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The Military Technology

Spain's New S-80 Class Submarines Sink, But Won't Float 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the would-you-classify-that-as-a-launch-problem-or-a-design-problem dept.
New submitter home-electro.com writes "In the era of total CAD and CAM, is it even possible to come up with a fundamentally flawed design ? Turns out, yes. This a fascinating engineering SNAFU. Spain's newly built submarine is 100 tons too heavy, which means it is unable to float. 'Unfortunately for the Spainards, Quartz reports that they have already sunk the equivalent of $680 million into the Isaac Peral, and a total of $3 billion into the entire quartet of S-80 class submarines. If Spain hopes to salvage its submarines, it must either find some weight that can be trimmed from the current design or lengthen the ship to accommodate the excess weight, The Local notes. Though the latter option is more feasible, it is expected to cost Spain an extra $9.7 million per meter.'"
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Spain's New S-80 Class Submarines Sink, But Won't Float

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  • I know... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:41PM (#43821975)

    Some screen doors will help lighten up the load. A lot thinner than regular doors.

  • They can't create competent stuff either nowadays.

    • It's even worse; they're Europeans - they can't blame it on vagaries of mixed-unit engineering! ;-)
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      They can't create competent stuff either nowadays.

      no, it was a spanish company and spanish design.

      but it might get redesigned by some american contractor. dunno why, there's perfectly competent shipbuilders(even subs) in europe. of course they're not as cheap as 'muricans.

  • Did they out source it to the UK Government?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:51PM (#43822043)

    Well, this is the perfect submarine - permanently under water.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:53PM (#43822065)

    ...still sinking after all these years.

    • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:58PM (#43822097)
      You joke but just the other day on TVE (spanish tv) the news anchor mentioned that Spain was the country with the greatest "sunken patrimony" in the world. She seemed rather proud of that fact...
      • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:36PM (#43822337)

        "sunken patrimony"

        Fathers who died in shipwrecks?

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @02:26PM (#43822741) Journal

        You joke but just the other day on TVE (spanish tv) the news anchor mentioned that Spain was the country with the greatest "sunken patrimony" in the world. She seemed rather proud of that fact...

        I wouldn't be so proud of the fact(given that most of Spain's "sunken patrimony" is just bullion that they were brutal enough to grind out of the backs of the locals in South America; but not competent enough to ship back to Europe); but it's probably true. The sheer scale of Spain's "Why don't we just ship every last troy ounce of precious metal we can get our hands on in the entire western hemisphere?" project was really pretty nuts. Unfortunately for them, of course, the kind of "wealth" that is shiny and looks good in treasure chests tends to be rather less useful than the mixture of human and technical capital that actual productive economies are built with(a comparison with what the relatively tiny Dutch were doing at the same time the Spanish Empire was considered something of a superpower is instructive)...

    • Well played!

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:56PM (#43822075)
    I think this is a great example of government "efficiency", underlining the fact for all those people who love to carry on about how vital "government spending" is. I simply can't believe that contracts are awarded without any sort of penalty clause that covers errors like this, delays in completion dates, etc. Years ago this would be considered high treason and someone would swing. Now, thanks to corrupt and decadent government, nothing will happen. In fact, the contractor will probably get more contracts.
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:19PM (#43822207)

      I think this is a great example of government "efficiency", underlining the fact for all those people who love to carry on about how vital "government spending" is.

      Yeah, because private enterprise never screws up.

      • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:28PM (#43822263)
        When private enterprise screws up it doesn't come out of your pocket. Unless of course you're a shareholder - but then again, you knew there was risk involved in buying shares. When government screws up it comes out of your pocket whether you agree or not. And government screws up a lot more, and a lot bigger, than private companies - they can afford to! There are no consequences.
        • by sphealey (2855) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:38PM (#43822363)

          - - - - - When private enterprise screws up it doesn't come out of your pocket. - - - - -

          Wall Street called; they need another trillion $ of bailout money. Unmarked 20s straight from the taxpayers' pockets please.

          Superfund is another example that comes to mind.

          sPh

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MightyYar (622222)

            The concept of a "corporation" is a government-created entity. They even get their charter directly from government. But even if a corporation were some natural entity, the goverment granting them limited liability leads to stuff like superfund sites. When the government has sole authority to issue currency and grant charters to banks, it's hard to blame "private industry" for playing the game the way the government has set them up to play it.

