NATO’s Sea Guardian Gains Spain’s 40-Year-Old Upgraded Sub

# Spain’s Vintage Submarine S-71 Galerna Extends Service for NATO Operation Sea Guardian

In the vast waters of the Mediterranean, where geopolitical currents flow deep, the NATO operation Sea Guardian witnesses a unique participant – the Spanish submarine S-71 Galerna. Refurbished after 40 years of service, the vessel continues to contribute to one of the Alliance’s key maritime security missions. This seasoned warrior of the depths exemplifies the commitment of Spain, despite the delayed introduction of newer technology, in the protection of Europe’s maritime borders.

## A Four-Decade-Old Submarine Joins Modern NATO Drills

The S-71 Galerna, a member of the S-70 class, is an integral part of the Spanish Navy enlisted in NATO’s ongoing operation Sea Guardian. This operation is a continuous effort focusing on counter-terrorism capabilities and deterrence at sea. Spain’s contribution includes dispatching a high-altitude patrol vessel or BAM (Buque de Acción Marítima), the provision of a command ship with embarked staff capable of leading the operation, a maritime patrol aircraft with the capacity for four monthly sorties, and a submarine for a 35-day period. As the commissioning of the new S-81 Isaac Peral awaits finalization, the Galerna stands in.

## The Ongoing Lifecycle of S-71 Galerna

Initially set to retire in 2018, the operational cycle of the S-71 Galerna took an unexpected turn due to an 11-year delay in the final delivery of the first unit of the S-80 class. The need to maintain a functioning submarine fleet prompted a reconsideration of phasing out the four S-70 class submarines. The Siroco (S-72) and the Mistral (S-73) have already been scrapped, but the fate of the Galerna (S-71) and Tramontana (S-74) was inevitably for a different course – Spain could not afford to be without an operational submarine.

In consequence, in 2021, the life cycle of Galerna was extended by an additional five years. The submarine underwent extensive refurbishment with 15,000 components disassembled and reassembled, meticulous inspection of its hull and non-removable structures, the update of hull pathways, regulation tanks, and its four torpedo-launching tubes.

Once afloat, diesel groups, hydraulic plant, and electrical distribution were checked, followed by surface testing of propulsion, navigation, and communication systems. About to conclude its service life, the submarine found a new operational lifeline extending to 2027, breathing a second wind into its role within operation Sea Guardian.

## The Theoretical and Real Objectives of Operation Sea Guardian

The operation, which takes place semiannually, supports “maritime situational awareness,” assists the “maritime support to the fight against terrorism,” seeks to prevent the “spread of Maritime Destruction Weapons,” and contributes to “capacity-building in maritime security,” as defined by the Spanish Ministry of Defense.

The engagement stretches across international waters of the Mediterranean and near the Strait of Gibraltar. The command center is located in Northwood (United Kingdom), at the Allied Maritime Command headquarters. Although there is no reference to specific threats, the operation addresses generic risks without mentioning the ongoing tension between dominant regional players like Algeria and Morocco, NATO’s strategic partner.

### Critical Infrastructure Protection and NATO Visibility

According to analysts, the Mediterranean realm is a strategic location with the presence of the US Sixth Fleet headquartered in Naples, alongside significant naval forces from France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and the naval forces of Egypt and Algeria. The UK’s Royal Navy maintains bases in Gibraltar and Cyprus, and the Russian fleet has a presence at the Tartus base in Syria.

The primary function of missions like Sea Guardian is coordination and training. They offer rapid response to risks and emphasize the protection of critical infrastructures. Following incidents such as the Nord Stream and Balticconnector sabotage, it’s essential to consider that 65% of the gas and oil reaching Europe crosses the Mediterranean, in addition to the 95% of computer data traffic. The potential for sabotage against pipelines or submarine communication cables could pose a delicate issue.

Thus, while satellite control, spy planes, and reconnaissance drones may perform surveillance tasks, the active presence and surveillance mission of NATO cannot be underscored enough. It illustrates the alliance’s capability and intent to maintain a vigilant eye over the region, not just for safeguarding infrastructure but also for monitoring vessels from other fleets, such as those from Russia, China, or the Middle East.

## Conclusion

The deployment of the venerable S-71 Galerna in the context of NATO’s Sea Guardian operation is a testament to the complexities and challenges faced by navies in maintaining operational readiness amidst a shifting technological landscape and geopolitical tensions. As we await the commissioning of the new S-81 Isaac Peral, which promises to elevate Spain’s naval stature, Galerna’s extended service encapsulates the enduring spirit of resilience and strategic commitment to European maritime security.

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