Príncipe de Asturias
La Fayette class
European aircraft carrier cruisers
OTO Melara 76-millimeter cannon
Harpoon antiship missile
Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile
The corvettes of the Descubierta class, designed in cooperation with the German company Blohm und Voss, were built for the Spanish Navy
between 1975 and 1984 in the shipyards at Ferrol and Cartagena, entering service the first unit in 1978. These ships received the nickname
"Atomic Ants", because being designed as corvettes they carried so much armament as a frigate, even more armament than some frigates.
Maybe because of this, the project attracted attention from foreign navies when it was first raised. The Egyptian Navy bought two units
and the Royal Moroccan Navy a third one; as 2016, all of the exported ships remain in service.
The Spanish Navy commissioned six units: Descubierta (F31), Diana (F32), Infanta Elena (F33), Infanta Cristina (F34), Cazadora (F35) and
Vencedora (F36). The leading ship was decommissioned in 2009, Diana was transformed into an MCM support ship and allegedly sold to Angola,
and the other ships were reclassified as patrol ships with the denominations P-76, P-77, P-78 and P-79. A larger version of the project was
proposed for a second batch but the Spanish Navy preferred to build under licence the American frigates of the Oliver Hazard Perry class.
These ships have a length of 89 meters, a beam of 10.4 meters and a draught of 3.8 meters, a standard displacement of 1233 tonnes
and a maximum displacement of 1482 tonnes. Their propulsion plant comprises four Diesel engines MTU of 4000 horsepower each actuating on two
shafts, which can give a nominal speed of 25 knots, while operational range is about 4000 nautical miles (7400 kilometers) at 18 knots.
The complement was 118 as originally built.
~ The F31 Descubierta as portrayed by German marine painter Jochem Sachse ~
The armament comprised, from prow to stern, one OTO Melara 76-millimeter dual-purpose cannon, one twin antisubmarine mortar Bofors, two
twin or quadruple launchers for the antiship missile RGM-84 Harpoon, two triple launchers Mk 32 for 324-millimeter antisubmarine torpedoes, two
Bofors 40-millimeter antiaircraft cannons in single mountings and one octuple launcher for missiles Sea Sparrow or Aspide SAM/PDMS
(Surface-To-Air/Point Defense Missile System). Finally, from the poop deck acoustic decoys could be released, which produce a range of
noises of higher intensity than those generated by the ship herself, attracting the torpedoes towards them.
The 76-millimeter 62-caliber cannon OTO Melara, of Italian design, is widely used in the world navies. Its large caliber allows to effectuate
long-range antiship fire, while its hign rate of fire (85 rounds per minute) allows to perform antiaircraft or antimissile fire. It can fire piercing,
incendiary and fragmentation ammunitions, among others. The original design from the 1960s has been gradually improved by introducing new
elements, such as a dome with stealth features. This cannon and its associated reload system are compact enough to be installed on small
warships, such as corvettes or patrol boats. This successful weapon system has been produced under license in United States, Spain and Japan.
Immediately behind the cannon, there is a double-barreled 375-millimeter antisubmarine mortar Bofors. These "traditional" non-guided antisubmarine
systems are still widely used in the current days, coexisting with more sophisticated systems such as guided torpedoes and missiles. This mortar
in particular, of Swedish design, can throw 250-kilogram projectiles at distances of up to 3600 meters. Range varies depending on the type of
rocket projectile used and rate of fire is six rounds per minute.
At the top of the foremast lies the radome containing the fire-control radar Signaal WM22/41 or WM25, equipped with a system for
self-stabilization, which operates in I/J bands and has a range of 46 kilometers. On the sides of the foremast there are electronic warfare
sensors of the types Elsag Mk 100, Mk 1600, K 1900, Canopus or Deneb, depending on ship. On top of the aft mast lies the air and
surface surveillance radar Signaal DA 05/2, which works in E/F bands and has a range of 137 kilometers, with precision for targets of size
up to two square meters.
Installed amidships in its characteristic canister mounting is the RGM-84 Harpoon, the successful surface-to-surface missile developed by the American
company McDonnell Douglas. This missile can cruise at speeds of 0.85 Mach and has a range of 111 kilometers in the original version and 157 kilometers
in the improved version Block 1, but external targetting systems such as helicopters are required to hit targets beyond the horizon.
In the quarter section there are installed the antiaircraft cannons: two 40-millimeter 70-caliber Bofors in single mountings or one 20-millimeter 120-caliber
Oerlikon (late installation on two of the ships). These artillery pieces are certainly excellent but effective only against easy targets. Next to them are emplaced the
two triple torpedo launchers Mk 32 which are another weapon for antisubmarine warfare. They operate with the guided torpedo Mk 46 of American origin which
has a maximum range of about 11 kilometers.
In the poop deck is installed an octuple launcher Selenia Albatros for surface-to-air missiles Sea Sparrow or Aspide (depending on ship) which serve
as the point-defense system. These missiles, designed to intercept incoming aircraft and antiship missiles, are essential for the survival of the ship
and two full reloads of eight missiles are carried besides those in the launcher. The replacement of one of the 40-millimeter cannons for a Meroka CIWS
system was refused due to stability problems.