The Australian government has awarded the contract to build a new fleet to replace the Collins class submarines to French defence contractor DCNS.
The decision hasn’t been without controversy, especially after the former Abbott government made an election promise that the Adelaide-based Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) would get the job, only to have former defence minister David Johnson say he wouldn’t trust the ASC “to build a canoe”.
In the end, the decision came down to bids from Germany, Japan and France, with DCNS winning the job to supply 12 new submarines named the Shortfin Barracuda block 1A.
The Barracuda (the first called the Suffren) is a new class of sub for DCNS, being built in both nuclear and conventional formats – the latter for Australia.
The first of six nuclear-powered Barracuda subs – to replace France’s Rubis-class nuclear subs DCNS first began delivering in 1983 – is nearing completion and is due to be commissioned next year. The cost for all six is €9.9 billion ($A14.5 billion).
The conventionally-powered Australian version, the Shortfin Barracuda, is a couple of metres shorter and also has a smaller underwater displacement at 4700 tonnes.
One of its remarkable technological advancements is using pump jet propulsion, rather than propellers. It will make the boat incredibly quiet and also boost its detection capabilities – two issues that initially plagued the six Australian-designed and built Collins class conventional subs the Shortfin Barracuda will replace.
DCNS boasts of being the only company in the world that can supply both conventional and nuclear submarines, having built more than 100 subs for nine nations. The company’s prowess dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and the earliest days of sub technology with the Morse and Narval classes in 1899.
Today it supplies conventional class boat, the Scorpène, to the Brazilian, Malaysian, Indian and Chilean navies. Chile commissioned the first Scorpène in 2005. The last of India’s is expected to be commissioned in 2021. DCNS is expected to build 14 all up.
The company’s ballistic missile sub class, the Triomphant, replaced the Redoutable class it built for the French Navy over two decades from the mid ’60s.
There are four Triomphant class boats and to put them in perspective, each one is three times the size of the Australian Shortfin Barracuda.
One of the reasons a wary Australian government may have chosen the French over the Germans is that the Germans hadn’t built a submarine as big as the one Australia was seeking. The problem for Japan is that it was unable and/or unwilling to meet one of the key political considerations for the Turnbull government – a local construction capability.
The French opened DCNS Australia 12 months ago and it’s now a huge global business with nearly 14,000 people working for it in 10 countries.
Here’s a look at all the different submarines DCNS – the name the company took in 2007 – has built in the past 117 years.