Through

Vincent Lamigeon

on 09/15/2021 at 6:17 p.m.

4 min read

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Canberra will enact the cancellation of the “contract of the century” for 12 Attack submarines for Australia, in favor of a partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear submarines. A monumental slap in the face for France.

It’s a staggering stab that no one in France saw coming. A coup from Trafalgar from which Naval Group will take years to recover. Australia is expected to announce this Wednesday evening the cancellation of the “contract of the century” initialed in 2016, which provided for the acquisition by Canberra of 12 conventional-propelled Naval Group Attack submarines, for an estimated amount of $ 50 billion. . According to the Australian press, Australia is moving towards cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom, which would allow it to acquire nuclear submarines. The information, which leaked to the Australian press on Wednesday (September 15th), was confirmed to Challenges from a very good source. When questioned, Naval Group did not comment. Florence Parly’s office was not reachable at the time of closing these lines.

In the French camp, the incomprehension is total. In recent days, several sources interviewed by Challenges still expressed their optimism about a signing of the next phase of the contract, called Core Work Scope 2 (CWS2). An agreement was hoped for before the end of September, the deadline set by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he visited Emmanuel Macron on June 15. On August 30, ministers Jean-Yves le Drian (Foreign Affairs) and Florence Parly

The CEO of Naval Group Pierre-Eric Pommellet had sent several strong signals in recent months. In February, he flew to an Australia in full containment, spending two weeks in quarantine (one there and another on his return to France) to meet four ministers in Canberra. Pommellet had signed the group’s commitment to spend 60% of the amount of the contract in Australia, and confirmed the creation of 1,700 jobs on site by 2028. Since then, the big boss has cleaned up the teams, excluding in particular the director of the Attack program Jean-Michel Billig, whose head was claimed by the Australian Defense, replaced by the Franco-Australian Lilian Braylé.

These efforts will therefore have been in vain. Canberra sends its strategic partnership with Paris waltzing to marry Washington and London. On what project exactly? US President Joe Biden is expected to give details during a briefing at the White House scheduled for 5 p.m. Washington time (11 p.m. KST), whose announced theme is to say the least concise: “National security initiative”.

According to the American press, Canberra would like to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which display longer range and greater stealth than their diesel-powered counterparts. According to some sources, Washington would be ready to sell them nuclear-powered submarines, possibly of the Virginia class. Problem: There has never been an export of such gear. First, because the six powers that control the segment (United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, India, China) jealously guard their trade secrets. Secondly, because such an export could pose a problem with regard to nuclear non-proliferation treaties.

The second possible option would be US aid for the development of an Australian-designed nuclear submarine. This is what France had accepted in 2008 in Brazil: Paris had authorized Naval Group to help Brasilia with the design of the future submarine, but the nuclear boiler itself will have to be developed 100% by the Brazilians. Such a project is obviously possible in Australia if Washington accepts it. But Canberra is starting from afar. By far even: the country has little nuclear industry, and it would be ultra-dependent on the United States for the reloading of the nuclear core of submarines or for maintenance. Except to develop a nuclear industry from scratch, which would take decades and cost tens of billions of dollars. However, the Naval Group Attack program was rightly criticized for its cost and entry into service deemed too late (2032 at best).

Australia’s decision appears in any case as a personal disavowal for Emmanuel Macron, who assured Scott Morrison in June to personally follow the case. The Franco-Australian strategic partnership, signed in 2012, is now in tatters. As for Naval Group, already weakened in its surface vessel activity, it must expect complicated years.

French army
Australia

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Ref: https://www.challenges.fr