For decades, Israel’s three Sa’ar 5-class corvettes were the mainstay of its navy. Until its successor, the Sa’ar 6, was introduced, the Sa’ar 5 vessels were the largest surface warships in Israel’s fleet.
Although the warship class is aging, the Sa’ar 5, dubbed Eilat, remains an active asset. In March, the Israel Defense Forces completed a major international naval exercise in the Mediterranean called Noble Dina, and the Sa’ar 5 corvettes were part of Israel’s delegation. The class continues to perform anti-submarine work, coastal patrols, and air defense missions for Israel’s navy.
An Israeli Design
Northrop Grumman built the three Sa’ar 5 corvettes in the early 1990s. Based on Israel’s own designs, the corvettes were the first warships designed entirely by a computer-aided program. The INS Eilat, INS Lahav and INS Hanit were shipped to Israel from Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi in 1993 and 1994.
At a cost of some $260 million each, the corvettes were a big investment for Israel’s navy. The vessels’ unique exteriors include angular features, a raised platform, and a centrally located conning tower. The Sa’ar 5 corvettes also feature a large helipad equipped with a motor launch.
The Sa’ar 5’s design contributes to its stealth capabilities. According to Military Today, the warship’s exterior advancements include “heavy insulation against heat and noise where required, a thin layer of composites on the exterior of the hull and superstructure, and — unusually for a corvette — the exhaust for the diesel engines is vented into the water rather than upward into the air.”
An Array of Missiles
The Sa’ar 5-class corvette features three types of missile systems. The Harpoon missile system, developed by Boeing, is the corvette’s long-range surface-to-surface weapon. The Barak missile, developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, serves as the warship’s anti-air and anti-surface-capable weapon. Also developed by IAI, Sa’ar 5’s Gabriel II missile system is a short-to-medium-range anti-ship weapon.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah attacked the INS Hanit using an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missile. Israel’s navy was patrolling offshore of Beirut, and the missile exploded near the warship’s rear helipad, killing four crew members. Due to a reported communications error, the corvette’s Barak anti-missile systems were on stand-by mode during the assault. Three years later, both the INS Eilat and INS Hanit accompanied a Dolphin-class submarine in a deterrence mission in the Red Sea. Shortly thereafter, the same two ships contributed to a 2010 Gaza flotilla raid.
In 2015, Israel began the process of purchasing four Sa’ar 6 corvettes in an effort to upgrade its naval fleet. While these advanced warships feature greater capabilities than their predecessors, the Sa’ar 5 vessels will probably remain active in Israel’s navy for years to come.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.