be able to surface.

And a former Spanish official says the problem can be traced to a miscalculation — someone apparently put a decimal point in the wrong place.

. . .

The Isaac Peral, the first in a new class of diesel-electric submarines, was nearly completed when engineers discovered the problem. A U.S. Navy contractor in Connecticut, Electric Boat, has signed a deal to help the Spanish Defence Ministry find ways to slim down the 2,200-ton submarine … the preference has been to extend the length of the submarine’s hull, perhaps by 5 to 6 metres, to increase buoyancy.

Otherwise, the weight of the submarine would have to be reduced, and … the Spanish Navy would not want to compromise features such as the combat system or an air-independent propulsion system.

There’s more at the link.

The lengthening option was chosen, and is now almost complete – only for a new problem to emerge.

The newest problem will force Spain’s government to soon announce a budget increase for the project. Each of the four new submarines will end up costing almost $1.2 billion, nearly double the initial budget, according to El País.

After the buoyancy problems were discovered in 2013, the submarine was redesigned and lengthened by about 33 feet. But the changes did not properly take into account the size of the docks in Cartagena.

Now, the port will need to be dredged and reshaped — an overhaul that alone will cost about $18.6 million, according to the newspaper. The submarine project has other issues, and engineers have still not settled on the design of its propulsion system, according to El País.

Again, more at the link.

And all that – a doubling of the project budget, plus the additional cost of modifying the submarine docks in Cartagena, probably amounting to well over two billion dollars in all – is the result of a misplaced decimal point.  Costly mistake, that . . . but by no means unprecedented.  Just ask NASA, which “lost its $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter because spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched“;  or the European Space Agency, which lost one of its Mars probes due to a mix-up in how to measure computer sensor readings.  Neither of those mistakes were as expensive as the Spanish submarine project, but both were still due to miscalculations.

The devil, as always, was – and remains – in the details . . .



  1. This is an inherent problem with the metric system. Such an error would have been obvious using the system that put men on the moon.

  2. Let's say that El País piece and reality do not have more than a passing resemblance.

    Extension of docks was planned already, and visiting, much larger, nuke subs, had no problem docking in those same docks.

    The origins of the excessive weight are not a misplaced decimal point, but a major mismanagement on the engineering of the AIP plant.

  3. All ships can submerge, at least once. The trick for submarines is to make sure the number of times they surface is equal to the number of times they submerge. Submarines, even conventionally powered ones, are among the most technologically complex systems devised by man. Spain, without a long history of naval ship design (especially subs) should have contracted with the Germans, the Dutch, the Brits, or Electric Boat for technical assistance.

  4. Meh.

    If Spain were actually using their subs to go out and torpedo boatloads of faux "refugees" coming to Eurostan to rape the natives and loot the national treasuries, and burn the cities when they don't get their dane-geld, this'd be a tragedy.

    As it is, given that they've no intention of doing anything so sensible, the discrepancy is just farce, and nothing unexpected when one elects incompetencies and irrelevancies, and hands them public office.

  5. @Nuke Warrior – When I was on a boomer in the 1970s, we used to say that the First Law of Submarining was "The number of surfaces must be equal to the number of dives." The second law was, "Keep the water out of the people tank." I don't remember which, because it's been too many years, but there was another boomer running out of Holy Loch that was acclaimed "most likely to go down" after it had the snorkel head valve (controlling a 14" hole in the people tank) stick in the open position at the start of a dive.

  6. Forgive my ignorance, but what in blooming Hell does the Spanish navy need with subs in the first place?

  7. The built a sub- including the pressure hull without knowing what kind of engine it was going to have?

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