CHERBOURG, France — The presence of Australia’s defense minister and the director general of future submarines at Friday’s launch of France’s Suffren, the first-in-class Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine, has sent a strong signal that France considers Australia a critical partner in the project.
In his speech at the launch ceremony in Cherbourg, Normandy, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that “France will be by Australia’s side to accompany it for the duration of this contract, which sealed an essential alliance between our two nations.” Australia has bought 12 of these subs.
The Australian ships will be conventionally powered, as the country does not have a nuclear energy program and thus does not have the know-how to implement atomic power in a submarine. This will mean design changes to allow for a different engine type. It also means Australia’s submarines will not have the capacity to remain submerged for up to 70 days nonstop as the French one can.
Naval Group’s chief executive, Hervé Guillou, said he had “zero worries” about the ability to deliver a conventionally powered submarine to Australia, given the group’s extensive experience. “Every day a conventionally powered Naval Group submarine is sailing somewhere in the world,” he told reporters, adding that those sold to Brazil, Malaysia, Chile, Pakistan and India were all conventionally powered.
The launch also served as an opportunity for Naval Group to talk about its agreement with Dutch company Royal IHC. The two are preparing a joint bid for the Netherlands’ program to replace its four 30-year-old Walrus-class submarines.
The kingdom’s recent Defence Industry Strategy specifies that, whenever possible, the government should “buy Dutch,” so that any shipyard interested in bidding must partner with a Dutch company. Sweden’s Saab-Kockums has teamed with Damen, a private, family-owned Dutch defense, shipbuilding and engineering conglomerate.
The official call to tender — or “B-Letter” as it is referred to in the Netherlands — which would signal the start of the definition phase of the program, should have been published six months ago but is now likely postponed until the end of the year. The delay is due to some Dutch political parties questioning the need for the kingdom to have any submarines at all.
Spain’s Navantia and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems have also expressed interest in this project.