Submarines in Africa are owned and operated by navies aiming to dominate their undersea domain.
A submarine is a naval vessel capable of independent operation underwater.
In Africa, denying enemy surface ships access to seas is an important mission for submarines. Submarines operate as an organic part of a naval force.
Their duties and roles are essential in providing anti-access force structure in the maritime domain, to achieve military dominion.
From general warfare against a naval force to blockages of enemy ports, attacks against enemy surface ships, naval fleet, merchant shipping, and opposing submarines as well as land targets. These are the typical missions performed by submarines in African navies.
With the significant advances in technology bringing about changes in mission requirements, submarines are an important multimission naval component capable of conducting a variety of operations.
Only a handful of countries in Africa owns or have operated submarines. A total of 32 submarines have sailed with African navies.
Out of these, 15 are retired, decommissioned, or scrapped. Another four have exceeded their service life, and two are currently on order.
Our research shows that regarding export successes, the Soviet Union/ Russia exported 69% of the total submarines in Africa, Germany 22%, while France just 9%.
The following African countries operate or have operated submarines;
- South Africa
Egyptian Navy submarine warfare
Egyptian Navy owns four Romeo class submarines that are the upgraded variants of the Chinese ES5B (upgraded Type 033) design. Egypt acquired eight boats in the 1970s.
In the mid-1980s, China won a contract to upgrade Egypt’s Romeo-class submarine fleet.
Quite frankly, the Romeo class submarines are considered obsolete in today’s standard, however, four were modernized by the US to be able to carry Harpoon missiles.
Egypt’s Romeo-class submarines are now used for training and surveillance duties.
During the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, Egyptian Navy submarines were hunted down by Israeli warships, prompting Egypt to undertake several steps to improve its undersea capabilities.
Egypt’s interest in maintaining a robust, modern, and capable submarine fleet is borne out a strategic response to regional threats and challenges.
Egypt entered a deal with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Maritime systems in 2011 for four Type 209/1400mod-class diesel-electric attack submarines.
The Egyptian Type 209/1400mod-class diesel-electric attack submarines are armed with 8 x 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes able to launch up to 14 UGM-84L Harpoon Block II missiles and SeaHake mod 4 torpedoes, as well as naval mines.
Asides from underwater assets, as part of Egypt’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) structure, the north African country recently upgraded its Chinese-made Hainan anti-submarine warfare patrol boats to better detect submarine activities.
In addition, the Egyptian navy recently procured five naval versions of the Westland SeaKings helicopters, 10 ex-United States SeaSprite ASW helicopters upgraded to the SH-2G(E) standard, and 46 Ka-52Ks attack helicopters, all equipped with anti-ship missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes.
List of Egyptian Navy submarines
Egyptian Navy Type 209/1400mod-class submarine
- S41 (861)
- S42 (864)
- S43 (867)
- S44 (870)
Egyptian Navy Romeo-class submarine
Algerian Navy submarine warfare
As an important player in the Western Mediterranean, with the primary role of monitoring and defending Algeria’s territorial waters against all foreign military intrusion, the Algerian Navy requires a potent anti-submarine force.
Algeria has decommissioned its two Soviet Romeo class submarines.
Uniquely, Algeria prefers Soviet/Russian-made submarines. The country has four Project 636M Improved Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines (known locally as Rais Hadi Slimane), and two Project 887EKM Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines (known locally as Rajs Hadi Mubarek).
Algerian Navy Kilo-class submarines were vastly upgraded in 2010/11, and are now able to launch Klub (Club-S Kalibr) anti-ship cruise missiles which can also be used against ground targets.
In 2019, two Algerian Navy Project 887EKM Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines successfully hit land targets with their Club-S cruise missiles during an exercise.
This Kilo-class submarine has a displacement of 2,350 tons on the surface and 3,950 tons underwater, and a speed of 17 to 20 knots. It can stay submerged for 45 days.
Algerian Navy versions can be equipped with four Kalibr missiles, 18 torpedoes of 533 millimeters (six tubes), and 24 mines, and dive to 300 meters deep. is crewed by 52 sailors.
The Improved Kilo-class submarines were refitted and upgraded in 1993 and 1996. An additional two units were ordered and to be delivered in mid-2021/22.
List of Algerian Navy submarines
Algerian Navy Project 636M Improved Kilo-class submarines
- 021 Messali el Hadj
- 022 Akram Pacha
- 031 El Ouarsenis
- 032 El Hoggar
Algerian Navy Project 887EKM Kilo-class submarines
- 012 Rais Hadj Mubarek
- 013 El Hadj Slimane
South African Navy submarine warfare
At the moment, the South African Navy (SAN) is the only naval force in the Sub-Saharan region that is operating submarines.
