A Naval Doctrine for the Armada

By Juan Carlos Campbell-Cruz

In all cases, the Socialist-led administration would commit Spain to these operations if, and only if:

  • They were sponsored by a multinational organization.
  • "Countries of our surroundings" (i.e., France, Britain, etc.) also were involved.

In addition, the deployment was to appear as nonmilitary as possible. Other countries pushed to retain their national chains of command and argued for heavier weapons; Spain sought the opposite. There never was a hint of specific, national, stand-alone objectives.

This lack of vision, in part the result of ideological beliefs, is beginning to change. Historical, economic, security, and even solidarity-related reasons warrant clear-cut and greatly increased roles for the Spanish Navy. The resources, ability, and training are there, and now there as well is the political will to entrust the Armada with these missions and goals. What is needed is a naval doctrine, to highlight those resources it will have, or will need to have, to accomplish its missions.

Spain's Areas of Interest

For a naval doctrine to be implemented, Spain's areas of interest must be defined. They can be broken into two categories: areas of vital interest and areas of national interest.

Spain's area of vital interest is made up of its territorial waters—including both archipelagoes and the Gibraltar Straits—and in more generic terms, the Western Mediterranean Sea, a 200-mile-radius economic interest zone around the Canary Islands, the Atlantic Ocean between these islands and the mainland, and "breathing room" along the peninsula's Atlantic coast. Finally, it includes the sea lines of communication, in particular those bringing oil across the Mediterranean.

Areas of national interest are those geographical zones that should be of continued interest to Spain, where we should maintain a semi-permanent naval presence with sufficient capability to exercise overall naval doctrine to the level required by the specific mission. Central and South America, Equatorial Guinea, and the Sahara are such areas. In all these cases, their nature as former colonies or territories under the Crown warrant a friendly presence of Navy ships. The Armada should be ready to mount limited operations to support democracy as requested by these friendly governments or to intervene to protect Spanish nationals, should stability break down in these countries.

There are other areas, although not traditional areas of deployment for the Armada, that are of high security and economic interest to Spain. Examples of these are the Adriatic Sea and the Persian Gulf, or international waters where Spain's fishing fleets operate.

Spain's naval doctrine should have two main objectives: self-sufficient naval superiority against likely opponents in Spain's areas of vital interest and naval presence and capabilities in areas of national interest. These objectives would be based in five generic capabilities:

  • Naval dominance
  • Force ashore capabilities
  • National territory and force ashore ballistic protection capability
  • Offensive, deep-strike capabilities
  • Presence

Naval Dominance

Naval dominance in territorial waters, protection of sea lines of communication (SLOCs), and area denial for hostile forces are to be sought against all likely opponents in Spain's areas of vital interest. These are core naval capabilities, and almost all resources must contribute to them. The ability to prevail in surface, subsurface, and even air encounters will be the responsibility of the surface combatants and the carrier battle group. The submarine flotilla also would contribute, especially in the protection of SLOCs and in area denial. Keeping Spanish ports, approaches, and areas of operation free of mines is the responsibility of the mine warfare flotilla.

The carrier battle group is built around the aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias , which can operate a significant air wing. Depending on the mission, the carrier could carry a strike/air-superiority package of 3 AEW SH-3D helicopters, 2 utility helicopters, and 6 to 12 AV-8B Super Harrier Plus jets. The Armada's 18 AV-8Bs are capable of employing AMRAAM and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles, a variety of ground attack, precision weapons, as well as Harpoon antiship missiles. The aircraft carrier also could carry an air wing with a primary vertical assault or evacuation role, with AEW helicopters and AB-212s.

But this capability is somewhat limited: to be able to deploy a carrier at all times, at least two are needed. During 1995, the carrier was taken out of the dockyard twice and hurriedly brought into deployable status, to support a possible emergency evacuation of U.N. Protection Forces from Bosnia. The current government has stated the goal of bringing defense expenditure closer to that of its allies, and this may permit the construction of a second, much cheaper carrier, such as the one designed and built by Bazan for the Royal Thai Navy—the Chakkrinareubet . Applying lessons learned from the expensive development of the Principe de Asturias , the Thai carrier was launched in just 18 months, for a cost of about $250 million.

