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France's DCNS chosen for Australia's future submarine program

Australia's new submarine program will see construction of the Barracuda Shortfin Block 1A in Adelaide."

Sea 1000, Australia's New Submarine Program, has entered a new stage with the announcement that French shipbuilder Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) has been selected as the key international partner in the process.

The program, which is set to deliver 12 advanced submarines, will cost $50 billion - the largest defence supply purchase in the history of Australia. DCNS was awarded the bid thanks to its abilities to meet the major priorities set forth by the Australian selection committee, including:

  • Range and endurance that match the Collins Class submarine.
  • Superior stealth and sensor performance.
  • An acceptable schedule and cost.
  • Builder support and the involvement of Australian industry. 

The Barracuda comes to Australia

DCNS's submission, the Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A, will be one of the world's most advanced submarines utilising conventional power. According to DCNS, it will remain a top-of-the-line vessel for decades to come.

The Shortfin Barracudas will provide the Australia Defence Force (ADF) with superior operating power in the region thanks to a number of innovative features, including:

  • Retractable hydroplanes, which will reduce noise and drag.
  • A pump jet propulsion system instead of outdated propellers.
  • The most powerful sonar capabilities out of any conventional submarine.
The Shortfin Barracuda will be one of the region's most advanced submarines.The Shortfin Barracuda will be one of the region's most advanced submarines.

France is also committing to sharing the same stealth technology used on its ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and nuclear-powered general-purpose attack submarines (SSNs) - technology that DCNS calls the "crown jewels of French submarine design".

Speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on May 2, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his praise for the selection.

"It is a decision which honours France, which is also a tribute to our technology, our abilities, our companies and - thinking in particular about DCNS - also to the very numerous contractors that will be involved in this major contract," he said.

"It is also a decision that comes with responsibility; we want to be up to the task and for the trust that Australia put in us."

Good news for defence and industry stakeholders in Australia

With work on the submarines set to be completed domestically, the Shortfin Barracudas are expected to have a strong impact on the Australian economy.

"This is securing the future of Australia's navy over decades to come."

At an April 26 press conference, Prime Minister Turnbull noted that the construction of the submarines will commence at the Adelaide shipyard, which will create 2,800 jobs for Australians involved in the supply and building process. 

"This is securing the future of Australia's navy over decades to come," he said.

"The submarine project alone will see Australian workers building Australian submarines with Australian steel, here where we stand today, for decades into the future. 50 years from now, submarines will be sustained here, built here."

Disappointment for Germany and Japan

The selection of DCNS comes as a letdown to the other contenders for the bid: Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and the Government of Japan. Representatives from those teams showed a mixed reaction to the news of DCNS's selection for the project.

"We will ask Australia to explain why they didn't pick our design."

Gen Nakatani, Japanese minister of defence called the decision regrettable, according to a Reuters report. He marked his intention to ask Australian officials for an explanation of why the Japanese bid was not chosen.

John White, chairman of TKMS's Australian division, responded with praise for the selection process and pledged to continue support for the submarine program.

"The competitive evaluation was conducted with high integrity and professionalism, and we were privileged to be part of it" he noted.

"We are naturally disappointed, but we stand ready to provide support for Australia's future submarines project with our unrivalled experience, leading technology and track record in building submarines in the customer's own country."

Did the potential for nuclear retrofits affect the selection?

One particular feature of the Shortfin Barracudas has led to some suspicion. The submarines contain special hatches that will enable future upgrades, such as converting the diesel and electric submarines to nuclear power. Some believe this was the reason for the government's selection.

According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), sources in the government and industry claim that defence officials and cabinet ministers have had discussions of moving from diesel to nuclear power during the construction process. The manufacturers behind the German and Japanese proposals don't work with nuclear-powered submarines, the AFR noted.

Was the selection process influenced by the possibility of a nuclear upgrade later on?Was the selection process influenced by the possibility of a nuclear upgrade later on?

When a reporter posed a question about the influence the nuclear conversion option may have had on the selection, Prime Minister Turnbull rejected the notion.

"That issue of nuclear propulsion did not form any part of our considerations," he replied.

Regardless of its impact on the selection process, the option of upgrading the Shortfin Barracudas to nuclear power remains open should the ADF wish to pursue it in the future.

Interconnect Systems has a comprehensive background in aerospace and defence engineering, being an industry leader for more than 20 years. It provides electrical interconnect products and solutions, including cable and wire harness manufacture. For more information on the best backshells and cable harness solutions, contact Interconnect Systems today on 1800 812 214 FREE.

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