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Spanish modification of the US Knox class FF design with helicopter facilities replaced by AAW facilities. In 1953 when Cold War realities pushed aside prior political considerations, and resulted in the signature of the Pact of Madrid by Spain and the USA. Among other things, the Pact provided for mutual defense, for U.S. military aid to Spain, and for the construction of bases in Spain that could be used by the USA (notably Rota). The advantages for Spain were clear: its navy was in a sorry state, with capital ships over 30 years old; even its most modern vessels were based on outdated designs.

For the USA, it meant having an allied navy to lend a hand against the newly-ascendant Soviet Union, strong in minesweeping and antisubmarine warfare (ASW), which could bolster the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean approaches. Over the next decade the United States transferred 26 ASW destroyers and minesweepers, transferred over $42 million (worth about $340 million in 2012 dollars) to modernize equipment on 40 other ships, for example, guns, fire control, and so forth, mostly using American gear, and provided extensive training for officers and the sailors.

For its next upgrade, Spain originally intended to build British Leander class frigates, but political complications between the two nations ended that effort. From 1961 onwards it became apparent that the Spanish Government were seriously interested in modernising their navy. Informal talks and discussions at all levels began to take place over ship designs, weapons and equipments, and eventually, during the next two years, missions were exchanged. From an early stage anti-submarine frigates featured in the Spanish program, and by 1963 it was apparent that the "Leander" design was what they really wanted. Initially the Conservative Goernment in the UK was certainly prepared to sell this type of design to them. Of course, while the British were discussing the matter with them, they were also having preliminary discussions with other countries, but in early May 1964 it looked very much as though negotiations were reaching their final stages.

On 17 June 1964 the British had the foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons. The speech of the Leader of the Labour Opposition Harold Wilson included gratuitous insults to the Spanish Government, and the reopening of quarrels more than 25 years old. There is no doubt whatever that it was this, and this alone, which put an end to the negotiations. The Spanish Government announced on 29th June that the negotiations were suspended, and this was finally confirmed by the Spanish Minister of Marine on 1st July.

One Conservative MP asked "Is it not a little inconsistent of the Opposition to get so worried about the possible sale of a few frigates to what they call a Right-wing dictatorship when they themselves supplied three submarines and two frigates to the Right-wing dictatorship of Portugal when they were the Government and 16 Rolls-Royce Nene engines to the Left-wing dictatorship of Russia, which founded the jet age in Russia?"

In November 1964 the Spanish Ministry of Defense approved the construction of guided-missile ships to be built under US license at the Bazn El Ferrol shipyard. In May 1966 the support agreement, NOBS 4078, was signed between the two countries for what became known as the DEG7 Baleares class, based on the DE1052 Knox class ASW destroyer, but modified to have an anti-air warfare (AAW) missile system in place of helicopter facilities. The U.S. Navy established a small Resident Shipbuilding Liaison Office (RESHIPLO) on-site at El Ferrol, headed by a U.S. Navy commander, to administer the day-to-day workings of the support agreement.

The Baleares project proved to be a turning point in Spains ability to build modern warships. The Bazn approach to technology transfer was completely unlike the pattern established in Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, where the majority of the technical expertise came in the form of foreign personnel. Instead, the strategy specifically emphasized the gradual development of home-grown skills. The first task was to define what was already available, and what was still needed, to construct such advanced warships in the El Ferrol yard. To do this, the RESHIPLO assisted Bazn in obtaining licenses for the design and construction of the ship and major equipment, and bringing representatives of the various U.S. industries. Bazn by then was building large tankers (up to 75,000 deadweight tonnes) for the international market, so they had excellent steel fabrication facilities. However, they lacked adequate capability to fabricate large aluminum plates for the DEG7 deckhouse, and needed additional facilities for weapon systems integration and to machine the high-speed reduction gears.

Bazn invested some 500 million pesetas (equivalent to $48 million in 2012 dollars) to upgrade its facilities, as well as developing a complete training system for its technical personnel. For example, U.S. Navy personnel oversaw the establishment of a welding school to teach the specific techniques needed to weld the comparatively thin plates and close frames for warship; but this was a train-thetrainers arrangement, where a handful of Americans taught the welding techniques to senior shipyard welders, who then trained other workers.

The U.S. Navy hired the design firm Gibbs & Cox Inc. (G&C) as ship design agents for the DEG7 hull and machinery, and Sperry for the combat systems. G&C long had a special relationship with the U.S. Navy as its preferred design agent (i.e., it provided the designs that shipyards would then build), and it was at the time handling the detailed design work for the DE1052 class. G&C redesigned the ship to accommodate the Spanish requirements, at the same time translating the plans into metric units (and into Spanish). Sperry established a training and integration facility in New York for the combat systems, which trained Spanish personnel at the same site where the combat systems were integrated and tested, before those systems were disassembled and shipped to Spain.

Other engineers were sent for training to U.S. shipyards and factories where the DE1052 and its components were constructed. In 1969 the RESHIPLO was moved back to the Washington, DC, region to manage the contracts, but there were now over 100 U.S. personnel from various companies (e.g., G&C, Sperry, Foster-Wheeler for the propulsion machinery, etc.) on-site at El Ferrol, mainly devoted to quality assurance which was still not up to U.S. standards.

Work progressed slowly as the Bazn personnel developed the skills, techniques, and quality control practices required to construct advanced warships. Most of this knowledge transfer took place with the production personnel (welders, shipfitters, machinists, etc.); by contrast, the design and engineering personnel were much less involved in the process, as those tasks were primarily left to G&C. By 1976, Bazn had successfully delivered 5 ships (now redesignated as frigates, the F70 class), which played an important role in the NATO naval force structure when Spain entered the organization in 1982.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2013 12:14:02 ZULU