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The U212 submarine is capable of long distance submerged passage to the area of operation. The German Navy have ordered four of the submarines, the first ship will be commissioned in the year 2003. The Type 212 is being constructed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH (HDW) of Kiel and Thyssen Nordseewerke GmbH (TNSW) of Enden. Four boats will join the German fleet, to fight surface ships and submarines and perform reconnaissance.
The new air-independent propulsion gives the Type U 212 a lasting advantage of tactical surprise. The class will represent a technological leap; in it the German Navy possesses the most advanced conventional submarine in the world.
Two submarines of the same design as the U212 are being built by Fincantieri for the Italian Navy The first is expected to launch in 2002 and commission in 2005
This new type of submarine was developed at the request of the German Navy and in close co-operation with Thyssen Nordseewerke, Emden. The outstanding feature of this new type of submarine is its air-independent propulsion system using a silently operating fuel cell plant. The fuel cell plant which was developed by HDW, considerably increases the submarine's underwater endurance. HDW's latest achievement in submarine design is the class 214, a new type of submarine based on the successful design principles of the famous 209 class family and further improved by the integration of innovative features of the 212 class submarines for the German Navy.
The development of the Type 212 will allow the German navy to support the requirements of NATO. The new submarines differ in principle from the conventional, classical submarines of German development. The size alone amounts to with approximately 1830 tons displacement, more than the three-fold greater than the existing conventional submarines.
The outstanding feature of this new type of submarine is its air-independent propulsion system using a silent hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell system which not only makes the submarine more difficult to detect, but also increases the time it can stay submerged. The class 212 submarine is the first in the world to be equipped with this rovolutionary propulsion system. Its performance has already been successfully tested on a German Navy submarine.
Its hybrid diesel-electric and air-independent fuel-cell propulsion system will meet the vital requirement for low detectability. A noiseless propeller will be driven by a low-noise, high-performance, permanent-magnet motor. The reactants for the fuel cell (hydrogen and oxygen) will be stored in the after part of the boat between the pressure hull and an outer, free-flooding hull. The low-detection-probability requirement will be met also by reducing the boat's acoustic, magnetic, radar, and visual signatures and by minimizing the sonar target strength (against active detection) and sonar target level (against passive detection). The pressure hull, made of high-strength nonmagnetic steel, is optimized for hydrodynamic properties and maneuverability.
For military applications, the advantages of an extremely quiet power source confer great tactical benefits and the current disadvantages of relatively low output compared to its size and weight mean that the first large units are in underwater systems. The latest additions to the German shipbuilder HDW's highly successful Type 209 family of submarines, the Type 212 (ordered by Germany and Italy), the Type 214 (ordered by Greece), and the Type 800, are all fuel cell powered. A submarine that uses fuel cells rather than a diesel engine to recharge its batteries produces much less sound while doing so, and consequently the effective detection range of many of the current passive acoustic sonobuoys is reduced.
PEM (Polymer Electrolyte Membrane) fuel cells are known for their efficient conversion of hydrogen (as fuel) and oxygen into electrical energy. Optimised for the specific requirements in submarines they are the key component for the generation of electrical energy in future conventional submarines with increased operational range during silent run built by the shipyard HDW. Siemens has developed and is manufacturing two different types of PEM fuel cell modules, one type for the German and Italian U 212 submarines and the other one for the U214 submarine respectively, as they will be used by the Hellenic and the South Korean navy.
The drive system is appropriate for speed and continuous operations without snorkel times. The gas cell makes possible submerged operations of up to one month, without the necessity once to snorkels. The boat form is very hydrodynamically clean, which suggests a high speed (> 20kn). Using the X-helm for the first time for the German navy also improves the agility of the new submarine. New stainless and a-magnetic steel for the pressure hull could make over approximately 300m for submerged depths possible.
The U212 receives enough place and habitat for the crew, on two of deck is place enough for the crew, the days of the "warm bunk" belongs to the past. The commander has its own cabin with a door. The boat is so roomy that change dividing of the interior arrangement is no longer necessary for reloading the weapons, saves time.
Thanks to the cooperation of the German and Italian Ministries of Defence with respect to submarine procurement, two identical Class 212 boats will be built for the Italian Navy at Fincantieri Navali Italiani S.p.A.