A tourist snapshot of the Havana harbour has captured what may be the Cuban Navy’s Delfin-class of midget submarines, with the vessel proving so secretive that only one other photo of it is known to exist.
Defence observer, open-source intelligence analyst and Forbes contributor H I Sutton tweeted the photo of the submarine, with the snap accompanied by an illustration of what it may look like.
According to Sutton, this is the “first high res image of Delfin Class” ever taken, with intelligence analysts “waiting for years” for photos like this. He recalled that there is only one other, extremely grainy low-res photo of the vessel in existence.
Little verified information about the Delfin-class of midget subs exists. They are thought to be about 21 meters long, with a 100 tonne displacement, and an armament of two torpedo launchers, capable of launching up to six 533 mm torpedoes. The diesel-powered sub is thought to be big enough for a crew of five – just one crewmember more than your typical main battle tank. The sub is believed to be based in Cabanas, northwest Cuba, about 50 km from Havana.
Details about the subs’ origins are about as difficult to come by as photos. The vessel is thought to be a homegrown design, with some observers speculating that it may be influenced by the Yugo-class of minisubs – designed by Yugoslavia in the 1960s and built by North Korea until the 1980s and used for infiltration and espionage missions. However, it’s also possible that the Delfin may be derived from Project 1015, a rumoured Soviet midget sub created in the 1970s for testing purposes. That vessel has often been heard about on message boards, but its existence has yet to be independently verified.
It’s not clear how many Delfin-class submarines operate in the Cuban Navy, with Sutton suggesting it’s just one, while other sources suggest that the Navy is armed with up to four of the vessels, with two more created for civilian use.
Once known for being one of the most powerful navies among the Caribbean island nations and armed with three submarines, a pair of guided missile frigates, an intelligence ship, and a raft of smaller patrol ships and minesweepers, Cuba has significantly cut back on the naval arm of its armed forces since the end of the Cold War, with numbers shrinking from 12,000 personnel in the mid-1980s to about 3,000 by the mid-2000s. Lack of funding and support from its erstwhile Soviet allies prompted the Caribbean Island nation to get creative, with the country known to have converted at least two Spanish-made fishing trawlers to frigates armed with anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft guns and a helicopter. Other craft in the Navy’s inventory are said to include fast patrol and missile boats, with the Soviet-built subs long-since retired.