analysisIsrael News

Israel’s latest submarine carries hints of advanced capabilities

The INS Drakon, under construction in Germany, could include new missile launch abilities.

A Dolphin-class submarine in 2014. Credit: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
A Dolphin-class submarine in 2014. Credit: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

On Aug. 14, Naval News reported that INS Drakon (Dragon) was launched in Kiel, Germany, where it is being built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.

Israel’s newest submarine, the INS Drakon is due to arrive at Haifa Naval Base later this year. It will be the sixth submarine and the third new-generation Dolphin 2-class vessel in the Israel Navy’s fleet.

The INS Drakon represents a watershed moment in Israel’s naval capabilities. Reportedly larger than any other submarine in the fleet, international media reports have noticed its very large sail—the tower-like fin structure at its topside.

Naval News speculated that the sail could house new advanced ballistic missiles in addition to carrying cruise missiles.

According to international media reports, Israel’s submarines form a key aspect of its nuclear deterrent and second-strike capability.

Either way, the INS Drakon has a special role in that it appears to be designed to act as a bridge that links the new-generation Dolphin 2s to the three Dakar-class submarines that Israel will receive in the 2030s. These will replace the three older first-generation Dolphins that Israel received in the 1990s.

Not much is yet publicly known about the Dakar-type future subs, but they will be equipped with new technology that will boost engine designs and power generators, and sensors that will eliminate the need for older-style periscopes.

As a result of this bridging role between the Dolphin 2 generation of subs and the Dakar generation, INS Drakon’s hull is longer than any of its predecessors. All second-generation Dolphin 2s have larger bodies when compared to the first generation, due to a key feature known as air-independent propulsion systems (AIP). These systems generate electricity from hydrogen and water, enabling the submarines to stay submerged for longer.

This in turn means that the new-generation subs, with their quiet engines that evade enemy sonar detection, can go on longer missions, approaching enemy shores to gather vital intelligence during routine times.

But the INS Drakon’s hull is reportedly even larger than that of its Dolphin 2 sisters, INS Rahav and INS Tanin, which are already in service, possibly hinting at space for new kinds of missiles.

The INS Drakon could be designed to carry both long-range ballistic missiles (which ascend sharply and later descend toward the target) and cruise missiles (which fly at low altitudes and do not follow predictable routes), although the Israeli Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces have not commented on such assessments.

In January 2022, the Israeli Defense Ministry and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems announced a €3 billion deal for three new advanced submarines of the Dakar type.

The deal was supported by a “unique grant” from the German government, the announcement said at the time. This deal also includes an industrial-strategic cooperation agreement that will see Germany invest €850 million in Israeli industries.  

The procurement of Dakar-class submarines, the first of which is set to arrive in 2031, marks a long-term vision for Israel’s naval capabilities. These submarines are expected to have advanced intelligence-gathering and deep-strike capabilities.

Submarines are critical to Israel’s strategic depth, providing deterrence and operational capabilities that no other platform can. Their development is part of a regional arms race. Israel’s adversaries are developing missiles and rockets capable of striking anywhere within the Jewish state, meaning that Israel’s ability to turn the sea into its strategic depth is more important than ever.

In addition, the Mediterranean Sea has grown even more important in the past decade, as Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone provides most of the country’s electric supplies these days, in the form of offshore gas rigs, and the vast majority of imports continue to arrive via the sea.

While much remains under wraps, the INS Drakon seems to be both a technological marvel and a strategic enigma, keeping adversaries alike guessing about its exact capabilities. What is clear is that Israel is making a major investment in submarines.

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