SMX31, Racer, Scarabée: These ultra-innovative unfunded French defense industrial programs

In the field of the defense industry, France has often demonstrated its ability to develop high performance equipment and sometimes several years ahead of their international competitors. But if some successes are undeniable, such as the Light Furtive Frigates or the VAB armored vehicles, both ahead of the very perception of the need when they appeared, it has also often happened that very effective programs are in progress. ahead of their time were ignored by the French authorities, letting go of crucial technological advantages that some competitors did not fail to seize. This is how France missed out on the steerable nozzle which will be used to develop the famous British Harrier vertical take-off and landing fighter, and which was developed by the French engineer Michel Wibault, forced to offer his solution across the Channel. after it was rejected by the French authorities.

While international tensions are on the rise, and the demand for modern weapon systems capable of providing significant operational added value is very high, the French defense industry now has several very innovative programs. and with indisputable operational potential, both for the French armies and for export customers of French industry. However, these programs remain ignored by the budgetary decisions of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the DGA, even though they could prove to be decisive both from an operational point of view and for the future and the sustainability of the national defense industry. In this two-part article, we will present some of these most promising programs, revealing the innovative capacities of the French defense industry, which simultaneously meet national and international needs, and which, in this sense, deserve to be improved. 'be taken into account by the French authorities.

New generation conventional submarine SMX31 (Naval Group)

Beyond the pathetic Australian episode, which today begins to ask more questions than it was supposed to answer in Canberra, the French military naval group Naval Group is today one of the few specialists recognized on the international scene. capable of designing and manufacturing both nuclear powered submarines such as the Suffren class SNAs, and conventionally powered submarines such as the Scorpene and the Shortfin Barracuda. It is also the only manufacturer on the planet to achieve the feat of exporting conventional propulsion submarines, in this case 14 Scorpene-type submarines sold to Chile, Malaysia, India. and in Brazil for the past 20 years, even though the French Navy only uses nuclear-powered submarines. But this commercial as well as industrial exploit also puts the French group in a fragile situation, since unlike Germany, Sweden, Russia or even South Korea and Japan, Naval Group cannot rely on national programs to enrich and develop its range of conventional propulsion submarines, even though they represent more than 50% of its exports.

The SMX31 presented by Naval Group offers a radically new design in the field of conventional propulsion submarines of small and medium tonnage

If the Scorpene has largely proven its worth, and the Shortfin barracuda, aborted in Australia, nonetheless represents a unique solution for a conventional submarine with oceanic capacity, the French group must prepare the next generation in the years to come, to try to remain efficient in this highly competitive market. This is how he developed thehe SMX-31 concept, a submarine with conventional propulsion revolutionary in many aspects, and likely to place it at the top of the world hierarchy in this field for several years, even decades, if ever it can see the light of day. Indeed, this 3000-ton submarine is a concentrate of new technologies which represents the culmination of all the know-how and experience acquired by the French group in this field. new generation and its innovative propulsion system, a cruising speed of 6 knots for several weeks in diving, it will be able to implement an impressive range of weapons and combat equipment, ranging from torpedoes to cruise missiles to change of environment, passing through underwater mines and drones of different types, with a crew of only 15 men, in conditions of acoustic discretion and very advanced collaborative engagement.

What interest for the French Armies?

According to the French Navy staff, it would be preferable today for it to acquire 2 additional SNAs of the Suffren class, than to finance the design of 4 new submarines with conventional propulsion, such as the SMX. -31. This position is nothing new, since it is simply a question here of concentrating the narrow investment capacities which it has on equipment offering the highest immediate overall potential. This same reasoning made say to the Admirals commanding the Naval Action Force and the Naval Aeronautics at the beginning of the years 90, that it was preferable to acquire second-hand American F / A 18 to replace the Crusader and the Super Etendard. , rather than funding the Rafale program. It is clear that today, the Rafale still fly and evolve, including for the first F1 delivered in 2000, while the F / A 18 is withdrawn from service all over the world. The same reasoning applies here, since the capabilities offered by an SMX-31 for the French Navy are, from a global perspective, much more interesting than the simple increase of the Suffren fleet, otherwise necessary.

