France launches new Suffren nuclear-powered attack submarine

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, July 12 launched the first of a new fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines that aims to ensure French naval superiority in the coming decades.

The first French submarine to be launched in a decade, the Suffren is the frontrunner for a new line of Barracuda-class vessels.

A vast, 99-meter (325 foot) behemoth of black steel, the Suffren was launched at a dry-dock ceremony in the northern port of Cherbourg.

The dock where the Suffren is standing will be flooded later this month, then it will be trialled at sea. It will be formally delivered to the French navy at the southern port of Toulon near Marseille by summer 2020.

Suffren nuclear-powered attack submarine
Suffren, the first of France’s new Barracuda-class of nuclear-powered attack submarines was launched at a dry-dock ceremony, July 12, 2019. Image: @defense_gouv/Twitter

Built by French shipbuilder Naval Group for the French navy, the Suffren is a Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine designed to replace the Rubis-class submarines which have been in service since the 1980s.

The vast billion-euro stealth vessel, whose sides were draped with the French flag, dwarfed a 700-strong crowd of international delegates who looked on as Macron officially launched the Suffren by simply pulling down a lever.

“With the Suffren, a hunter is born today, not a vessel which is going to hide in the depths of the ocean,” Admiral Christophe Prazuck, the French navy’s chief of staff, told reporters.

“This is a vessel which has been fashioned to fight … to face down enemies,” he said.

The SSN’s mission is to protect strategic vessels such as aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines which are equipped with ballistic missiles (SSBNs) but also to track enemy vessels and to gather intelligence.

“This puts us in the top division,” said Naval Group’s chief executive Herve Guillou of the vessel, which took 10 years to develop and build as part of a €9.1 billion program.

The Barracuda also has other capabilities, including 1,000-km strike-range using cruise missiles, and a mini submarine for special forces which is housed in a dry-deck shelter fitted on the hull.

It can also lay mines.

French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly was at the ceremony Friday alongside her Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds, whose country has signed a deal to buy 12 conventionally-powered attack submarines. Naval Group named the diesel electric variant the Shortfin Barracuda, while the Royal Australian Navy will name the first boat of its Attack-class HMAS Attack. The contract for the Australian vessels was valued at Au$50 billion in 2016, and they will be built in Australia.

With reporting from AFP

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