All about Suffren, the French nuclear submarine which started its official duties on Friday

All about Suffren, the French nuclear submarine which started its official duties on Friday

A little less than two years after its delivery to the French Navy, the submersible begins its mission this Friday: that of protecting the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

“Fit for service”. The nuclear attack submarine (SSN) Suffren, built by Naval Group, officially began its mission this Friday. 

This black steel monster takes its name from Pierre-André Suffren, an admiral who distinguished himself against the English in the 18th century.

The submersible was actually delivered to the French Navy in November 2020 for its long-term deployment, a full-scale test phase aimed at verifying the operation of the building. In particular, it made a first long-duration crossing last summer to the Equator to test its operation in warm waters and check its endurance over time.

A leak observed on one of its turbines as well as the covid health crisis delayed its entry into an operational mission which was to be carried out in 2021.

A 9 billion euro program

“The nations in the world that are capable of carrying out such an industrial project are rare,” said Emmanuel Macron at the time, saluting “with pride” the work of civil and military engineers, technicians and workers.

Based in Toulon, the Suffren is the first nuclear-powered Barracuda class submarine which will replace the Rubis submarines put into service between 1976 and 1990. The cost of this program reached 9 billion euros. Six Barracuda class SSNs are to be delivered by 2030.

Its mission is to protect precious assets such as aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). Nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the French Navy, and Suffren is meant to protect it. France also possesses four Le Triomphant-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).

Barracuda SSN advantage

The French say Barracuda SSN is almost undetectable. The sound it emits is equivalent to that of a “shoal of shrimp”, according to the expression used by those responsible for the project. The submarine is equipped with a hybrid propulsion system, which allows the crew to increase the speed and reduce the noise of the ship. 

Its dimensions are extraordinary — ninety-nine meters against 76 meters for the Rubis and heavier – 5300 tons against 2600 tons. Sixty-five submariners make up the crew, which includes Navy women, for the first time in the history of the naval arm.

Missiles with a range of 1000 kilometres

Suffren Class can dive 350 meters deep for 70 days compared to 45 for the Rubies.

On the armament side, the Suffren is not equipped with a nuclear missile; like the SSBNs, it must protect. It carries 50% more weapons than Rubies. It has cruise missiles, the future F21 heavy torpedo and the SM 39 anti-ship missile. The Suffren can fire four missiles in a single salvo at a range of 1,000 kilometres.

The more compact nuclear reactor on the Suffren is an updated version of the K15, which is installed on the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. 

In contrast to the U.S. Navy, French ship reactors use the same fuel as civilian power plants. This allows the manufacturer to save on the construction of the ship, simplifies logistics and is safer.

The Barracuda needs to be refuelled every ten years. In comparison, Rubies-class submarines were originally refuelled every five years. 

The latest submarines do not require frequent maintenance. All necessary maintenance can be performed in 10 weeks, and they are held once a year. Thus, “Barracuda” can be at sea 280 days a year. 

Above all, it has a removable deck hangar for combat swimmers. This submerged secret base is dedicated to combat swimmers. They will use it to launch drones and go on missions with PSM3G mini-submarines.

The next SSN could be delivered next year

The second SSN in the Barracuda class, the Dugay-Trouin, should be launched by the end of next summer. A prerequisite before the divergence of its reactor. And according to the Presse de la Manche, its first sea trials would not begin until the end of the year, which means that it will be delivered to the French Navy, at best, only in 2023.

This submarine model was to be exported to Australia in a non-nuclear powered version. But Canberra unilaterally cancelled the contract, preferring to enter into a strategic partnership with the United States and Great Britain, causing a major diplomatic crisis between France and its allies. France had offered the non-nuclear version for the Indian Navy’s P-75I program before withdrawing from the competition. 

If Naval Group is the manufacturer of the Suffren, 100 subcontractors and SMEs are involved in the program in France and Europe. These companies are mainly located in the Normandy (Cherbourg) and Pays de la Loire (Nantes-Indret) regions, but also in PACA (Toulon, Saint-Tropez, Aix-en-Provence and Cadarache), Poitou-Charentes (Ruelle), Brittany (Lorient and Brest) and Paris region (Paris and Saclay).

In total, 2,500 men and women participated in constructing the submarine, with an additional 800 technicians from subcontractors.


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