The surface combatant fleet will include 16 frigates by 2005: 4 Aegis-capable F100 ships (planned to replace the 5 Baleares-class frigates), 6 Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class and 6 Descubierta -class frigates. It is evident that a force of 16 combatants is inadequate to meet all of the requirements set forth in the new naval doctrine, and this problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Descubierta -class frigates will be more than 25 years old by 2005.

The mine warfare role will see a great increase in capability when the current obsolete flotilla of 12 minesweepers and mine hunters is replaced, beginning in 1998, with the same number of a Sandown -class derivative design, the CME.

The submarine force is comprised of four Daphne - and four Agosta -class boats, of French design. The obsolescence of the Daphne class submarines is getting to be a real problem, and plans to replace them have been kept on hold because of the budgetary situation. The submarine replacement program is considered to be the second most pressing priority in the Navy, after the F100 program. Should an aggressive effort to replace the four older submarines be undertaken, the Armada could deploy a capable flotilla of eight modern boats by 2005.

The fleet has a strong antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capability, thanks to the six Oliver Hazard Perry -class frigates and their complement of six SH-60Bs. The Navy would like to acquire an additional six, to outfit each frigate with two helicopters, but given the diminished submarine threat, it may be wiser to acquire greater numbers of the SH-60F, to replace the dozen SH-3s in the fleet still tasked with ASW.

If a dozen SH-60Fs were procured, instead of the desired six LAMPS-III variants, half of them could provide multirole capabilities—to include search and rescue—for other helicopter-capable units. This would free the AB-212s for the marine role proposed later.

Force Ashore Capabilities

The force ashore capability is centered on the landing of a brigade-sized Marine force and support of special-operations teams in hostile territory.

Given the political instabilities in Spain's areas of vital interest—especially in the southern rim of the Mediterranean—the prospect of Spanish citizens and assets being put at risk is a real one. The ability to preempt, or at least to react to these situations, largely would rest with the Naval Infantry and Special Operations units.

The Naval Infantry is part of the Armada, and its doctrine, equipment, and training are modeled closely on those of the U.S. Marine Corps. Around 7,000 strong, it has the responsibility of protecting naval facilities and ships. Its main role, however, is conducting amphibious assault. At the center of this capability is a brigade-sized landing force called Tercio de Armada (TEAR). This well-trained, soon to be all-professional force is comprised of a reinforced infantry battalion, a tank group with one Scorpion light tank company and an M60A3 tank company, an artillery group, and a logistics group. The TEAR is equipped with Mistral antiaircraft missiles, as well as TOW 2 and Milan antitank missiles.

Its major problems to date have been its reliance on a conscripted force, the Navy's lack of appropriate amphibious assault ships, and its lack of a vertical-assault capability. The conversion of the Spanish military to an all-volunteer force by 2001 will solve the first problem.

As far as assault ships, the new ATS/LPD for the Armada was laid down in the summer of 1996. Jointly designed by Bazin and Navesvu/Royal Schelde of the Netherlands, one ship of the class will go to each Navy. The ATS/LPD, which may be joined by a sister ship in the first years of the next century, gives the Armada the ability to deploy approximately 700 troops and 130 armored personnel carriers or 33 main battle tanks, as well as more than 100 tons of ammunition.

The transfer in 1995 of two ex-U.S. Newport (LST-1179)-class tank landing ships to the Spanish Navy completes the picture. The LPD and two LSTs will have the combined capability to carry and land about 1,500 troops and accompanying TEAR vehicles. They also will have the capability to operate eight medium-sized helicopters.

The helicopter-borne assault capability could be provided by a dedicated force of 24 AB-212s. This would allow vertical assault by a two-company-sized unit. The Armada's ten remaining Agusta AB-212s frequently are engaged in support of the TEAR. Six of them are multirole. An attempt was made in the early 1990s to convert these—plus another six from the Spanish Army—for amphibious assault, particularly for all-weather infiltrations. This effort was abandoned because of budgetary restrictions, but it should be revived. These 16 AB-212s, plus perhaps another six procured from the used market, should be devoted to Naval Infantry use. A half-dozen used AH-I Cobras also could be procured for the armed escort of the transport helicopters. The AV-8Bs are simply not adequate for this role, and they are too valuable to be jeopardized by being deployed with insertion packages.

