France is one of the world’s five official nuclear powers. It maintains a policy of “strict sufficiency,” as outlined by President Chirac in 2000: “Our nuclear forces, reduced to a level of strict sufficiency, are the ultimate guarantee of the survival of our nation.” This position was reiterated in the French White Paper on Defense and National Security, published in 2013, which stated: “Nuclear deterrence is the ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty.” Since 1996, with the withdrawal of its ground-based missile force, the French nuclear deterrent comprises submarine-launched and air-launched components.
Naval Group has played a key role in enabling the sea-based component. It built and designed France’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), Le Redoutable. When it entered service in 1971, it was the result of an entire program encompassing the design and construction of an 8,000-ton nuclear-powered vessel. In the 1970s and 1980s, as construction of the Le Redoubtable-class SSBNs continued, Naval Group began work on the successor. Today, the sea-based leg of the French nuclear force consists of four Le Triomphant-class SSBNs, based at Ile Longue, Brittany, on the Atlantic coast. The last of the four, Le Terrible, entered service in September 2010.
These SSBNs are France’s largest submarines (it also has six nuclear attack submarines built by Naval Group). They provide unprecedented acoustic discretion, a high-performance combat system and an ultra-reliable propulsion system, thus ensuring their invulnerability and guaranteeing the permanence of their deterrence. At least one SSBN is always deployed.
Rather than just build boats from a catalog, Naval Group guarantees the complete operational command of France’s SSBN fleet. From design to dismantling, and naval base infrastructure to Through-Life Support, Naval Group offers control over every aspect of a submarine’s lifecycle. A perfect example is the current SSBN upgrade campaign.
Naval Group is currently in the process of upgrading three of its four Le Triomphant-class submarines with France’s newest M-51 submarine launched ballistic missiles (the fourth, Le Terrible, was equipped with the M-51 from the outset).
In 2015, the latest of the upgraded SSBNs left the Brest naval base operated by Naval Group, after a 30-month retrofit. In addition to a complete upkeep program and the reconfiguration to accommodate the new M51 ballistic missile, the navigation, communication and combat systems were also upgraded. During the boat’s period in dock, over 1,000 workers completed four million hours of work.
Naval Group cannot, of course, do the work alone. That is why it has developed and maintains an extensive industrial base and eco-system in France and aborad. Over 45 contractors, selected and managed by Naval Group, are part of the SSBN upgrade program.
Just as France’s nuclear deterrent has been developed to ensure its national sovereignty, the industrial infrastructure and eco-system that Naval Group has built enable France to maintain its industrial sovereignty. It is a model that exports well.
The contract between Naval Group and the Brazilian navy, signed in 2009, covers the design, production and technology transfer required for four Scorpène® -type conventional submarines, and the design assistance and production of the non-nuclear part of the first Brazilian nuclear powered submarine, including support for construction of a naval base and shipyard. In India, Naval Group and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited are building in India six Scorpène-class submarines. As part of this submarine program, Naval Group is helping the country develop its own indigenous submarine building industry. Both programs are helping these nations develop industrial and international sovereignty.