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Spanish Navy (Armada)

The Spanish Navy [ Armada Española ] is the maritime branch of the Spanish armed forces. It is one of the oldest naval forces in activity in the world. Its beginning dates back to the late 15th century and early 16th century, when the large Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were United under the Catholic monarchs. The Spanish Navy has had a decisive role in the history of Spain, particularly in logistical and defensive areas during the time of the Spanish Empire. Among the great achievements of the Navy are the discovery of America, the first around the world with Juan Sebastián Elcano and the discovery of the maritime route between Asia and America by Andrés de Urdaneta. The Spanish Navy was the strongest in the world since the 16th century until mid- or late 17th and until well into the 19th century remained among the first three.

Spain's navy is critical to its defense. Spain's population and industry are concentrated along her coasts, which also form 83 percent of her international boundaries. Trade continues to be dependent on sea routes. More than 90 percent of Spain's exports go by sea, and a majority of imports - particularly raw materials and hydrocarbons - reach Spain by sea. Consequently, her international orientation has always emphasized the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The part of the Mediterranean which is obviously of most importance to Spain is the western region in which the Balearic Islands occupy a dominating position. On the Atlantic side of the country, there are two areas of strategic importance. The first and more significant is the Cadiz-Canaries-Azores triangle. Most of the maritime traffic that supplies Spain and almost all the sea lines of communication that constitute the umbilical cord of Western Europe converge there. The northern waters of peninsular Spain are also of some interest. For example, a thousand-mile arc drawn from EI Ferrol includes the Bay of Biscay, the English Channel, the North Sea, the Irish Sea, and the major sea lanes from North America to Europe. These strategic areas thus account for the location of Spain's four major naval bases: one in the Canaries, one at Cadiz/Rota oriented toward the Cadiz-Canaries-Azores triangle, one in Cartagena oriented toward the western Mediterranean, and one in El Ferrol oriented toward the eastern Atlantic.

Naval capabilities constitute a necessary and valuable contribution to the joint effort in the maritime setting, offering specific capabilities to a joint or combined Command within a global and integrated vision. The basic criterion for the Naval Forces must be an orientation towards projection operations, as described in the conceptual phase of the 2003 Strategic Defence Review. The expeditionary nature of the Navy is manifest in the inherent characteristic of strategic mobility. In the free environment of the sea where there are neither borders nor requirements for diplomatic authorisation and where the presence of forces is an exclusive function of the political will of the government, the naval force may appear suddenly on any scenario and disappear at will. In sum, the Navy possesses a high degree of availability, mobility, flexibility and radius of action.

Along with its expeditionary potential, Naval Command and Control facilitates coordination of operations and trustworthy, permanent links between tactical level command at the scene of action and operational level command, and sometimes even with strategic level command, which is normally land-based. In addition, there is enormous interoperability with Allied units and the reconnaissance elements that facilitate the activity of land command. The capabilities of the Naval Force structure offer the clearest and most straightforward definition of the role it must play in the new strategic scenario.

Naval forces should ensure the defence and control of waters under national sovereignty, and participate in the full spectrum of collective defence and crisis response missions in scenarios far removed from the national territory. The 2003 Strategic Defense Review directed that Naval Forces be capable of making the following efforts simultaneously:

  • Leading a Naval Component capable of integrating multinational naval forces, providing an aero-naval Projection Group based on an aircraft carrier, with the required escorts and support ships, and an amphibious component with the capacity to project a Marines Brigade; which should be sufficient to constitute an expeditionary force operational for two months in any of the maritime areas of interest, within a radius of 3600 miles.
  • Participate in operations at two theaters separate and distant from each other, providing two escorts to each of them continuously.
  • Permanently maintain two mine counter measures vessels as part of a multinational mine-clearing force, with the capability to lead it.
  • Simultaneously maintain two submarines operating in two theaters, one distant and the other close.
Six naval capabilities were identified in the 2003 Strategic Defense Review. Although there is some overlap due to the multifunctional quality of certain units, each can be considered individually. These will materialise via the corresponding principal programmes of F-100 Frigates in the short run and S-80 submarines, LHA class multifunctional ships and the logistical AOR ship in the mid- and long run.

