Everything we know or we think to know about the argentine navy’s submarine force sank with the ARA San Juan submarine in November 2017. Long after the wreckage was found by the Seabed Constructor’s AUVs, almost one year later, much will continue to be debated by the military, the Defense Ministry and even the Congressional Committee that investigated what happened. But actually, with oh so little information about that submarine, which is lying with its crew of 44, on the argentine seabed.
With great influence of upcoming general elections, the publishing of that congressional committee inquiry is plagued with controversy between the committee, the defense ministry, the Navy and even relatives of the 44 who perished onboard. Among the members of this committee is congresswoman and former defense minister, Nilda Garre, who authorized the final mid-life overhaul of the ARA San Juan. Still, current investigation by the court judge Marta Yanez is also investigating on the fact of intelligence gathering activities by the submarine on its voyage from Ushuaia to its homeport in Mar del Plata naval base, related to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in the Malvinas Islands. Actually, nothing to be surprised if true, only one of many feats of any “silent service” in the world.
In recent statements, defense minister Oscar Aguad declared that the sinking of the ARA San Juan was not related to budget constraints, none the less, Infobae published the sailing track of each of the commanding officers of the submarine which showed a very reduced sailing experience over the years in all three available submarines. Aguad again said that this was attributed to the fact that the submarines were unavailable during their overhauls, still, the defense budget has been constantly reduced for sea operations ever since the TR-1700 submarines were received by the Argentine Navy. The ARA Santa Cruz, ARA San Juan’s sister ship, has been declared unworthy of being completely overhauled and upgraded due to the extent of the obsolescent components installed in comparison to the age of the submarine by both TKMS and peruvian engineers of the peruvian navy’s SIMA.
Rear Admiral Daniel Abbondanza, Argentine Navy Fleet Forces Commander, in last May stated that the Navy should, if the ARA Santa Cruz was not suitable to be brought back to service, procure new submarines. To this purpose, the Argentine Navy sent personnel to Germany in order to analyze the possibility to purchase the U212A submarines. It was not disclosed if these were submarines in service or newly built.
This consideration completely collides with the current situation of the Argentine Navy, as we recently reported. The German Navy in recent years had offered the U206A submarines but were not considered sufficient for the Argentine Navy, after extensive modifications, the Colombian Navy is making use of them and recently made some live firings of its DM2A3 torpedoes.
On the other hand, high level conversations were in place to consider a transfer of two of the Brazilian Navy U209 submarines. But they are in need of an overhaul and upgrade of which the Brazilian Navy does not have the funds to implement or neither operate since their upcoming delivery of newly built submarines based in DCNS’s Scorpene class. The last operating submarine in the Argentine Navy is indeed an U209, ARA Salta, but unlike its Brazilian counterparts, the lack of proper overhaul and upgrade has left no other option than its scrapping as well. Argentina is the only operator of the U209 worldwide that will abandon them.
The Argentine Navy’s Submarine Force, this almost centennial “silent service”, is in dire need of a budget assignment to provide new submarines with also the necessary funds to supply and operate them as any XXI century submarine would. If that would be the case, other options could be in place and also as attractive, such as the dolphin submarines of the Israeli Navy, of which Germany and Israel are in talks to provide three more of the Dolphin II improved variant.
Cover photo: Martin Otero