On July 12 the first of six new French Barracuda class SSN's (nuclear attack submarines), the SNA Suffern, was launched. This first one is scheduled to enter service in 2020. All six will enter service in the 2020s. Back in 2006, France decided to buy six new Barracuda class SSNs, for about $1.5 billion each. The 4,700 ton (surface displacement) boats are smaller than America's new 7,300 ton Virginia class subs (which cost about $2.8 billion each). A new class of Russian SSNs will displace 6,000 tons. The older American Los Angeles class boats were about 7,000 tons. Size does matter, as it indicates how much space you have available for sensors and weapons. Larger boats are better equipped and more heavily armed. The new Russian SSN construction was delayed by shortages of cash and qualified shipyard personnel. The U.S. already had two Virginia's in service by 2006 and now there are 17 with 11 under construction. Two Virginia's a year are entering service, for an eventual total of about 60 subs.
Construction on the first Barracuda began in 2007 and it was supposed to be launched by 2012. That launch date was tentative because the development of the Barracuda nuclear power plant began in 2003 and soon ran into problems. Problems with the power plant were no surprise because France, unlike Britain, did not license the American sub-power plant. This would make it more difficult to export French nuclear subs and so on. The French chose a different design that used commercial (not weapons) grade nuclear fuel. This meant French nuclear subs had to be refueled more often but this was made easier by building the hull with special large hatches that could be quickly opened for the once every 7-10 refueling then sealed again. France is the only nation using this type of ship power plant and has to handle development and maintenance procedures itself. With a small fleet of nuclear subs, this drives up the cost per sub. Britain, by licensing the American tech, gets the benefit of a much larger American nuke fleet and the larger budget for work on the power plants. Ever since the first Barracuda began construction, the delays have come from power plant problems. By 2012 it was believed that launch date could be 2017 but delays perfecting the power plant continued. The sub could not be launched until the power plant was completed and the hull made watertight
The Barracudas will rely on a lot of automation and have a crew of sixty, plus berths for 12 passengers. These will usually be commandos and their gear will be stored in a pod attached to subs sail. The Barracuda design emphasized silencing, making it more difficult to detect. The Barracuda's have four 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes, which can also be used to launch missiles, mines or torpedoes. Twenty weapons are carried, the mix of torpedoes, mines and missiles depends on the mission. French SSNs have two crews which each having the boat for three months. Enough food is carried to sustain the crew for 70 days. The nuclear power plant must be refueled every ten years. Two more Barracudas are under construction,
In early 2016 Australia selected a French firm (DCNS) to build twelve new submarines for the Australian Navy. Australians preferred the French design because it was a larger boat than those offered by Germany and Japan. The French proposal was a diesel-electric version of their new Suffern (Barracuda) class SSNs. This “Shortfin Barracuda” design was about 20 percent smaller (in surface displacement) than the 4,700 ton nuclear powered Suffern but was otherwise very similar with a crew of about 60, four 533mm torpedo tubes and 24 torpedoes, missiles or mines.
A major selling point for the Barracuda was the proven silencing technology France had developed for their SSNs. This would now be added to an inherently quietly diesel-electric design. The Shortfin Barracudas are being built in Australia and will cost about $2.4 billion each. This will include an AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) system that will allow these boats to operate submerged for two weeks at a time. French firms will only control about half of that, with much of the rest going to American firms that will provide the electronics and weapons. The twelve Barracuda swill replace six Collins-class boats and the first Shortfin Barracuda will begin construction in 2022 and enter service in 2030, about when first of the six Collins-class subs are four decades old and very due for retirement. France is offering the Shortfin Barracuda to India as well.