Conversion of 2 French SSBNs into cruise missile submarines, a more attractive hypothesis than it seems

For many months, the deputy of Eure and member of the Defense commission of the National Assembly Fabien Gouttefarde, aims to be a source of proposals for future developments in French defense programs. Although belonging to the Republic in March, he did not hesitate, for example, to plead insistently so that the Air and Space Force, but also the National Navy, acquirean electronic warfare and enemy anti-aircraft defense suppression version of the Rafale, and this despite the end of not receiving, moreover very questionable, addressed by the Ministry of the Armed Forces to one of his opposition colleagues, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, who had publicly asked the same question in the National Assembly. Beyond this request against which it is now difficult to object with the decision of Berlin to design a Typhoon ECR precisely for this mission, and the arrival of 6 EA-18G Growler of the US Navy in Germany to reinforce the posture of NATO in this area, the French deputy also calls for the development of other programs considered urgent, such as a mobile anti-aircraft defense system on a Griffon base, light combat drones, vagrant ammunition, as well as a seventh nuclear attack submarine, while strengthening the resilience of the French armies by re-establishing an industrial capacity for the production of small-caliber ammunition.

But one of the measures proposed by Fabien Gouttefarde a few months ago had aroused reactions that were perplexed to say the least, even hostile in specialized circles. Indeed, for the French deputy, it would be relevant to transform two of the Triomphant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines of the French Navy, the very ones that ensure the underwater component of the French deterrent, into submarines nuclear cruise missile launchers, like what the US Navy did with 4 of its Ohio-class SSBNs in the early 2000s, replacing the 24 Trident II intercontinental ballistic missiles arming the ship with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles , so as to have a conventional strike capacity of saturation capable of surpassing the most modern anti-aircraft defenses of the moment. Such a hypothesis is interesting in more ways than one, but must be studied and implemented in a precise and coordinated manner, so as to effectively provide the French armed forces with operational added value consistent with the investment necessary to the conversion and operation of these two vessels.

The SNA class Suffren will be able to implement medium-changing MdCN cruise missiles, but in limited quantities through its torpedo tubes, an unsuitable solution for carrying out saturation strikes

Firstly, and as the MEP clearly states, such a program can only be envisaged accompanied by an acceleration of the 3G SNLE program to take over from the Triomphant class SNLEs by 2035, so as to allow the first two ships that will be replaced to have sufficient navigation potential for at least ten years, consistent with the total investment estimated at €1 billion for the conversion and refitting of the two submarines. There is indeed no question of weakening the French deterrent posture, moreover already undersized, to acquire conventional capabilities that are certainly useful, but at best complementary to those that already exist. It should be noted in passing that the performance of the Triomphant class SSBNs, particularly in terms of acoustic discretion, will be largely sufficient for a ship of the SSGN type (nuclear-powered guided missile submarine) until 2045, and even 2050, limit of possible age for these vessels.


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