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Spanish Navy (Armada) - 1975-1989 - Late Cold War

Entering the post-Franco period, the navy may have been even more antiquated than the army. While it was of impressive size with 26 major surface combatants, all but five of these were ofworld War II vintage or older. The navy's solution was the Plan del Alta Mar (High Seas Plan).

In 1980 Spain was not a member of NATO, but coordinated her defenses with some NATO countries by means of bilateral agreements. The primary mission of the Spanish navy was to help maintain sea control in three key areas: the Mediterranean west of the Balearic and Alboran Islands, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Atlantic between Spain and the Canary Islands. The large number of old ships that were in the Spanish navy in the 1950s had only partially been replaced. In the early 1950s it had six cruisers, 21 destroyers, 18 gunboats and minelayers which served as large frigates, and nine 1400-ton torpedo boats in service or under construction.

By 1980 it had one light carrier, 13 destroyers, six large frigates and eight light frigates, of which all but five large missile frigates of the Baleares class and three new light frigates of the Descubierta class would have to be retired in the near future due to age. Spain was completing five more light frigates of the Descubierta class and plans to build a light carrier and three Peary-class large missile frigates, but these will not compensate numerically for the losses.

Spain's submarine force had remained relatively constant at eight ships, and she was building four French Agosta-class ships which would replace four World War II US boats.

Her force of nine fast attack craft declined to two by 1974, but since then she has built 12 new ones of the Lazaga and Barcelo classes which, however, were used on patrol duties and do not regularly carry missiles or torpedoes. Spain retained all but one of the 12 MSC she received from the U.S. in the 1950s, and in 1971-72 added four ex-US MSO with some mine locating capability.

Since 1976 Spain's carrier operated seven Harrier V/STOL aircraft (called Matadors) in addition to helicopters. The Spanish Air Force operated six P-3A maritime patrol aircraft.

By 1983 the aircraft carrier Prince Asturias , three submarines ("Agosta" class) and three guided missile frigates ("Oliver H. Perry" class) were under construction. The ships of the last two classes were being constructed under license. In the future, the Navy command intended to add to the Navy eight more guided missile frigates (two "Oliver H. Perry" class and six "Descubierta" class) and two guided missile destroyers.

Transfer of the light aircraft carrier "Prince Asturian" to the navy was anticipated in the first half of 1988; the obsolete aircraft carrier "Dedalo", built in 1943, would be dropped from the inventory subsequently. The regular navy had received two "Oliver H. Perry" class guided missile frigates (four in the series; one more may be ordered). They were being built in Spain under an American license.

The ship building program foresaw commissioning the following by 1996: three submarines of a new design, one or two guided missile destroyers with a displacement of 6,500 tons, five frigates, including guided missile frigates, four minehunters and eight coastal minesweepers, a helicopter dock landing ship and four tank landing ships, three patrol ships, six missile boats, a cargo transporter and a general-purpose supply transporter.

The main attention would be devoted to building submarines (type S80, with French design participation) and "Descubierta" class guided missile frigates, and to purchasing deck-landing AV-8B Harrier strike fighters and helicopters.

The first three airplanes of 12 ordered from the USA had already entered the naval aviation inventory. Portugal An order for construction of three type MEK0200 guided missile frigates in the FRG was placed in July 1986. Two antisubmarine helicopters (of as yet unknown type) would be based on them. Their transfer to the navy was anticipated prior to 1992.

There were plans for modernizing frigates presently in the inventory. Thus the forward 100-mm artillery mounts on "Comandante Joao Belo" class ships were to be replaced by a helicopter pad and hangar for a helicopter (for two helicopters), and by antiship missile launchers (also two). The frigates "Baptista de Andrale" and "Joao Coutinho" (10 units) were to be armed with Sea Sparrow antiaircraft missile systems and antiship missile systems. Obsolete "S. Roque" class coastal minesweepers built in 1956-1957 were to be replaced by six new minesweepers; construction of the latter was to begin after completion of the program of construction of type MEK0200 guided missile frigates.

