Barracuda, Shortfin, Scorpene: What alternatives to increase the French submarine fleet?

For several months, several French Deputies and Senators, whether they belong to the presidential majority or to the opposition, have repeatedly and more and more precisely, questioned the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly as the Chiefs of Staff on the capacities and deficiencies of the French armies in the field of high intensity combat and nuclear deterrence. Combat drones, fighter or frigate fleet, second aircraft carrier and armored vehicles, many subjects were discussed, with the very real fear expressed by parliamentarians that the operational capacities of the French armies would be, in the years to come. , insufficient to ensure the security of the country and all of its territories with the hardening of tensions in the world, and the arrival of new major global military players.

The format of the submarine fleet was also discussed recently, first by the UDI Deputy of the 3rd district of Mayenne Yannick Favennec-Bécot on the occasion of the hearing of the CEMA, General Lecointre, about the number SSBN of the Strategic Oceanic Force, a question to which he answered by indicating that in the current budgetary context and a defense effort of 2%, any increase in format was excluded, without responding to the legitimate questioning of the deputy on the adequacy of the format to the threat, which we know to have changed considerably in recent years, as mentioned in the article " SNLE3G: should we go back to a 6-submarine deterrent? In which we broached the subject in detail.

On the occasion of a written question addressed to the Minister of the Armed Forces, the LR deputy of the 2nd district of Essone, Bernard Bouley, asked him for details on the adequacy of the format of the submarine flotilla of he attack by the French Navy against the threat, proposing to increase it to 8 units against 6 planned, and to add 4 submarines with conventional Scorpene or Shortfin Barracuda propulsion to deal with the threat. Here again, the response was purely budgetary on the part of the Minister of the Armed Forces, who specified that the effort to replace the 6 SNA of the Rubis class by 6 SNA of the Suffren class was already considerable. However, apart from the only budgetary criterion, which certainly has a decisive role but cannot by itself dictate a decision, it is useful to study the strengths and opportunities offered by these solutions, so as to assess their potential feasibility. would go beyond current planning.

The supremacy of the nuclear attack submarine

Asked by journalist Michel Cabirol about the advisability of acquiring conventional propulsion submarines to strengthen the French submarine flotilla, the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Pierre Vandier, clearly replied that the solution did not suit the French Navy. Indeed, from the point of view of the sailors, it is much preferable to obtain 2 nuclear attack submarines (SNA in the rest of the article) of the Suffren class extra, rather than receiving 4 Scorpene or 3 Shortfin Barracuda for the same cost. And for good reason: an ANS can actually do everything that a conventionally powered submarine (SSK in the rest of the article) can do, while the reverse is far from true! Indeed, thanks to its nuclear boiler, an ANS can not only stay indefinitely in diving, the limit being the food and psychological health of the crew, but it can move at very high speed without time limit, this which is impossible for an SSK, which remains constrained by a much more restrictive energy equation forcing it to choose between speed and diving autonomy.

The arrival of the Suffren class ANS will considerably increase the submarine capabilities of the French Navy

In other words, an ANS can effectively reach at high speed and while diving, therefore discreetly, a patrol zone several thousand nautical miles away in just a few days, where an SSK can only evolve in diving at one point. speed 2 to 4 times lower in a sustained manner, and cannot ensure the whole of the diving transit. This speed also allows the ANS to be able to catch up with a ship launched at high speed, where the SSK can only hope to intercept ships that cross its path, which is why the SSK are often compared to hunters at the sea. lookout, waiting for a prey on the bottom. In addition, SNAs, if they are more expensive and require a larger crew than SSKs, also offer very high availability, allowing a double-crewed ANS to offer the same number of days at sea as 2 SSKs. single crew. From the point of view of the Navy, therefore, there is no advantage in integrating SSKs into its fleet to the detriment of SNA, a finding shared by the US Navy or the Royal Navy, also having completely eliminated the conventionally powered submarines from their arsenal.

An economic and operational equation more complex than it seems

However, if the French Navy were to receive SSKs, it would find a number of functions for them. Indeed, just like the Mirage 2000 of the French Air Force and Space which fulfill missions for which the Rafales are overqualified for a significantly lower overall cost, the SSKs could thus free the ANS from many missions for which their specificities are superfluous, for example to protect the approaches to the arsenals of foreign submarines, in particular that of Île Longue which accommodates the nuclear submarines launching devices of the Strategic Oceanic Force, or to intelligence or combat missions in shallow or narrow seas, such as the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea. Half cheaper to purchase and to maintain, and requiring only a reduced crew, modern SSKs could therefore meet specific needs, including for deploying permanent underwater protection around certain overseas territories in zone of tension, such as New Caledonia or Reunion.

Scorpene-type submarines have been chosen by 4 navies around the world: Brazil, Chile, India and Malaysia.

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