Suffren Attack Submarine Begins Sea Trials

The French Navy announced the beginning of the sea trials of its new nuclear attack submarine, the Suffren, following its first static dive test on 28 April. The Suffren is the lead submarine of the Barracuda class of submarines, and was unveiled in July 2019. Delivery of the submarine to the French Navy is planned to be done by the end of this year.

The sea trials follow eight months of dockside testing, as well as the fueling and starting of the submarine’s nuclear reactor in December 2019. Matters of particular interest for sea trials include the Suffren’s water-tightness when fully submerged, the maneuverability of the submarine, the performance of the combat system, tactical weapons and other advanced equipment, as well as the full performance of its operational capabilities.

The Suffren departs its dock at the Naval Group facility at Cherbourg. Photo courtesy the Directorate General of Armaments

The sea trials will take the Suffren from the English Channel to the Atlantic Ocean, and finally to the Mediterranean Sea. The trials will be carried out by a joint team of engineers and technicians from the Directorate General of Armaments, the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA), TechnicAtome and Naval Group. While the Suffren will be commanded by the French Navy for the duration of the tests, the submarine will remain the property of Naval Group. The Directorate General of Armaments is responsible for the overall testing program, as it is the contracting authority for the Barracuda-class program as a whole.

In a press statement, Pierre Eric Pommellet, Chairman and CEO of Naval Group said:

The first sea trial of the Suffren is a source of great pride for Naval Group employees and their partners. I am extremely grateful for the efforts of our teams. They made it possible to start these trials while respecting strict compliance with the health and safety measures to protect the crew which is partly constituted of Naval Group members. These trials are additional proof of Naval Group’s total commitment to the French Navy, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) as well as to the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA), TechnicAtome and the other industrial actors of the defence sector. Together, we are conducting the sea trials that will lead to the delivery of the Suffren and committed to the production of the other five submarines of the series, which is a major priority for the company.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces and Naval Group have emphasized measures taken to ensure the health and safety of the test team in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Measures taken include a preventative 14 day quarantine to confirm that team members are free of COVID-19 infection, systematic compliance with hygiene and disinfection rules, mandatory mask use and a reduction of team size by 20% compared to previous teams.

The Suffren in the English Channel. Photo courtesy the Directorate General of Armaments

The Barracuda class will replace the Rubis-class attack submarines that have been in service with the French Navy since the 1980s. Advancements include improved stealth, greater automation, the ability to deploy special forces and a long range strategic strike capability through torpedo tube-launched variants of the SCALP cruise missile. A conventionally powered derivative of the Barracuda class, the Shortfin Barracuda, will be the basis of the Australian Attack-class submarines. The Attack-class will similarly replace the Collins-class attack submarines in Australian service.