By the end of the Cold War, the Spanish navy (Armada) was relatively large, ranking second in total tonnage, after the British navy, among European NATO nations in the late 1980s. Its ship inventory, although aging, was being upgraded through a construction and modernization program. The total strength of the navy in 1986 was 57,000 personnel,broken down as follows: 44,800 fleet and naval aviation personnel and 12,200 marines. As part of its personnel reorganization, its strength was reduced by 10,000 to 47,300 personnel, including marines, as of 1987. Of this number, about 34,000 were conscripts. Obligated service was 18 months.

Ship strength of the navy in the late 1980s was about 60 combat ships, including 1 general-purpose aircraft carrier, 8 diesel submarines (torpedo attack), 5 DDGs, 7FFGs, 9 amphibious ships, 12 minesweepers and 4 corvettes. In addition, the navy had more than 60 combat cutters of various designations and more than 100 various amphibious landing craft in their amphibious flotilla. The Spanish Navy had more than 140 auxiliary ships.

Operational naval units were classified by mission, and they were assigned to the combat forces, the protective forces, or the auxiliary forces. The combat forces were given the tasks of conducting offensive and defensive operations against potential enemies and of assuring maritime communications. Their principal vessels included a carrier group, naval aircraft, transports and landing vessels, submarines, and missile-armed fast attack craft.

The protective forces had the mission of protecting maritime communications over both ocean and coastal routes and the approaches to ports and to maritime terminals. Their principal components were destroyers or frigates, corvettes, and minesweepers as well as marine units for the defense of naval installations. The auxiliary forces, responsible for transport and for provisioning at sea, also had such diverse tasks as coast guard operations, scientific work, and maintenance of training vessels. In addition to supply ships and a tanker, the force included older destroyers and a considerable number of patrol craft.

The Fleet Command (headqartered at El Ferrol) includes aircraft carrier forces, and flotillas of escort ships and amphibious forces. A flotilla of submarines, consisting of two divisions, was under the Submarine Force Commander (Cartegena Naval Base), while the Mine Force Command (also at Cartegena) was represented by a flotilla of mine forces (two divisions). Subordinate to the commander in chief of the fleet, with his headquarters in Madrid, were four zonal commands: the Cantabrian Maritime Zone with its headquarters at El Ferrol del Caudillo (Ferrol) on the Atlantic coast; the Straits Maritime Zone with its headquarters at San Fernando near Cadiz; the Mediterranean Maritime Zone with its headquarters at Cartagena; and the Canary Islands Maritime Zone with its headquarters at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

The fleet of eight submarines was built, based on French designs, with extensive French assistance. Four submarines of the Agosta class were constructed in Spain between 1983 and 1985. They were equipped with the submarine-launched version of the Exocet antiship missile. Four submarines of the Daphne class had been completed between 1973 and 1975.

The largest vessel of the navy was the 15,000-ton aircraft carrier, Principe de Asturias, which had entered service in 1988 as a replacement for the carrier R01 Ddedalo after completing sea trials. Built in Spain with extensive United States engineering assistance and financing, it was designed with a "ski-jump" takeoff deck. Its complement would be six to eight Harrier vertical (or short) takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft and as many as sixteen helicopters designed for antisubmarine warfare and support of marine landings.

The new carrier was to have as its escort group four frigates of the United States FFG-7 class, built in Spain and armed with Harpoon and Standard missiles. The first three were commissioned between 1986 and 1988; construction on the fourth was begun in 1987. Also in the inventory were five frigates, commissioned between 1973 and 1976 and built in Spain with United States assistance.

A number of United States destroyers of the Gearing and the Fletcher classes, constructed at the close of World War II, were also in the 1988 inventory, although the three remaining Fletcher class vessels were scheduled to be retired by 1990.

Six slightly smaller vessels of Portuguese design, classified as corvettes, were constructed in Spain between 1978 and 1982. Four ATREVIDA-Class corvettes were reclassified from the frigate designation in 1980. Their full displacement was 1,135 tons, standard is 1,031 tons; length, 75.5 m; beam, 10.2 m; draft, 3 m. After removing their ASW armament, the only remaining ship's armament were a 76-mm gun each and three 40-mm gun installations each. They can also carry up to 20 mines.

