By Pierre Tran
Paris – There will be much national pride and honor when French industry hands over July 12 to the Navy the first nuclear-powered Barracuda attack submarine, a new-generation boat three years late and generating an initial loss in the contract worth €9.1 billion ($10.2 billion) for six units.
President Emmanuel Macron and armed forces minister Florence Parly are due to go to Cherbourg, northern France, for the formal hand over, pointing up the political significance of the Barracuda program.
The first Barracuda boat will be christened Suffren, named after Pierre André de Suffren, an admiral who fought the British on the high seas in the 18th century and highly regarded by the French Navy.
A delay of delivery was to be expected in view of program complexity and the time needed to train a labor force to build a nuclear submarine, an executive said.
“This is one of most complex programs in the world,” Vincent Martinot Lagarde, Naval Group program director, told a July 9 press conference. There was a concurrent development and building of the first boat of the Barracuda series, which meant this was a “difficult” project, which took time to master.
“What’s important is delivering a high quality system which meets the requirements of operational capability,” he said. Time was also needed as the nuclear ballistic missile submarine Terrible was built 11 years ago and the personnel needed time to learn how to build an atomic boat.
Naval Group is prime contractor, with CEA overseeing work on the nuclear reactor, a revised version of the K15 engine which powers the nuclear ballistic missile boat and Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. TechnicAtome built the nuclear propulsion reactor.
France launched the Barracuda program in 2006 with a contract worth €9.1 billion for six boats, said Emmanuelle TR, program director at Direction Générale de l’Armement, the procurement office. That budget included development, manufacture and spares, while excluding modification of the ports, mainly at Brest and Toulon.
This is an “ambitious and challenging” program, she said. An order for the sixth and last attack submarine is due later this year, as set out in the military budget law.
Sea trials are due to begin in the first quarter next year.
The armed forces ministry last year ordered a fifth Barracuda and set aside €2.3 billion for the boat, the financial annex of the 2018 defense budget shows. The ministry spent some €612 million on the submarine program last year, the budget annex shows.
The late delivery leads to penalty payments under the contract, so industry will make a loss on the first boat, a senior executive said. Lessons learnt on building the first of series, which is also a prototype, helps industry speed up production on the following submarines, allowing a recovery of profit. Industry can also ask for refund on penalty payments and there is money to be made on the service contract.
Delivery in 1997 of the first Triomphant ballistic missile boat was some two to 2-1/2 years late, the executive said.
The Barracuda carries new capabilities including long range strike with a cruise missile, wire-guided F21 heavy torpedo, Exocet SM39 anti-ship missile, and a mini submarine for special forces. The latter is housed in a dry deck shelter fitted on the hull. The submarine can also lay mines.
The boat is equipped with an electro-optical periscope which projects pictures on a digital screen, replacing conventional technology. France considered a periscope from Pilkington, based in Glasgow, Scotland, before selecting Safran as supplier, the senior executive said.
Pilkington is a British unit of the French Thales group.
The 2018 military budget shows 50 naval cruise missiles are to be ordered.
There is a quieter and faster submarine, drawing on a mix of electric and turbine engines, with greater automation, said Naval Group.
Increased automation allows a Barracuda to be crewed by 65 compared to 75 on the present Rubis class. The new boat can sail for 70 days at sea compared to 45 days on Rubis.
A Barracuda can carry a 10-15 strong special forces unit.
There is a national sovereignty issue on the new submarine, a defense analyst said. There are only three Nato nations with a nuclear attack submarine, namely Britain, France and the US.
Ownership of that capability keeps France in the “club of decision makers,” the analyst said. France deployed its Amethyst nuclear attack submarine in the Adriatic in 1999, under the Nato mission in Kosovo.
The attack boat operates as escort for the Charles de Gaulle carrier naval task force, offers a capability for special forces, intelligence gathering, and works with the ballistic missile boats. Work on the stealth qualities of Barracuda hull plates can help development of the next-generation ballistic missile submarines.
The Barracuda can also be seen as part of broad acquisition policy, including an accelerated order of A330 MRTT inflight refueling jets, Rafale F4 upgrade and the Army’s Scorpion modernization. These orders signal a pursuit of French independence of capability.
Work on the Barracuda helped France win the A$50 billion Australian contract for 12 ocean-going, diesel-electric boats, which strengthens bilateral ties, the analyst said.
The late delivery reflects the complexity of the program, said parliamentarian François Cornut-Gentille, who sits on the finance committee of the National Assembly.
“It is the program itself,” he said. The French Navy, DGA and industry were caught up in complexity which arises from the concept of the program.
France launched the program with an order in December 2006 for the first Barracuda boat, followed by an orders in June 2009 for the second, June 2011 for the third, and July 2014 for the fourth. A sixth order remains to be placed.
The first Barracuda boat would enter service in 2020 instead of 2017, the Navy chief of staff told July 26 2017 the defense committee of the lower house National Assembly.
“This is not a scooter but a system hard to build, and mistakes were made, which have to be identified, fixed and caught up on,” Adm. Christophe Prazuck said. The Navy has been training its first crew on simulators, awaiting delivery of the first boat.
That delay in delivery has forced the Navy to stretch out the operational life of the Rubis class of submarines, to ensure a six-strong fleet of submarines, he said.
That fleet size met the Navy’s operational requirement, he said, as one will be undergoing a major overhaul over 1-1/2 to two years, a second will be in dock for routine service, a third will used for training, a fourth deployed in the Atlantic, a fifth in the Mediterranean, and the sixth will sailing in the Atlantic, or Mediterranean, or Indian Ocean, he said. The British Royal Navy sails seven attack submarines, he added.
In the UK, the Astute hunter-killer submarine was £2 billion over budget and four years late.
There will be a heavy budgetary impact after 2020, with the delivery of the Barracuda, a 2018 report of the parliamentary finance committee said. There has already been an operational hit due to delayed delivery of the Barracuda, the report said. The Navy retired the first of the Rubis class boats in January 2017, leaving only five submarines in service.
Due to the greater length and weight of the Barracuda compared to Rubis, the submarine docks in the Toulon naval base, southern France, as well those at Brest and Cherbourg, will need to be adapted, the parliamentary committee report said. Some €524.3 million was earmarked last year for adapting the docks, with €170.5 million disbursed.
Funds will be needed for dismantling the retired Rubis, with €2.8 million cleared last year, the report said. NG and Areva TA are breaking up the Rubis at Cherbourg.
The featured photo shows President Macron and the French Defense Minister on July 12, 2019 visiting Cherbourg,
Cherbourg. Emmanuel Macron, et la ministre des Armées Florence Parly présent à la cérémonie de lancement du sous-marin Sufren. Premier sous-marin nucléaire d’attaque de type Barracuda
The video below is credited to Naval Group.