The Special Forces available to the Armada are the UEBC group, a company-sized unit with roles similar to those of the U.S. Underwater Demolition Teams and SEAL teams, and the TEAR's Special Operations Group. The new focus on littoral and low-intensity conflict should see the importance of these units increase, with a concomitant reorientation of their roles.

Regular, peacetime insertions for training and intelligence gathering should be conducted in likely trouble spots, both in areas of vital interest and in areas of national interest. Units of the amphibious force, AB-212 squadrons, and the submarine flotilla should be used regularly to exercise these infiltrations and support capabilities.

Ballistic Missile Protection Capability

Beginning in 2001, a limited protection against theater ballistic missiles for the national territory and for forces ashore in the littorals will be provided by the commissioning of four Aegis-capable F100 ships. These "frigates" (destroyer is not a politically correct term in Spain) will displace more than 6,000 tons, and their Aegis suite will be to the standard of the DDG-51 Flight IIA.

This will give the Armada an antiair capability unmatched within Europe.

The lower-tier anti-TBM capability soon to be standard in U.S. Aegis ships most likely will be incorporated in the F100 ships, giving them the ability to provide forces deployed outside Spain with a protective umbrella against attack by Scud-type weapons. The Aegis ships also will provide a measure of TBM protection to the national territory, against weapons fired from the Southern Mediterranean littoral.

The U.S. cooperative-engagement capability would enable the use of F100 ships in the place of U.S. Aegis ships, by linking them in theater with the appropriate tactical and strategic assets.

Offensive, Deep-Strike Capabilities

The ability to strike hostile inland targets with precision weapons is critical, especially in zones of vital interest that are farther removed from Spanish air bases and in areas of national interest, where it would be difficult for the Spanish Air Force to reach its targets, despite its long-range refueling capabilities. Targets located within 250 miles inland should be within the reach of carrier-borne aircraft.

The 18 AV-8Bs fighters, equipped with the multirole APG-65 radar, form the backbone of the naval air arm and would support the deep-strike capability.


The presence capability, or showing the flag, would come naturally in Spain's areas of vital interest, but not so in the areas of national interest. Distance and the ability to remain deployed without shore support are characteristics of this mission, as is a typically lower threat. The small size of the surface combatant fleet would make it difficult to fulfill this mission. Deploying highly capable ships such as the F100 may not be the best approach.

Plans for an improved Descubierta have been on the shelf for a long time. It may be time to address the construction of a derivative class, under the same philosophy that led to the development of the French La Fayette class: an affordable ship designed for low-threat scenarios. The improved Descubierta would be helicopter capable, and probably equipped with the ESSM antiair missile. A series of eight units to replace older predecessors could provide some needed augmentation to fleet size.

Modern logistics support ships recently have entered the fleet. The 13,380-ton fleet oiler Marquis de la Ensenada provides a much needed underway replenishment capability, to sustain operations for longer periods. The far more capable 17,045-ton fast replenishment oiler Patino is designed as a supply and munitions ship, and it has some troop-carrying capability, as well as an on-board hospital. Both ships are helicopter capable and would be ideally suited for sustaining long, out-of-area operations, such as those required for the presence mission in areas of national interest.

A new era lies ahead for the Spanish Navy. A new sense of national purpose, reasonable levels of funding, and a naval doctrine such as the one proposed here should give the Armada a prominent role as a tool of foreign policy and a pillar of national security.

Mr. Campbell-Cruz works for the Spanish defense Indra Group as a systems engineer and currently is assigned to the naval ESSM program. He has worked with the Spanish Conservative Party’s parliamentary defense experts in formulating defense policies and is coauthor of a proposal—to be studied by the Parliamentary Commission established for the Transition to the Professional force—to restructure the Spanish armed forces in the face of downsizing and the transition to an all-volunteer force.


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