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France offers four submarines to Australia despite the stab in the back of AUKUS.

| 2022

According to information published by Opex 360 on September 15, 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron offered his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison four submarines despite the AUKUS security pact described as 'a stab in the back' by the former French MFA Le Drian.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, and French President Emmanuel Macron. (Picture source: Elysee)

Exactly one year ago, Australia, through its then Prime Minister Scott Morrison, announced its intention to procure nuclear-powered general-purpose attack submarines (SSN) as part of its alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom (AUKUS).

This was to provoke a serious diplomatic crisis with Paris since this decision implied the cancellation of a contract for the delivery of twelve Barracuda class submarines by Naval Group to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

However, with tensions mounting in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia, which has no nuclear industry, is not expected to have an ANS by 2040... And the six Collins-class submarines that the RAN is currently deploying will have reached the end of their potential well before that deadline. Hence the risk of a major capability breakdown in the years to come.

That said, the political situation has since changed in Canberra, following the May general election. For the moment, the new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has not called into question his predecessor's project. Moreover, an agreement was recently signed with the United Kingdom to allow Australian submariners to train on board the Royal Navy's Astute-class submarines.

In addition, the choice of nuclear submarine model to equip the RAN is expected to be announced by Richard Marles, the Australian Minister for Defence, in the first quarter of 2023. And in the United Kingdom, construction of the Astute will end after the delivery of the seventh unit expected by the Royal Navy, with London's priority going to the "Dreadnought" nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine program.

In any case, Mr. Marles' first concern is to avoid a capability breakdown at the RAN. This could involve modernizing the six Collins submarines as part of the LOTE (Life-of-Type Extension) program, which was announced by Peter Dutton, his predecessor. And there is talk of modifying them so that they can carry Tomahawk cruise missiles.

However, given the uncertainty regarding the ANS to be acquired via the AUKUS alliance, Canberra could examine other options, such as the choice of a new model of a 'conventionally' powered submarine.

Sweden's Saab, which designed the Collins, is looking closely at the dossier, as its CEO, Micael Johansson, confirmed in July. According to him, it would be a question of filling the gap between the end of life of the Collins and the potential arrival of the ANS.

South Korea, which has strengthened its military ties with Australia, is lying in wait, assuring that its industry would be able to build conventional propulsion attack submarines of the Dosan Ahn Changho-class (KSS-III) for the RAN within seven years.

And the French would not be outdone. Since becoming Prime Minister, Albanese has been working to renew ties with France. One of his first decisions was to compensate Naval Group, to the tune of 555 million euros, for the cancellation of the submarine contract decided by his predecessor.

And the warming of Franco-Australian relations took concrete form in July, after his meeting with President Macron. On this occasion, it was decided to reset the meters and start again on a new basis.

President Macron even took the opportunity to propose supplying four submarines to Australia. These would be built in Cherbourg and not in Adelaide, as was to be the case for the twelve Barracuda class submarines.

What is really going on, given that Naval Group is already busy building the Suffren class SSNs in Cherbourg while preparing the 3rd generation SSBN program? We should probably know more in November if Mr. Macron confirms the official trip he has planned to make to Australia.

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