Spain might be sailing toward a financial hurricane, but the country's new submarines are forging ahead below the turmoil.

The focus of the Undersea Defense Technology show here this year was the host nation's S-80 submarine. In the nearby Mediterranean city of Cartagena lies an assembly line of these vessels with not just one, but all four, in various stages of completion at the Navantia shipyard.

Any concerns that the program may be affected by Spain's current economic woes were brushed aside. Jesus Pascual, S-80 project manager, says not only that engineering on the submarine is 85% complete but the raw material for all four is 94% procured, the main equipment for the first two submarines is 100% procured and all main equipment except for some of the air-independent propulsion (AIP) equipment has been procured for the second two. Secondary equipment is 95% procured for all four vessels, he says.

The first of the 2,500-ton subs, S-81 Isaac Peral, is more than half completed and on schedule to be afloat in May 2013 and delivered to the Spanish navy in March 2015. The 7.3-meter-dia. (24-ft.) pressure hull and main structures are complete and the sub is being outfitted. The hull and structures are also complete for the second boat, S-82 Narciso Monturiol, and it is undergoing pre-outfitting. This second mixed-AIP-diesel-electric vessel is scheduled to be set afloat in March 2015 and delivered to the navy in November 2017. The pressure hull is being completed for the third, S-83 Cosme García, and the manufacturing process on the pressure hull for the fourth, S-84 Mateo Garcia de los Reyes, is in progress.

The gap between setting afloat and delivery is supposed to get increasingly shorter—September 2016 to March 2018 for S-83, and November 2018 to May 2019 for S-84—given that lessons learned from the first two will be applied.

The AIP system, based on a fuel cell using liquid oxygen and hydrogen extracted from bio-ethanol, allows the boat to remain submerged longer than with batteries. Pascual says it has the “highest AIP range in the market.” The initial two-week submersion endurance in AIP mode should be extended eventually. Its maximum endurance in battery mode is 80 hr.

Navantia called on the expertise of some of Europe's leading naval players. The S-80's screw propeller was designed with Sweden's SSPA, the diesel engine with Germany's Tognum MTU and the simulators with Spain's Indra, which is also supplying the radars. Navantia also analyzed five different combat systems “and the S-80 has been designed to cope with the most complex of them,” remarks Pascual, adding that “potential clients can choose their own weapon and combat system for this submarine giving them unrivaled flexibility to select American, European or domestic sensors and weapons.” He says the Spanish navy chose Lockheed Martin's system so as to have “commonality with our frigates.”

Grant Corcoran, international business development manager for Lockheed's Undersea Systems, tells Aviation Week that the partnership for the combat system was established early. “We applied lessons learned from U.S. submarines to put together a customized version for the Spanish navy,” he says, stressing that the combat system for the S-80 is a “co-development.”

The 71-meter-long S-80 has a range of 8,500 nm (15,742 km) at 4 kt. (7.4 km/hr.), a maximum operating depth of 330 meters, a maximum speed of 19 kt. and a maximum snorkeling speed of 11 kt. It will be crewed by 32 men and women, including a “special” women's cabin for five and specific sanitary arrangements, Pascual explains, a new addition to Spain's subs. There will also be cabins for eight commandos.

During the 15 years it worked with France's DCNS on the Scorpene submarines sold to Malaysia, Chile and India, Navantia regained expertise it had let slip. And the S-80 joint venture was to be the foundation for a rationalization of Europe's military shipyards. But after Navantia signed the S-80's development contract in March 2004, DCNS executives changed their minds and in November 2010, after a somewhat acrimonious dispute, the companies agreed that DCNS would retain intellectual property and marketing for Scorpene (which France had meanwhile sold to Brazil, excluding Navantia), while Navantia would continue with the development and marketing of the S-80.