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Naval Group close to winning Dutch submarine replacement contract.

| Naval News Navy 2024

In an ambitious program aimed at modernizing the Royal Netherlands Navy's submarine fleet, a tight competition unfolds among several defense industry giants. Named the "Walrus Replacement Program," this initiative seeks to replace the four Walrus-class submarines currently in service, with deployment scheduled to begin in 2025. With a budget of 2.5 billion euros, the focus is on technology transfers and the involvement of the local naval industry in constructing and maintaining future vessels.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001A Suffren deliver by Naval Group to the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) in 2020  (Picture source: Naval Group)

Following an initial selection process, three contenders remain in the highly sought-after market: France's Naval Group, Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), and Sweden's Saab Kockums, leaving Spain's Navantia out for not establishing the necessary partnerships with the Dutch industry. The disappearance of the RDM naval shipyard in 1996 signified a loss of submarine expertise for the Netherlands, making this contract even more critical for the country.

The French company specializing in naval shipbuilding, systems, and support services is extending an offer to the Royal Netherlands Navy for a design based on its Barracuda family of conventionally-powered submarines. This specific variant for the Netherlands inherits features from the Suffren class of nuclear-powered attack submarines. It is designed to be an quiet, deep-sea vessel equipped with the advanced 'Albacore' hydrodynamic hull form of the Suffren, alongside a sophisticated combat system and sonar suite. Additionally, it includes a substantial payload of weaponry aligned with Dutch operational needs. The primary distinction is the Dutch preference against nuclear propulsion, leading to the proposition of a shorter, conventionally-powered model crafted to fulfill Dutch requirements.

TKMS leverages its close ties with the Netherlands to promote its U212CD submarine, partnering with technology institutes TNO and Royal NLR. This collaboration underscores potential economies of scale since this model is also intended for the German and Norwegian naval forces. Meanwhile, Saab Kockums has teamed up with Damen, a major Dutch shipbuilder, to propose the C718 submarine, a variant of the A-26 developed for the Swedish navy.  

Naval Group, viewing the Netherlands as a major prospect, has established a strategic partnership with Royal IHC to create an ecosystem around its offer, the "Black Sword Barracuda." This model, a conventionally powered version of the Barracuda nuclear attack submarine, appears to be the frontrunner. The final decision, expected in 2021 but delayed due to negotiation difficulties, is imminent, pending approval by the Dutch cabinet. 

The Dutch authorities, in evaluating the bids, are said to favor Naval Group for the quality and cost of its offer, as well as for delivery speed. Meanwhile, faced with the threat of Russian research vessels near its critical infrastructure, the Royal Netherlands Navy has had to extend the operational life of three of its submarines by "cannibalizing" the oldest one, thus avoiding a capability gap.

This competition underscores the strategic importance of submarines for national defense and highlights the technological, economic, and political challenges associated with renewing maritime military capabilities. The highly anticipated final decision will define the future of the Dutch submarine fleet and emphasize the significance of international collaboration in the defense sector.

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