Emmanuel Macron, photographed in proud father of a steel monster of 99 meters long. The French president attended Friday, July 12 in Cherbourg, the birth of Suffren, the first stealth nuclear attack submarine (SNA) program Barracuda.
It took 20 years for the five builders (Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, Directorate General of Armaments, Navy, Naval Group and TechnicAtome) to give birth to this huge naval ship, the first of six siblings Barracuda submersibles intended to replace the Rubis class submarines, in operation since the 1970s.
The construction of the Suffren cost 9.1 billion euros, three years behind its initial schedule, and mobilized thousands of people who assembled 700,000 pieces, 20 km of pipes and 150 km of cables.
The luxury escort
The result: a nuclear-powered 4,700-ton submarine loaded with technology, more autonomous and more discreet than those in the Ruby class. The Suffren will be able to sail for 70 days without having to stop over against 45 days for his predecessor. "This opens up new possibilities in terms of theaters of operations on which it will be able to intervene", explains Corentin Brustlein, director of the security center of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), contacted by France 24.
Improvements that should allow it to perform more efficiently missions previously performed by the previous generation. Like it, the new series of the Barracuda program will be used primarily to escort missile launching submarines (SSBNs) - that is, capable of launching an atomic missile - and aircraft carriers, as well as to carry out a "discreet collection of information", according to the press kit of the Ministry of Defense.
This ability to play spies perfectly illustrates the technological superiority of Suffren on the old guard of attack submarines. It can dive deeper, and thanks to the radar and the many new sensors it is equipped with, "it can probe under the sea, but also discreetly approach the coast of a potential adversary and glean information, such as communications radios ", explains Corentin Brustlein.
The submersibles of the Barracuda program also have a brand new asset: they are the first ANS to hit targets on Earth. Ruby submarines could only get rid of opponents at sea, but their successors loaded missiles capable of striking at a distance of about 1,000 km. "It's useful if France needs a show of force, because the nuclear attack submarine can approach the coast more discreetly than an airplane or a boat and can therefore threaten to hit a target - like a presidential palace for example - without being spotted.In addition, its missiles have a range greater than those of aircraft, "notes the French expert.
Non-nuclear deterrent weapon
But the Suffren is not only meant to do better than the Rubies. The first new model since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it must be adapted to the threats of the post-cold-war world, says the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
"One of the salient features since the end of the cold war is the proliferation of advanced defense systems," says Corentin Brustlein. Each actor has missile missiles, anti-aircraft defenses and radar on the horizon. "The defense has made progress in all areas except underwater detection, and that's why it's important to have a versatile and advanced model like the Barracuda," said the specialist.
There is also a proliferation of provocations from political actors and powers who are careful to "stay below the threshold of armed aggression," says the director of the Ifri security center. This may be the violation of an agreement, the sending of ships in disputed waters or ballistic tests not authorized by the international community: all situations that do not justify the outbreak of an armed conflict or to agitate the threat of the atomic weapon, but a deterrent policy of "sending strong non-nuclear strategic signals [such as sending a submarine attack, Ed]," says Corentin Brustlein . The Suffren could thus become the weapon of non-nuclear deterrence par excellence for France.
Finally, the nuclear attack submarines of the Barracuda program also shed light on the evolution of modern conflicts: "The special forces [elite troops, Ed] have gained importance", stresses 'expert. Until now, combat swimmers could get out of submarines by torpedo tubes to reach theaters of operations. A D system that has given way to a real airlock that can accommodate underwater vehicles (drones or mini-submersibles) to transport the commandos out of the Suffren.
But for now, the launch of the Suffren is only the first step in the deployment of the Barracuda submarines. It still has tests at sea throughout the year 2020. The date of entry into active service of the new monster of the seas is, meanwhile, not yet fixed.