            • by rbrander (73222)

              Unless of course they set the government up to set them up. As the Daily Show put it the other day, "The laws that allow for off-shore tax havens were not invented by poor people".

              • by Solandri (704621)

                As the Daily Show put it the other day, "The laws that allow for off-shore tax havens were not invented by poor people".

                Actually, they were. Off-shore tax havens don't happen because some Caribbean country set its tax rates lower than other countries'. They happen because a country raises its tax rates to where it's higher than offshore. Like water wants to flow downhill, people want to hang on to as much of their money as they can.

                Then it becomes a game of whack-a-mole trying to plug up every way so

              • by amiga3D (567632)

                The poor people helped elect the representatives that passed those laws. The rich in this country are vastly in the minority yet they control the government by manipulating the rest of us. They divide us into two sides, the left and right and then split issues between us for us to fight over. They care nothing for these issues such as gay marriage and abortion and affirmative action, they are above such stuff. All they care about is money and control. We fight each other and they control us and pick ou

        • When private enterprise screws up it doesn't come out of your pocket. Unless of course you're a shareholder - but then again, you knew there was risk involved in buying shares. When government screws up it comes out of your pocket whether you agree or not.

          Of course, especially in a democracy, we are all shareholders in the Government. We vote the people in charge in/out. If they continually screw up, it's our fault for keeping them in office. I don't have a definitive answer as to *why* we, "the people", keep doing this, and don't really think it boils down to something simple, but, in general terms, the phrases "narrow minded" and "short sighted" probably apply on the broader scale.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by femtobyte (710429)

      No, this is a specific example of military-industrial complex "efficiency" --- a particular order that combines the very worst of private monopolistic greed with unaccountable, secretive, wasteful spending. Governments tend to be rather efficient (much more than private markets) at supplying *public goods* like roads, healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure, utilities, etc. --- things with clear public benefits easily evaluated by the public. Joe Citizen can tell when his roads have potholes,

    • Government spending in the form of social safety nets and common (natural monopoly) infrastructure construction is vital ... everything else can be handled by taxation. Taxation is a dirty word in the modern world though, so debt it is the alternative ... and the advantage of debt is that it's mostly hidden from the voters, in the short term, so they are more likely to accept government waste/corruption.

    • by jopsen (885607)

      I simply can't believe that contracts are awarded without any sort of penalty clause that covers errors like this, delays in completion dates

      What makes you think there aren't any penalties? You don't hear about it because the news only reports bad news...

      In fact, there usually is penalty clauses in such contracts, even in IT, but that doesn't mean both parties doesn't loose when something fails.

      Yes, governments (well, democracy) is inefficient, but the alternatives are a lot worse :)

  • Narrow margins (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@@@gmail...com> on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:56PM (#43822077) Homepage

    Weight and balance control is pretty much a requirement for any shipbuilding (both for controlling draft and controlling stability), but on submarines it's absolutely critical. The margins on a submarine are razor thin - much thinner than you might think. On my boat [wikipedia.org] a mere eight ton error (heavier than calculated) once caused us to lose control on diving.
     
    That being said - a 100 ton error in design and construction is a screwup beyond any analogy or hyperbole.

    • Re:Narrow margins (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ericloewe (2129490) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:05PM (#43822143)

      I have no idea how anyone can underestimate a sub's weight by 100 freaking tons. Other than forgetting to set the material in their CAD software, that is.

      • by Russ1642 (1087959)
        A submarine is an incredibly complicated design. Errors become more difficult to spot as a design gets more complicated. A couple little mistakes and you're massively over or under weight.
        • Errors do become harder to spot as time goes, but weight estimates are relatively easy to make these days, as long as you're using CAD software instead of a drawing table.

          100 tons screams of either gross engineering incompetence, management trying to sweep problems under the rug, or both. Not some honest little mistakes piling up.

          • by Dunbal (464142) *
            It's "only" 5% of the total weight.... /sarcasm
          • Honestly I think you have it backwards.

            Old school engineers doing it by hand had to know what they were doing.

            Noobs with enough experience to 'look good' can have their deficiencies glossed over by the powerful CAD/CAM software, letting them build inconsequential assemblies that individually would work nicely in isolation, but fail as a whole because they didn't understand (or consider) the engineering and physics at the higher level.

            Consider the difference between software engineering and programming. An a

            • I think that his point is that, with CAD, even a trained monkey can tell the software "Just iterate through all the pretty little pictures we drew, multiply their volume by their density, and then add it all up" and arrive at a final weight.

