When you think submarines you conjure up images of German U-boats or the USS Nautilus – the world’s first nuclear submarine and first to cross the Arctic Ocean below the ice of the North Pole. Real aficionados will also know of the fearsome-looking Soviet hunter submarines of the Cold War, American submersible platforms for SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) and the British and French ballistic missile submarines of the Vanguard and Triomphant classes respectively.

However, fewer people will associate Spain with cutting edge submarine technology, and know that the country is currently building a series of four new second generation S-80 class ships that, once commissioned in 2013, will be among the most advanced and capable submarines in the world – particularly among non-nuclear subs of the kind also used by the navies of Germany, Holland, Italy and Japan.

With the development of this new class, Spain is not only greatly enhancing its naval capability but also showing its technological prowess off to the world. The fact that the ships will be the only non-nuclear submarines capable of operating the famed Tomahawk missile is an indication of close connections with the United States too.

Among the many advanced features is the advanced Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, which follows a different path from those used in previous French vessels and runs on bioethanol fuel that is converted into high performance hydrogen. The first two subs are currently nearing completion at the Navantia docks in Cartagena, a city with a proud naval tradition that continues to this day. Navantia, regarded as one of the leading military shipbuilders in the world, is responsible not just for the development of these leading vessels, but also of the state-of-the-art F100 class frigates and the helicopter and STOVL carrier Juan Carlos I. 

The export value that these ships showcase for Spanish technology and industry is evident, and other navies will be looking to do what Thailand did when it ordered the small HTMS Chakri Naruebet aircraft carrier based on Spain’s very own Princípe de Asturias. The fact that Spain has become an innovator in the field of naval technology should not really be surprising, considering that the country is responsible for the world’s first electric submarine – launched 16 days before a French counterpart on 8 September 1888.

Once the pride of Spanish technology, the Peral submarine is now proudly displayed at the Paseo Alfonso XII in Cartagena – the very city where Spain’s latest groundbreaking submarines are being built.