The SMX31 cannot replace the SNAs of the Suffren class. On the other hand, it can carry out many missions which will be entrusted to this submarine for a much lighter budgetary and human footprint, allowing an otherwise more flexible rise to power of the French Navy.

Indeed, because of its capabilities, its great discretion, but above all its very small human footprint with a crew of only 15 members, which is moreover without nuclear competence, the SMX-31 would offer much greater flexibility in terms of increasing power. than that offered by the ANS, in particular to ensure certain missions such as securing ports and arsenals, in particular the entry / exit of SSBNs and major naval units, but also intelligence and denial of access missions, which 'it is a question of operating in closed seas as in the Mediterranean, or to protect the ultra-marine maritime spaces, which are now particularly exposed. Because if it is true that an SMX-31 will not be able to carry out certain missions entrusted to the ANS, it is also true that the ANS is in many aspects over-qualified and therefore very expensive for many missions that it performs today. 'hui, missions which could be entrusted to lighter and less expensive units like a submarine with conventional propulsion with small footprint. The same reasoning applies moreover in the field of surface units, a flotilla of well-armed corvettes having undoubtedly a great utility in managing the move upmarket of the French Navy.

What is the potential export market?

Besides an obvious domestic interest, the SMX-31 could constitute the spearhead of the submarine offer of Naval Group in the 2 or 3 decades to come, by taking by surprise all the world manufacturers as it positions itself in upstream of programs currently in progress, or on the drawing boards of competing manufacturers. However, with the democratization of long-range anti-ship systems, and sometimes hypersonic, the requirements in terms of submarine capabilities of the world's navies will increase in the years to come, in part towards oceanic capabilities covered by the Suffren SNAs. and the Shortfin Barracuda, but also towards coastal and / or defensive capacities, for which the new concept of Naval Group would offer unrivaled performance and an unrivaled performance-price ratio. While the construction of submarines intended for export represents a strategic activity for the sustainability of the French naval group, the SMX-31 would undoubtedly be a major asset to face this market in the years to come.

The Swedish A26 model foreshadows the next-generation conventional propulsion submarines, but lags behind the innovations offered by the SMX31

Conversely, without this new very innovative model, Naval Group will be forced to offer, as it does today, Scorpene with extended capacities, itself derived from the Agosta, which over the years is likely to see their attractiveness is waning in the face of new models such as the German Type 212 NG, the Swedish A26 and especially the Japanese Taigei and South Korean Dosan Ahn-cho, these two countries operating the largest fleet of conventionally powered submarines in the West . However, if Naval Group were to be deprived of the submarine export market, this could jeopardize the very sustainability of the group's submarine activity, which we know is so essential to the implementation of French national deterrence, the Navy alone not having the capacity to fuel such an industrial sector in activity over its 30-year generational cycle. In addition, apart from state contracts, the French group can only count on its shareholders, Thales and the French state, and on its own profits, to consider developing innovative equipment in equity, which represents each time a non-negligible risk, especially since the French State is not inclined to support this type of initiative, as we will see in the course of this article.

High Performance Racer Helicopter (Airbus Helicopters)

Since the advent of the Bell V-22 Osprey, then the launch of the Futur Vertical Lift program, the American industry seems to be going it alone for two decades in the field of high performance military helicopters. The two large American groups, Bell and Sikorsky, are indeed engaged in fierce competition in this area, whether it is to replace the UH-60 Black Hawks from the FLRAA program, or the OH-58 Kiowa and part of the Ah -64 apache for the FARA program, with devices capable of maintaining a cruising speed of more than 200 or even 250 knots, and capacities of evolution and acceleration without common measure with the current rotary wings. In this area, the European helicopter manufacturer Airbus Helicopters has yet designed a technology of elegant simplicity but which is on par with American solutions in terms of performance: the Racer.

The Airbus Helicopters Racer offers an efficient and elegant solution to the increased performance needs of rotary wings

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