French Navy Suffren Class Submarine

CLICK to enlarge. Original artwork

French Navy Suffren Class (Barracuda) Submarine

Flag France As naval threats go, nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) are the apex predators. The new Suffren Class will bring France's SSNs closer to their British and American allies boats in overall capabilities. Yet the Suffren remains a more compact submarine, packing many of the latest technologies into a relatively smaller hull. This makes in very interesting.

Six Suffren Class submarines will form the backbone of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). They will replace the first-generation Rubis Class (later called AMETHYSTE after upgrade). The Suffren class were developed as the Barracuda program and have taken the suffren class name from the lead boat which was commissioned in November 2020.

Suffren is significantly larger than the preceding AMETHYSTE class. They are more than double the displacement at 5,300 tons (versus 2,700). The size increase isn't all that surprising as the AMETHYSTE class are the world's smallest nuclear powered attack submarines. While the French Navy has used the AMETHYSTE boats on extended deployments, it is natural that the larger Suffren class will be better suited.

Compared to the AMETHYSTE class the the new submarines feature a pumpjet propulsor and X-rudders in place of a regular screw (albeit with unusual stators) and cruciform control surfaces. Moving forward, the next obvious difference is the sail, called a 'kiosk' or 'massif' in French navy parlance. This is larger with a distinctive fairing on the leading edge. Unlike the earlier boats there are no fairwater planes, instead the hydroplanes are moved down onto the forward hull. The sail contains a modular non-penetrating mast system conceptually similar to that on the U.S. Navy's Virginia Class. Non-penetrating masts are safer because if there is a collision with a ship they are unlikely to cause leaks into the hull.
ISuffren Class Submarine
Below the waterline, the flank array sonar appears much enlarged. This is paired with a new bow sonar which is carried in the same chin position.

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Punch: More Weapons

Suffren carries significantly more weapons than the AMETHYSTE boats. The number of torpedo tubes are the same, four, but stowage is doubled from 10 to 20. This is still fewer than other top-end nuclear-powered attack submarines such as the British Astute, American Virginia and Russian AKULA classes. These range from 38 to 40 rounds. But Suffren is a much smaller boat and still carries more than several other classes. Given its hull diameter and single deck weapons stowage compartment (WSO) the capacity is very decent.

The ultra-modern weapons handling system can accommodate the full range of French submarine weapons:

Naval Cruise Missile (NCM). This new land-attack cruise missile (LACM) is the first of its sort aboard French submarines. It will delivery a global first-night strategic strike capability. This will reach deep inside enemy territory, a capability few other navies will have. This is generally equivalent of the Tomahawk.

F-21 heavyweight torpedo. This will provide the core anti-submarine and anti-ship capability. It has a speed of over 50 knots it can reach targets over 27 nautical miles (50 km) away. This is an electric-powered weapon which can come with two different battery technologies. It can use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for training shots, and one-time aluminum silver oxide batteries for war shots.

SM39 Exocet. This famous sea-skimming anti-ship missile has a long service in French submarines. It will continue to provide a significant anti-surface capability.

FG-29 Mine. Less talked about than other weapons, submarine laid mines are a very potent capability. Two can be carried in place of each torpedo.

In the future, torpedo-sized UUVs (uncrewed underwater vehicles) may also be carried. Naval Group’s new D-19 type might be ideally suited. Small UUVs can carry out a wide range of missions including Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), electronic warfare (EW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW),mine counter-measures (MCM) and mine warfare.

ISuffren Class Submarine

Special Forces

Suffren is among the latest generation of Western SSNs with special forces capabilities designed-in. Again parallels can be drawn with the British Astute and American Virginia classes. The French Navy has a strong tradition of naval special forces and pioneered many aspects of these operations. For example, detachable hangars for Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). A single DDS can be carried by Suffren with a large diver lock-out chamber under the casing. This can carry the latest PSM3G SDV.

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