Yesterday, on account of the military exercises (Lusitano 2013) taking place in the island of Porto Santo, comprising air, sea and land operations, we received in the port of Funchal one unusual visitor: the submarine NRP Arpão.
The NRP Arpão is one of the most modern units of the Portuguese Navy and, to the best of my knowledge, is calling Funchal for the first time. Second unit on a class of two (the "Tridente" class) and mostly based on the Type 214 submarine, built by the German consortium HDW, the Tridente and Arpão submarines are, probably, the most sophisticated weapons systems serving in the Portuguese Navy nowadays and meant a giant leap over the previous four ones - the Albacora class, based on the French Daphne - already retired of service.
According to the guys (and girls) that know a little bit about this stuff, these are, presently, the most sophisticated conventional submarines in the world.
And since they are equipped with AIP (Air-Independent Propulsion) - using for that hydrogen cells - they are just one step below, in the food chain, from the dangerous hunter-killers nuclear attack submarines (that these smaller guys, but, nevertheless, with a bad temper, also prey).
Some say that, in certain circumstances, they are even better. What they loose in immersion autonomy and sheer speed (the nuclear ones are faster and with a theoretical endless autonomy), they gain in a stealthier signature and discretion.
The submarine weapons are probably the best kept secrets among the navies of the world. Easily understandable why: it's the perfect weapon by nature. Designed to be stealth and appear everywhere in the world, without warning, launch her weapons and disappear once again in the vastness of the oceans, they can be virtually undetectable while underwater, as long as they keep their mouth shut and don't make a sound.
So it's no surprise that the military are always shy in revealing some operational parameters of these vessels.
Years ago, while still at sea, I spoke a bit with the Chief Mate (the XO in military jargon, right?) of a German submarine alongside in Leixões. When I asked him how deep could they go with that thing, he told me (full of pride for his toy) "that's classified!".
Difficult to explain to these guys that, as a humble civilian that I am, I couldn't care less if they can submerge to three hundred or, otherwise, to four hundred meters. Also, I don't look very Ruskie.
The NRP Arpão, escorted by the APRAM tugboat Boqueirão, approaching the port of Funchal, yesterday, at noon time.
Both lines connected (forward the tugboat Cte Passos Gouveia, and aft the tugboat Boqueirão, both units from APRAM) and proceeding at slow speed and already under towage to the berthing position.
The Officers of the NRP Arpão, positioned on the conning tower (aka "sail" or "fin"), watch the vessel's evolution along the port basin. Except on some rare occasions, the vessels belonging to the Portuguese Navy or to state-owned organisms don't require Pilotage on Portuguese ports. As far as I know, this rule holds true for the vast majority of maritime nations.
Approaching to the berthing place, a floating barge: "hard-a-starboard!", "slow-astern!", "in position!" and "make fast!".
The final cosmetic touch: placing the vessel's name plate on its support.
NRP Arpão (general characteristics)
Constructor: HDW, Germany
Type: U209PN (a variation of the German type U214 design)
LOA: 67.90 mts
Breath: 6.30 mts
Displacement: 1700 tons (surfaced), 2020 tons (submerged)
Max. depth: more than 300 mts
Range: 22000 kms at 8 kts
Endurance: 60 days
Crew: 33 persons (additional embark of 14 special operation elements - Fuzileiros - possible)
Submerged autonomy (using AIP fuel cells): three weeks? (some authors even claim more)
Submerged (using snorkel?): about 22 kts
Submerged (AIP fuel cells): about 6 kts
Surfaced: 10 kts
Weapons: Blackshark torpedoes and Harpoon missiles
All pictures taken with Nikon D300 and cheap AF-S Nikkor DX 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 G ED kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1 and Nikon View NX2.