France has launched the first of its six next-generation nuclear attack submarines in a ceremony in Cherbourg. On July 12, 2019, President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron presided over the unveiling of SNA Suffren before a crowd of construction personnel and dignitaries. It is the first of the Barracuda class that will replace the French Navy's aging fleet of Rubis-class boats.

Technically, the ceremony wasn't exactly a launch in the conventional sense of the word. Suffren, like most modern combat submarines, is a highly complex vessel that was built using a modular system in a protected shed, and since it can be moved about using modern machinery, there is no need for the traditional ride down the slipways, which might damage its systems. Instead, it has been transferred to a dry dock where, after extensive testing, it will be floated later this year and its reactor brought online.

SNA Suffren is the first of the Barracuda class, which will include SNA Duguay-Trouin, Tourville, De Grasse, Rubis, and Casabianca over the next decade. Costing €9.9 billion (US$11.1 billion), these will replace the aging fleet of Rubis attack submarines that were built in the 1980s as part of France's Cold War defense forces. According to Naval Group, the new submarines not only reflect technological advances, but also the need by the French Navy for new capabilities.

The Barracuda-class sub is 326 ft (99.5 m) long and is 29 ft (8.8 m) abeam with a surface displacement of 4,765 tonnes. Nuclear powered, it runs on a 150-MW K15 reactor with propulsion provided by a steam/electric hybrid system, giving it a submerged speed in excess of 25 kt (29 mph, 46 km/h), and unlimited range and underwater diving time to depths of over 1,000 ft (300 m). However, actual mission endurance time is limited to 70 days due to food supplies for a crew of 60 plus a commando force, though this is almost double the endurance of the Rubis class.

The primary mission of the Barracudas is to safeguard the seagoing French nuclear deterrent – specifically, the four nuclear missile submarines and the aircraft carrier Charles Degaulle. In addition, they will take on sea patrol duties, act as naval escorts, and carry out reconnaissance missions.

However, along with its increased standard armament of Exocet SM39 Block2 missiles, F21 Artemis heavy torpedoes, and FG29 mines, the Barracudas will also be armed with MDCN SCALP Naval missiles, providing them with an inland-strike capability for the first time. They will also have the ability to ship a Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) for the underwater deployment of commandos, mini-submarines, and drones.

Another innovation is that the Barracuda class is much more stealthy than its predecessor with its propeller pump instead of a conventional screw, improved general acoustics, and increased maximum silent speed. It also boasts improved maneuverability, optronic periscope masts that don't penetrate the hull and are equipped with high-definition daytime cameras, infrared and light intensification instead of a string of prisms and lenses. A high level of automation also allows the boat to be controlled from only two work stations, if necessary.

"We are proud to have presented to the President of the French Republic the first submarine of the Barracuda-class, a symbol of our exceptional know-how and our ability to master the most advanced technologies and the most complex products," says Hervé Guillou, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Naval Group. "The construction of the Suffren is a collective success, the result of a strong cooperation with our long-standing partners: the French Navy and the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), but also the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), TechnicAtome and all the manufacturers of the sector. Now, we are all focused on finalizing the Suffren tests at the shipyard, with the start-up of the nuclear boiler room in the coming weeks, but also on producing the complete series. Maintaining our knowledge and adapting to new technologies are among our main priorities."

Source: Naval Group

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