Ageing and Ailing NAVANTIA

Shall the Spanish Parliament have a say in clearing an export licence to NAVANTIA for the sale of 5 corvettes AVANTE 2200 to Saudi Arabia?


In the dreadful financial situation of NAVANTIA, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy should then put a maximum pressure on the lawmakers to authorize the sale of the ships to Saudi Arabia. A fierce debate in sight however; where the Spanish Podemos (with the “Indignados”) and PSOE politics would tackle the Parliament and feed up the media with humanitarian claims as: how can we supply with lethal armaments a country breeding Islamist terrorism and bloodily repressing its Yemen neighbour”However this contract is desperately needed by the Spanish group of shipyards, absolutely short of orders, crushed by debts and that would have been since a long time in bankruptcy, if not owned by the Government.


NAVANTIA: the Spanish shipbuilding adrift


A dreadful financial situation

The Spanish shipyards, most of them grouped under the State owned NAVANTIA, suffer the same pandemic that struck a number of European shipyards over the past 30 years: non-competitiveness. Many were closed in the UK, Netherland, Belgium, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Poland…

The survivors all dramatically cut down their workforce. Those remaining healthy focused on the most advanced technology, keeping a few years lid on the Far East yards. Their chance was to be extremely good at cruise ships, from luxury yachts to huge passenger vessels, and military ships.

In both cases, they had to master not only naval architecture but electronics, robotics, new technologies of power generation, combat systems integration etc.

Unfortunately NAVANTIA kept out of the passenger vessels game, limited since 35 years to Finland (Meyerwerft), Italy (Fincantieri) and France (STX).

Although the State company raised its military activities from 35% to 80% in the past 10 years, its losses remain of great concern, still worse in 2016: €304 M loss for  a turn-over of €723M. It might also damage the hope of the great contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the supply of those AVANTE 2200 corvettes at a rough price of € 3, 000M.

However, this might be the last chance for a friendly Kingdom of Spain to stay afloat! And who knows: should these said corvettes be fitted with a US Lockeed Martin system, the brother Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could feel more comfortable under the US Navantia umbrella!

Year Company T.over


Result (€M) Work force
1950 Bazan
2001 Izar (152
2002 (121) 11,000
2003 1,700 (30)
2005 Navantia
2008 1,472 (51) 5,700
2012 900 5,000
2015 (227)
2016 723 (304) 5,500


Shall the US Trajan Horse in Europe remain onboard a leaky Spanish Company?


For surface combatants, Navantia: the US shipbuilding in Europe

Regarding military ships, in 1995, short of a strong national defence electronics industry, Spain made the choice to withdraw from the European APAR project and join the US club based on AEGIS systems. The F100 frigates were then the first non US ships with such a US Navy system. Since then, Navantia lost its weapon system naval integration capability and freedom.

All the NAVANTIA frigates built in the past 20 years, for the Spanish Armada or for the export market (Norway, Australia) totally depend of the US as regard their weapons, combat system and system integration.

They all are made within a consortium Lockeed Martin, Bath Iron Works and Navantia, the core of the weapon system being the US Navy AEGIS… and the know- how Lockeed Martin. Hence the Spanish built surface combatants delivery, maintenance and operation need the green light from the US authorities.

Outside this US system capability there seem to be no real capacity within Navantia to produce modern and complex naval ships. The Juan Carlos  LHD class and the 2 Australian Canberra of the same vintage have no real combat system, except basic and simple close self –defence.

The same for the 8 OPVs ordered by Venezuela in May 2006 under corvettes name AVANTE 2200: primarily coast-guard vessels they are fitted only with a single gun of 76mm, a close defence weapon of 35mm and 2 machine guns. A simple Tacticos Thales system is enough but was installed and interfaced for the first time by Navantia alone, without Lockeed Martin and without any technical and operational trial. The Spanish Navy operates no ship of that kind, with only 4 corvettes, SERVIOLA class, 25 years old, serving as OPV, without real combat system.


The fact is that in the past 20 years the only modern surface combatants delivered by NAVANTIA were 13 AEGIS Lockheed Martin frigates assembled by the Spanish Ferrol shipyard, used as a Trajan Horse in Europe by the US naval industry.


For the export market, Navantia naval surface ships are trustworthy only if fitted with a Lockeed Martin system and US weapons. When proposed with European missiles, sensors and CMS, even supplied by the best Defence houses, they remain at risk, due to the lack of experience and know-how of the firm in integrating and interfacing systems and platform; also to the fact that none of those weapons, sensors and systems are onboard the mother Navy vessels.

In other words buying Navantia frigates or corvettes is buying US under a European status, however subject to a Pentagon ban; or taking a serious risk of faulty system performances with delay and cost overrun.


Nightmare submarines


Since 45 years, the Spanish submarines (4 Daphne class plus 4 Agosta class) were designed by the French State owned DCN (now NAVAL GROUP) and built by IZAR (now NAVANTIA) in Carthagena, with Naval Group technical assistance. All their major equipments, systems and weapons were of French origin.

In 2002, for political reasons, the Spanish Navy turned to the US and Navantia was then requested to produce a 100% indigenous submarine fitted with US weapons and combat system.

A contract for 4 submarines named S 80 was signed with Navantia in 2004 for an amount of 1,756 M€. The First of Class (FOC) would be delivered in 2012. Increase of the budget up to €2,135 M came soon, whereas the delivery date of the FOC was extended first until 2015, then 2016, now 2021.

In 2013 it came out that “the weight and balance problems detected in November 2012 were requiring a re-design of the boat” (IHS Jane’s), which was ordered to the US General Dynamics- Electric Boat and paid for by Navantia.  The new design introduced an increase in length by 10 m to make up for an overweight of 100 t. It will delay the first ship delivery until 2021 at the earliest.


The case of S 80 submarine: by 10 years late, most probably underperforming, at high risk with a paper fuel cell AIP and poor engineering,  cost-overruns since 2015: €759 M (+36%).  “Difficult to estimate how much…finally[1]”, disqualified Navantia on the export market of submarines such as India, Australia.


Like many European shipyards, is Navantia sentenced to death shortly?

[1] Pedro Arguelles, then Secretary of state for Defence

Photo credit : ©
  Sanfu Salomon, Podemos, el Espanol

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