The South African Navy has achieved significant underwater warfare supremacy against any naval threat in the region
The SAN traces its submarine warfare capabilities since the Second World War. At the time, between 1942 and 1945, the South African Defence Force (SDF) alongside its Royal Navy counterpart conducted coastal patrol, mine clearance, and anti-submarine operations around South African waters, enabling naval dominance and control around the strategic Cape Coast route.
During the conflict, German U-Boats carried out an offensive campaign around the South African coast and sinking over 100 allied merchant shipping.
With hard lessons learned during WWII, the South African Navy acquired two ex-Royal Navy W-class destroyers SAS Jan van Riebeeck and SAS Simin van der Stel in 1959 and 1952 respectively.
Later on, a Type 15 anti-submarine frigate SAS Vrystaat (formerly HMS Wrangler) was acquired to strengthen the naval capabilities.
Furthermore, the SAN anti-submarine warfare strength peaked between 1962 to 1964 after it received three first-rate, ocean-going fast fleet anti-submarine escorts Type-12 President-class frigates: SAS President Kruger, SAS President Steyn, and SAS President Pretorius respectively.
The South African Air Force (SAAF) implemented the navy by operating the Westland Wasp helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
Later on, three Daphné-class submarines were ordered from France in 1968, allowing the South African Navy to operate submarines for the first time.
The Daphné-class submarine was a diesel-electric attack designed by the French company, DCNS.
The Daphné-class diesel-electric attack submarines were armed with eight torpedo tubes forward, and four in the stern. They launched the French 550 mm (21.7 in) diameter torpedoes. Although, the stern launched tubes could only fire the shorter version torpedoes for automated self-defense.
Subsequently, between 2004 and 2008, three new German-built Type 209/1400 submarines were delivered to South Africa at the cost of $285 million each as a replacement for the obsolescent Daphné-class submarines.
Known as the Heroine-class in SAN service, the submarines – a variant of Type 209 diesel-electric attack submarine developed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) of Germany represented a significant undersea warfare upgrade for the navy due to their advanced equipment,
The Heroine-class submarines are named after powerful South African women.
Simon’s Town is the homeport of the South African Navy’s frigate and submarine flotillas, and training facilities.
List of South African Navy submarines
South African Navy Daphné-class submarine
- S97 SAS Maria van Riebeeck – renamed SAS Spear (decommissioned by 2003)
- S98 SAS Emily Hobhouse – renamed SAS Umkhonto (decommissioned by 2003)
- S99 SAS Johanna van der Merwe – renamed SAS Assegaai (decommissioned by 2003 – converted to museum ship).
South African Navy Heroine-class submarines
- S101 SAS Manthatisi
- S102 SAS Charlotte Maxeke
- S103 SAS Queen Modjadji
Libyan Navy submarine warfare
The Libyan Navy’s submarines have likely seen more action than those of the other African nations.
Six Foxtrot-class submarines were acquired in 1982. Their acquisition from the Soviet Union raised significant concerns in the United State at the time considering that they were the main threat to the United States’ Navy in the Mediterranean Sea.
Other anti-submarine warfare capabilities of four well-armed and powerful Russian-made Nanuchka-class Corvettes, and four Italian-made four Assad-class Corvettes. Both had sonar and light torpedoes.
But the most potent ASW vessel at the time was a Koni class frigate; the Libyan Navy flagship Al Hani (212). Acquired from the Soviet Union, Al Hani (212) was armed with 4x SS-N-2C Styx anti-ship missiles, 2x SA-N-4 SAMs, 4x 76mm guns, 4x 30mm guns, 4× 406mm torpedoes, a RBU-6000 A/S mortar and can carry and launch 20 mines.
The Koni class frigate was considered a credible threat to NATO’s submarine flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea and it was attacked by NATO on 20 May 2011 while it was moored in Tripoli Harbour.
Before the Libyan Civil War, the Libyan Navy was fairly small by comparison, with a few guided-missile frigates, submarines, corvettes, and patrol boats to defend the coastline.
Most of Libya’s naval fleet was destroyed in 2011 by NATO forces.
For the six Foxtrot submarines, since 1984, no submarine patrols were carried out, they’re believed to have been inactive due to lack of spares.
One submarine was reported sunk in 1993, and another one was left in Lithuania due to international sanctions.
Anti-government rebels captured one submarine along with a frigate and a corvette at the Benghazi naval base in 2011, during the Libyan civil war.
The foxtrot submarines were equipped with 10 torpedo tubes (6 in the bow, and 4 in the stern), and can carry 22 torpedoes.