The event took place at the French General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) hydrodynamics test center located in Val-de-Reuil, Normandy.
The 2019-2025 Military Plan Law calls for the replacement of the four Le Triomphant-class SSBNs with four third generation SSBNs (SNLE 3G) beginning in 2035. This is to ensure the continuity of the French at-sea deterrence capability with a minimum of one SSBN on patrol at sea at all times.
The SNLE 3G program is being conducted by the French armed forces and the DGA, which is responsible for overall project management. It is the subject of a framework agreement with the industry for the development, industrialization, logistics and production of the four SSBNs. Naval Group is the prime contractor for the overall manufacture of the submarines, in joint venture with TechnicAtome which is in charge of the nuclear boilers construction.
The first contract, which will be awarded in 2021, covers the development studies until the end of 2025, the realization of the first elements of the hull and the boiler room of the first SNLE 3G, as well as the adaptation of the industrial manufacturing means of Naval Group for this program.
“I am therefore very pleased to announce today the launch of the 3rd generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine program. These four submarines, whose remarkable performance will guarantee the operational credibility of the oceanic component of our deterrent over the long term. They will replace the current SSBNs in their mission, without interruption. Today, what we are launching in concrete terms are design studies and general industrialization, procurement and manufacturing of the most critical parts, as well as the consistent sizing of our industrial facilities.”
Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces
During her speech, Florence Parly said that “the third generation SSBN will be slightly longer and heavier compared to the Le Triomphant-class SSBN.,it will hear better and defend itself better, it will be quieter: it will not be noisier than a shoal of shrimp, which is absolutely exceptional. It will be able to blend in perfectly with the ambient sounds of the sea, which is a guarantee of operational superiority.”
“The SNLE 3G program represents the work of many lives. After the Le Redoutable of the years 1965 to 1980, after the Le Triomphant of the years 1995, which will still sail until 2050, it is a program that fully embodies the “long time” of our defense: the first third-generation SSBN will be delivered in 2035, followed by one submarine every 5 years. And these will sail until 2090. In other words, the last sailors who will patrol on board the third generation SSBNs are not born yet.”
Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces
Mobilization of the entire French naval defense industry
More than 200 companies from the French defence industrial and technological base will work with Naval Group to provide design or construction services for equipment and systems.
In the end, over the next 30 years, this program will represent up to 100 million hours of work, including 15 million hours of design and more than 80 million hours of construction.
At the Naval Group submarine shipyard in Cherbourg, more than 300 employees work in design activities, and construction represent more than 2,000 employees. The teams in Cherbourg will build the platform (hull, structure, part of the internal modules), integrate the equipment and systems into the platform, and carry out the commissioning and testing of the submarine’s facilities.
“Naval Group is very proud to put its skills, talents and industrial resources at the service of France’s nuclear deterrence. The whole company will be mobilized with its partners to carry out this exceptional project. We are aware of our responsibility and we will do our utmost, as previous generations have done, to provide France with the tool of its sovereignty.”
Pierre-Eric Pommellet, Naval Group CEO
Thales to provide new-generation sonar suite
As part of the SNLE 3G programme, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) has signed an MoU with Thales for the development of a complete sonar suite including a broad range of sonar arrays and associated processing systems.
Thales will provide new-generation flank arrays and bow-mounted sonars, a towed linear array based on optical technology (ALRO), and all the other equipment making up the sonar suite (intercept arrays, echo-sounders, underwater telephones). The size of the arrays and the frequency bands they use (Ultra Low Band) will deliver unparalleled performance in terms of 3D (azimuth, elevation, range) detection precision.
The ALICIA sensor data processing system (Analyse, Localisation, Identification, Classification Intégrées et Alertes), with a user interface designed to handle the diversity and volume of available data, will optimise operator workload and provide decision support.
The new sonar suite will be deployed incrementally, with the first technological building blocks and system versions due to be installed on second-generation SSBNs (SNLE 2G) from 2025, and on the third-generation submarines (SNLE 3G) from 2035.
“Thales teams have been especially focused on the SNLE 3G project to ensure that it benefits from our very best sonar innovations, which have been taking shape over the last five years as part of nearly 50 years of consistent investments in sovereign R&D to guarantee the invulnerability of France’s SSBNs. New sovereign sonar array, processing and Big Data technologies will deliver unparalleled performance for the third-generation SSBNs and will also be of benefit to the modernised Triomphant-class second-generation SSBNs. We thank the Ministry for the Armed Forces for the trust they have place in us, and we are happy to be working hand in hand with Naval Group on this major national project.”
Alexis Morel, Vice President, Underwater Systems, Thales.
New generation nuclear reactor by Technicatome
TechnicAtome is in charge of the design, construction and commissioning of the nuclear propulsion reactor, in partnership with Naval Group, which has overall responsibility for the vessels.
According to the company, The design of the reactor for the third-generation SSBN benefits from 50+ years of know-how in compact reactors with the permanent integration of innovations to increase the military performance of the reactor, its availability, the energy capacity of its core and nuclear safety guarantees. In this respect, the nuclear propulsion reactor of the SNLE 3G program is a link between the lower-power reactor of the Barracuda program and the reactor of the future PANG aircraft carrier. Known as K22, this reactor will deliver significantly higher power. Their design studies have just started following the decision of the French President of the Republic on December 8, 2020.
SNLE 3G design features
The overall design of SNLE 3G seems to be an evolution of the SNLE 2G (Le Triomphant-class SSBNs) rather than a revolution. Like its predecessor, it features a sail cusp: A single-piece composite fairing structure attached to the submarine sail and hull. It improves hydrodynamic performance by allowing smooth laminar flow of water over its surface. It also features a pump-jet. The stern arrangement is reminiscent of the Suffren-class SSN (X-rudder configuration) but incorporates a centerline fin for a towed array. According to the artist impression above, the hull of SNLE 3G is entirely covered with anechoic tiles. The current class of French SSBN have tiles too, but only in a few key areas of the hull. Anechoic tiles are rubber or synthetic polymer tiles which help absorb the sound waves of active sonar as well as the lower sounds emitted from the submarine itself.
According to submarine expert H I Sutton, the bow arrangement, with the entire nose dedicated to a sonar dome, implies a very large spherical sonar array. This is similar to the Le Triomphant-class. The design only shows four torpedo tubes, mounted behind the sonar dome. These must logically be angled outwards to go around it. This may limit the speeds at which torpedoes can be launched. Only having four torpedo tubes is in line with the SSBN role, where the tubes are for self-defense and any use of torpedo or anti-ship missile would mean the patrol is compromised and the deterrence mission has failed.
Talking to Naval News during the event, the French Navy (Marine Nationale)’s SNLE 3G program officer explained that the future SSBNs will be fitted with the latest technologies and will be futures proof in order to cope with the threats from 2035 and beyond, especially in the field of sonar detection.
SNLE 3G by the numbers
Length: About 150 meters
Displacement: 15,000 tons (submerged)
Crew complement: About 100 sailors
- 16x modernized M51 SLBM (likely known as M51.4)
- 4x torpedo tubes for F21 heavyweight torpedo and probably the FCASW (next gen anti-ship missile)
First steel cut: 2023
Delivery of first-in-class SSBN to French Navy: 2035
Out of service year (for the class): 2090