Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deal to build 12 attack-class Barracuda submarines was a “very audacious plan” that was “part of Australia’s biggest ever peace-time investment in defence”.
The contract with Naval Group, a French consortium with state backing, is worth 50 billion Australian dollars or about 31 billion euros. It is both Australia’s largest ever defence procurement project and Naval Group’s largest ever foreign sales deal.
“It takes a lot of confidence for Australia to bet on France and a lot of confidence for France to share with Australia the capability that is so close to the core of our sovereignty,” said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly at the signing of the deal in Canberra.
The agreement was negotiated and drafted entirely in English, and Parly said that “behind those masses of dark steel, behind those eyeless beasts” that were the submarines, there was friendship and a common attachment to multilateralism and rules-based order.
The firm said the submarines would be delivered and tested beginning in the early 2030s through to the early 2040s, with the last likely to be decommissioned in the early 2080s.
“We are looking at a very, very long-term partnership with Australia,” said Naval Group chairperson Hervé Guillou.
The timeline has drawn some criticism for coming too late, as the United States, China and regional powers are all currently vying for influence in the waters north and east of Australia, including the contested South China Sea.
Australian military analysts hope the subs will allow the country to maintain a credible deterrent.
Guillou expressed hope the deal with Australia would boost the firm’s prospects in other negotiations in Brazil, India, Poland and elsewhere.
“We are bidding in the Netherlands today,” Guillou said. “That is one really important bid because they are looking as well for expeditionary submarines.”