Argentina considers resuming nuclear submarine project

There are some shit you just can't make up.

Following the loss of Argentina’s TR 1700-class diesel-electric submarine (SSK) ARASan Juan in November 2017, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering restarting construction of sister vessel ARA Santa Fe and competing it as a nuclear variant, the Argentine Congress was informed on 3 July.
San Juan was one of two German-built TR 1700 submarines delivered in the 1980s that formed the core of the Argentine submarine force. The second boat, ARA Santa Cruz , is currently undergoing an extended refit that is expected to be completed in late 2019/early 2020.
Construction on third boat Santa Fe began in the 1980s but was suspended in the early 1990s when it was 70% complete.

Back in the late 70s, Brazil and Argentina were locked in an arms race and in a heavy dispute over political influence in South America. It was then that Argentina announced that it was developing a domestic submarine manufacturing program. Designed in Germany specifically for Argentina, the TR-1700 class was the largest and most ambitious non-nuclear submarines of the era, vastly outclassing any other sub deployed South of the Equator at the time. It was also much quieter and with a better sensor suite than most nuclear submarines being operated at the time. Even the German Navy did not posses submarines this advanced. The TR-1700 were the Porsche equivalent of submarines. The idea was that the first two subs of the class would be build in Germany and the other four would be build in Argentina. It was a very aggressive and audacious plan. The TR-1700 was an extremely complex and advanced work of engineering, requiring very advanced metallurgy, machinery and manufacturing techniques to be build. But the Argentines felt confided that they were up to the challenge.

The deployment of such powerful subs would represent a complete disruption of the naval balance in the South Atlantic, so Brazil was forced to react. But lacking the audacity and self confidence of its neighbors, and having a long tradition of steady gradual progress instead of attempts of leaps of engineering, Brazil opted for a much more conservative approach: The domestic production of the much more simple German designed IKL-209 class of submarines. If the TR-1700 was the Porsche, the IKL-209 was the Toyota Camry. It was much simpler and smaller design, being half of the size of its Argentine counterpart and not nearly as advanced. It was also a tested and proven project, reliable, efficient, effective, relatively inexpensive and well within the industrial (and financial) capabilities possessed by Brazil at the time.
The TR-1700 and the ILK-209 would serve as the foundation in which each country would build its own domestic submarine building industries with the ultimate goal of producing a nuclear powered vessel. The race was on for the military dominance of the South Atlantic.
But the early 80s were not gentle to either Brazil nor Argentina. The disaster of the Falkland conflict, in combination of the economic crisis, and the overall overwhelming complexity of the vessels generated delays and budget overruns on the TR-1700 program and ultimately doomed Argentina's submarine manufacturing ambitions. Of the original 6 TR-1700 first ordered by Argentina, the first two units build in Germany were delivered: The ARA Santa Cruz and ARA San Juan. Of the other 4 that were to be build in Argentina, The ARA Santa Fe and Santiago del Estero were left unfinished, and the construction of the last 2 was never initiated.
Brazil was also hit with severe recession, runaway inflation, debt default and having to beg for the IMF for financial rescue. But despite all of that, due to its much lower cost and complexity than the Argentina submarine program, the Brazilian navy was able to scavenge enough funds and resources to keep the program chugging along, although at a slower pace. So by the late 80s the first two IKL-209 submarines for the Brazilian Navy had been build in Germany and delivered. Two others were successfully build at the Arsenal da Marinha, in Rio de Janeiro, giving Brazil true know how on submarine manufacturing. Based on the acquired knowledge, a new more advanced class of submarines (The Tikuna Class) was developed domestically and build without foreign oversight or assistance. Brazil had achieved full command of advanced submarine manufacturing techniques.

With the success of the IKL-209 program and the know-how acquired, Brazil now moves to the next phase, with the launch of a new, much more advanced domestically build diesel-electric submarine, the Riachuelo Class, the first of which will be completed in launched in Q4 2018. The Riachuelo will also serve as the base project of Brazil's nuclear submarine, expected to be launched in 2025.

Meanwhile, Argentina seems to think that it can convert the unfinished hulls of subs that have been sitting in storage for over 30 years into nuclear submarines. That is a task beyond daunting. Not only the age of the unfinished subs is a problem, but also the fact that the TR-1700 were not designed to host a nuclear reactor. But more importantly, all Argentine personnel who worked on the TR-1700 project and had the know-how are long retired or dead. Where the funds for such an endeavor would come from is also an open question.
But one thing cannot be denied: Argentines are an optimistic bunch.

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