The mine forces were represented by four ocean-going Aggressive-Class minesweepers and eight Adjutant-Class inshore minesweepers built in the US in the 1950s, and later transferred to the Spanish Navy. They had a limited capability to search and sweep mines.

Landing ships and craft include a Cabildo-Class landing ship, dock, two Paul Revere-Class transports, three Terrebone Parish-Class tank landing ships (all of US construction and transferred to Spain in the period from 1971 to 1980) and three Spanish-built LCT-Class tank landing ships.

Of their patrol boats, the most combat-capable appears to be the six Lazaga-Class guard ships (PC01-06) built in 1975-77. They have a fulldisplacement of 399 tons; length, 58.1 m; beam, 7-6 m; draft, 2.6 m. The power of their propulsion plant is 8,000 hp with a maximum speed of 30 kts and a cruising range of 6,100 mi at 17 kts. Each ship is armed with one 76-mm and one 40-mm and two 20-mm guns. In 1986-87, these ships were be equipped with the Harpoon anti-ship missile.

Naval Aviation was organizationally structured into an aviation flotilla, which had seven squadrons: the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron with AV-8S Matador aircraft; the 7th Fire Support Helicopter Squadron with AH-1G Huey Cobra; the 1st Training Squadron (AB.47G helicopters); the 4th Communications Squadron; the 3rd (AB.212 ASW helicopters), 5th (SH-3D Sea King) and the 6th (Hughes 500M) ASW helicopters. In operational relationships, the air force's 22nd Patrol Air Wing, equipped with 6 P-3A Orion maritime patrol aircraft, was subordinated to the Navy.

The marines, numbering about 12,000 troops, were divided into base defense forces and landing forces. One of the three base defense battalions was stationed at each of the headquarters at Ferrol, Cartagena, and San Fernando. "Groups" (midway between battalions and regiments) were stationed at Madrid and at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The fleet tercio (equal to a regiment), available for immediate embarkation, was based at San Fernando and subordinated to the fleet commander. Marine equipment included M48 tanks, 155-mm self-propelled howitzers, 105-mm self-propelled and towed cannon, 120-, 81-, and 60-mm motars, 106-mm recoilless rifles, TOW and Dragon anti-tank missiles and LVTP-7 amphibian armored personnel carriers.

Training wss aimed at increasing the combat readiness of fleet aviation and marine forces and systems, and, in light of the broadening military ties with NATO, at exercising joint operations with fleets of the other members. In 1985, the Spanish Navy participated in one exercise of the national armed forces. The fleet took on more than 60 national and joint exercises of various levels with the navies of the US, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Greece and Morocco. Marine amphibious forces carried out 12 exercise-training landings and 9 exercises to practice combat operations of marines on the shore. Elements of the naval defense force participated in 85 tactical and 5 command post exercises.

Overall, in combat training, they executed over 134 combat drills for organization for air-defense of ships at sea using tactical air force aviation and 62 with aircraft and helicopters of naval aviation; 25 times, the forces of the navy dispersed for the operational security and combat readiness and more than 40 times in the support of ground forces. In 1985, the total at-sea time for Spanish submarines (submerged) was about 7,000 hours, and general naval aviation flight time, 13,000. In addition, the Spanish Navy underwent 80 deployments (total duration, 762 days) for patrol duties in the economic and fishing zones. Auxiliary ships deployed more than 70 times in support of the continuous navy operations.

As of 1986, by 1996 Spain was planning to build three submarines, one or two DDGs, five frigates and FFGs, four minesweeper-minehunters and eight inshore minesweepers, six missile boats, a supply ship, an aircushion dock landing ship, four tank landing ships, three corvettes and one training sailing ship. Completion of these programs could move the Spanish Navy into the list of capable and powerful navies of Western Europe.

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Page last modified: 29-11-2015 19:01:13 ZULU