The Projection Capability is understood as the real possibility of transporting naval action and its influence over land to the chosen littoral scenario; developing its freedom of action and sufficient permanence, while cooperating in the projection and sustainment of forces from other Services. Given the present conditions, this is the primary capability that the Navy can offer to joint and combined strategy for the near future. Projection capability is an effective element for deterrence, crisis management and conflict response in our joint military strategy. This comes in the form of naval platforms capable of acting from sea to land, such as:

  • A command and control ship capable of housing a multinational, high-readiness Headquarters.
  • Amphibious ships especially designed to project Marine Infantry troops and equipped with the adequate Command and Control systems for directing amphibious operations.
  • An aircraft carrier with the latest air operations control systems, and an naval air unit composed of short take-off, all weather capability planes, and multi-use naval helicopters.
  • Platforms equipped with surface-to-surface missiles, and some artillery for coastal action.
  • A strategic projection ship capable of projecting Marine Infantry or Army troops along with their materiel and armament.
There are three subordinate capabilities or enablers to projection capability that ensure a safe, effective and sustained action: protection capability, freedom of action capability and operational logistical support capability.

Protection capability is the power to ensure the survival of projection units in any scenario, and of national troops on land, in the face of any threat. Basically, this is provided by oceanic escorts, which should be frigates equipped with the latest technology and with anti-air and surface-to-surface missiles.

The capability to act freely in any theatre of operations and especially in littoral scenarios depends on the ability to neutralise any possible threat that might endanger projection units in coastal waters and difficult spaces. This capability is provided by submarines and by countermine forces, two very different platforms with one same purpose. Thanks to their discreet, almost invisible presence, submarines can observe and inform on littoral activities, making them significant instruments for obtaining intelligence. Future submarines will have an Air Independent Propulsion System and the capability of launching missiles over land.

The operational logistical support capability, in the form of logistical ships, is the capacity to ensure sustainment of operations. These ships multiply logistical self-sufficiency for naval units and provide support for other Services’ units or Allied naval forces.

The fifth capability is exclusively national. Maritime action capability is the set of capabilities the Navy offers to the State for protecting the national maritime interests at sea and helping maintain citizen peace, security and well-being, in cooperation with other State institutions. Composed of the set of naval resources and units deployed along the Spanish littoral, its commitments include naval presence and surveillance of our maritime interests, exercise of sovereignty in territorial waters and cooperation with other State institutions that have maritime jurisdiction in: policing, combating marine contamination, scientific research, hydro-graphic tasks, maintenance of underwater archaeological treasures, search and rescue and civil protection tasks.

The sixth capability is the Navy’s contribution to the early warning system, in the form of military intelligence operations. From a joint perspective, this is the strategic basis for conflict prevention. It is defined as the ability to obtain and analyse maritime intelligence, provide situation reports concerning our maritime interests, and protect national or Allied forces or civil elements by control or preventive measures. This could include the use of the special operations Navy units that constitute the Special Naval War capability.

This capability is especially valuable in combating and eliminating asymmetrical threats, with their new international dimension. Although the arena for combating these threats is not uniquely naval, the accessibility and elusiveness of maritime traffic is often useful in asymmetrical threats. With government approval, Naval forces can undoubtedly make a great contribution in this area. This last capability will include the following elements:

  • Intelligence gathering equipment on ships, aircraft or Navy Installations.
  • Specific naval platforms dedicated to obtaining intelligence at sea.
  • Naval units prepared for maritime interdiction operations including detecting, tracking and inspecting suspicious ships.
  • Units capable of planning and executing special operations.

In the Spanish Navy, an institution which is part of the history of Spain, modernity coexists with deep-rooted military and seafaring customs and traditions. The Spanish Navy has great prestige home and abroad gained through participation in many missions, both in peacetime and in moments of crisis or conflict, whenever the Spanish Government so requests.





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