              It's definitely the case that myopic-design-by-CAD allows people to fuck up in ways that the days of Heroic Engineering and designers who had to be just-that-good in order to design anything didn't; but a CAD system, unless the software is a ghastly morass of nightmarish

  • Easy solution: just substitute all the iron with lithium: the submarine will float... and it will solve itself (really!).

  • by venicebeach (702856) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:59PM (#43822111) Homepage Journal
    they should just consider it a sunk cost.
  • What kind of war does Spain anticipate fighting in which a submarine would play a useful role?

    • by dkf (304284)

      What kind of war does Spain anticipate fighting in which a submarine would play a useful role?

      Any war involving significant naval action is likely to involve submarines. You build the subs ahead of time because you don't really want to wait until the war starts to begin you defense procurement. (What war? I don't know, nor does anyone else, but with the sorts of long lead times involved you really can't wait for exactitude on that sort of thing.)

    • Doesn't have to be a war, submarines were involved in the Libyan no-fly zone enforcement (which Spain provide aircraft for).

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:21PM (#43822223)

    That's only a quarter of a million dollars per inch... I'm sure lots of billionaires would find that an irresistible deal!

  • by bogolisk (18818) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:30PM (#43822297)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/J_D_Exposito/spain-submarine-s-81-isaac-peral-cant-float_n_3328683_256066767.html [huffingtonpost.com]

    These are very biased news and in fact they are wrong. For starters, only the first submarine has a floatability problem. The other submarines in the series are larger, therefore they have no problem. Now, why has the fist submarine (the original design) a floatability problem? Because the Navy asked for more equipment (electronic equipment, weapons, etc) and more comfortable cabins for the sailors than originally planned. It is not a design problem but a modifications problem and this is very very very frequent in large projects, especially if military. The changes have been taken into account in the design for the second and subsequent submarines (S81, S82, etc). The first submarine (S80) will be fixed by making it a bit longer and adding some floating aids. Source: I work in this project. Next time you want to say stupid things about very serious projects, please warn us you are drunk.

    J D Exposito

    • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/J_D_Exposito/spain-submarine-s-81-isaac-peral-cant-float_n_3328683_256066767.html [huffingtonpost.com]


      These are very biased news and in fact they are wrong.

      For starters, only the first submarine has a floatability problem. The other submarines in the series are larger, therefore they have no problem.

      Now, why has the fist submarine (the original design) a floatability problem? Because the Navy asked for more equipment (electronic equipment, weapons, etc) and more comfortable cabins for the sailors than originally planned.

      It is not a design problem but a modifications problem and this is very very very frequent in large projects, especially if military.

      The changes have been taken into account in the design for the second and subsequent submarines (S81, S82, etc). The first submarine (S80) will be fixed by making it a bit longer and adding some floating aids.

      Source: I work in this project.

      Next time you want to say stupid things about very serious projects, please warn us you are drunk.

      J D Exposito

      I could see scope creep being the cause of weight problem. However, wouldn't the weight calculations be redone to account for the changes? Or was the hull construction underway before the requirements were finalized?

      It almost sounds to me like they decided to use rapid development and it turned around and bit them in the ass.

  • "Sunk costs", "dead in water"...I don't know who floated the idea to the editor but it should have been torpedoed in the interest of seriousness.
  • Is Spain straining under some delusion of greatness? Knowing how well their Armada against Britain did one would think Spain would have given up the ghost and resigned itself to being a small player it is, and stay far from naval equipment. Building submarines? Why?
  • we've only understood the principle of floatation [wikipedia.org] for just over 2,000 years.
  • It only needs about 3 to 4 more feet. So other than cutting it open the $10 million for the extra meter isn't to bad, just egg on the face. I sure someday the crew will appreciate a little more space.
  • The worse crisis they have, the more military equipment they buy. Have you noticed that ?
  • Goes down but not up? I call that batting 500!

  • "Unfortunately for the Spainards..."

    This is such an egregious typo that I have a hard time believing it wasn't deliberate.

  • by AmazingRuss (555076) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @03:33PM (#43823135)

    Serious question.

  • by okmijnuhb (575581) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:05PM (#43824985)
    How do you sink the Spanish Navy?
    Put it in water!
    hahahah
    sorry.
  • by plopez (54068) on Sunday May 26, 2013 @12:54AM (#43825525) Journal

    Sounds like a classic case of scope creep. See also the "Vasa".

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago

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