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19 Dec, 2016 20:38

France, Australia to sign 'contract of century' for 12 state-of-the-art submarines

France, Australia to sign 'contract of century' for 12 state-of-the-art submarines

France and Australia are set to sign a multibillion dollar deal for the construction of 12 cutting-edge nuclear powered submarines. The deal has already been branded the “defense contract of the century” by Paris.

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived in Australia on Sunday. Together with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he announced that they are set to sign a contract in the Australian city of Adelaide on Tuesday, AFP reported.

Under the contract, French industrial shipbuilder DNCS will set up a branch in Adelaide to build scaled-down versions of France's 4,700-tonne Barracuda stealth submarines, nuclear-fuelled attack submarines that are among the world's best to date.

The 12 new submarines – called Shortfin Barracuda after a predatory fish found in Australian waters – will be 4,500-ton diesel-electric vessels with a pump jet-propulsion system that will offer quieter traveling capabilities than the original DNCS Barracudas. 

The overall cost of the submarine fleet, which includes separate agreements with US and Australian contractors, is said to total Aus$50 billion (US$37bn).

However, Australian and French defense ministers both said they were committed to concealing the exact details of the current contract after data on DNCS’s previous deal – Scorpene submarines, which were designed for the Indian navy – were leaked. A

ustralia denied security concerns, while Le Drian said that the leaks were currently being investigated in France.

He added that France and Australia had signed an agreement on handling classified information. The deal to build a dozen submarines has been described by Paris as the “contract of the century,” according to the French media. Australia awarded DCNS the contract back in April this year.

Initially, three groups – Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, France's DCNS and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – submitted bids to secure what is known as the largest contract in Australian naval history. Australia chose France, however, with Malcolm Turnbull declaring that the French offer "presented the best capacities to meet the unique needs" of his country.

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne called the contract the “largest defense procurement program in Australia's history,” as the new 12 subs are set to replace and double the size of the Royal Australian Navy.

Its outdated submarine fleet currently consists of diesel and electric-powered Australian-built Collins submarines, which have fallen subject to incidents and technical problems ever since the design phase.

Payne said that Tuesday’s contract will lay out the “legal framework under which Australia and France will partner on the future submarine program over the coming decades.”

The Australian minister also stated that 2,800 new jobs will be offered to construct the new submarine fleet in the South Australia shipyard, while French officials expect 3,000 to 4,000 direct and indirect French jobs to come from the deal.

DCNS is a French shipbuilder, 62 percent of which is owned by the French government. While it has been chosen to construct the vessels, combat systems for them will be provided by the US Lockheed Martin corporation. The first vessel is expected to be ready by around 2030.