Israeli Navy’s New Sa`ar 6 Corvette Arrives in Haifa from Germany

Date: Issue 103 - January 2021

The first new Sa’ar 6 class warship INS Magen arrived in Haifa on December 2, 2020 and was delivered to the Israeli Naval Forces. This is the first new ship received by the Israeli Navy since 1994 when the INS Hanit was delivered. 

The ship was constructed in Germany by Thyssen Krupp Maritime Systems (TKMS) over a period of 14 months. The ship arrived in Israel without any sensors or weapons. The fitting of the sensors and weapons will take another 18 months.

INS Magen is the first ship of a class of 4 ships. The ship’s name means “Shield” in Hebrew. It will be followed by INS Oz (Valor), INS Atzmaut (Independence), and INS Nitzahon (Victory).

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to acquire new warships to protect its interest on the sea in 2013. The discovery of rich hydrocarbon resources and the inauguration of Karish-Tanin, Leviathan, and Tamar gas fields were important factors. These gas fields and the offshore gas platforms have been declared national assets by the State of Israel and its navy is tasked to protect these vital infrastructures. 

Furthermore 98% of the goods imported to Israel come from the sea, protecting trade traffic from any enemy action during a war is vital for Israel. 

The maritime territory the Israeli Navy is committed to protecting is twice the size of the land of Israel. At the ceremony in Haifa, Rear Admiral Eyal HAREL, Head of Naval Operations, Israeli Navy stated that the Sa’ar 6 Class Corvettes will bolster the Navy’s capacity to defend the offshore gas facilities from terror groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas.  

In 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, the Sa’ar 5 Class Corvette INS Hanit was hit by a C-701 missile made in China and sent to Lebanon by Iran, killing 4 sailors. 

The Israeli Navy believes that Hezbollah and other non-government actors in the region can gain access to sophisticated anti-ship missiles such as C-802 or even Russian Yakhont or Iranian Khalij Fars missiles. 

To protect its vital offshore infrastructure and to keep the sea lanes of communication open these new Sa’ar 6 Class Corvettes will be on the frontline. These ships will spend approximately 2,000 hours at sea every year for the next 30 years. The total cost of the program for the acquisition of the four corvettes is estimated at US$ 3 Billion, with a third of this cost (€115 million) subsidized by the German government. 

The Sa’ar 6 Class Corvettes are 90 meters long and 12.5 meters wide. The ships will have a displacement of 1,900 tons fully loaded. 

The corvettes are powered by diesel engines in CODOD configuration. The 4 diesel engines will propel the ship to a maximum speed of 26 knots. At 15 knots economical speed they have a range of 4,000 nautical miles. 

The ships will provide accommodation for 100 crew while the standard crew will be between 65 and 80 strong.  Up to 25% of the crew will be female according to the IDF, and this will be a first for IDF.

These ships will be fitted with very evolved long-range sensors to create a clear picture of the threats around them. The mainstay of these sensors will be the ELM-2248 MF-STAR multi-functional AESA radar. One set of MF-STAR radars has already been installed on Sa’ar 5 Class Corvette INS Lahav and has been operational since 2017. 

The same radar will be mounted on Sa’ar 6 Class ships delivering a high-quality situation picture and weapons support under severe target environmental conditions according to its manufacturer. The MF-STAR radar employs multi-beam and pulse doppler techniques and advanced ECCM algorithms to locate targets with small radar cross-sections in a clutter rich background. The main mast will hold four active arrays working in S-Band. The instrumented range of the corvette version of the MF-STAR is longer than 250km with 360-degree coverage and -20-to-+85-degree elevation coverage. The weight of the system is 3,300 kg. 

The MF-STAR will provide the ship with a faster threat alert response time, better accuracy, and the ability to simultaneously track multiple targets and different target types.  

As the Sa’ar 6 Corvettes will spend a considerable time of their deployments protecting important infrastructure from missile attacks, the ship’s weapon suite is optimized with air defense missions in mind. INS Magen will be fitted with a long-range Barak 8 surface to air missile and a navalized version of the Iron Dome defense system also known as C-Dome. The main targets for Barak 8 will be cruise and ballistic missiles while Iron Dome will be used against incoming unguided rockets. 

A 32-cell vertical launcher will be used for Barak-8 missiles. They have a reported 70 km range and carry a 23kg warhead. The C-Dome missiles will be deployed in a 40 cell VLS. These missiles have a 17 km range and an 11kg warhead.

There is little information available about the main surface to surface missiles to be used on the Sa’ar 6 Class. However, the IDF announced in September 2020 that it has tested a new naval surface to surface missile (probably an improved version of Gabriel 5, that is thought to have a range of up to 248 miles) developed by the IAI. This new missile is proclaimed to have a longer range, more accurate attack capabilities and improved attack flexibility compared to the existing missiles in the Israeli Naval Force’s inventory. Once the testing is complete and the missile is ready for service, they will be fitted to the Sa’ar 6 Corvettes. 

Israel has bought 8 second-hand SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopters from the USA. The helicopters are intended to be used on Sa’ar 6 Corvettes that have a flight deck and a hangar large enough to support them. 

INS Magen will have a 76mm Leonardo Defense/Oto Melera Super Rapid gun and two Rafael Typhoon remotely operated guns. It is interesting to note that there will be no other gun system onboard especially a close-in weapon system for self-protection. The Israeli Naval Force depends on the Elbit RESM /CESM suite for electronic countermeasure and the Deseaver 72-barrel trainable Chaff and IR launcher for protection of these units. This can be seen as a testament to the Israeli Naval Force’s faith in locally developed soft-kill capability over gun-based hard kill solutions. 

The procurement of these corvettes and Dolphin II class submarines from German TKMS has been the subject of long-running corruption probes involving aides close to Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU. Initially, the IDF was asking for smaller vessels around the 1,200 tons range. TKMS did not participate in the tender process as they did not have a suitable vessel. In 2016 the tender was canceled, and the Israeli Government handed the project exclusively to TKMS while changing the requirement from 1,200 tons to 2,000 tons fitting into the TKMS product portfolio. 

Throughout probes, the Israeli Navy refused to comment on why the tender was issued to TKMS or other matters related to the purchasing process but maintains that the Sa’ar 6 Class itself was a necessity to buy and that decisions over its specifications were made solely out of operational considerations