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Macron unveils new French submarine in Cherbourg

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the official launch ceremony of the new French nuclear submarine "Suffren" in Cherbourg, northwestern France, 12 July 2019. LOU BENOIST / AFP

President Emmanuel Macron has launched the first of France's new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the northern city of Cherbourg. The "Suffren" is the leading Barracuda attack-class vessel, and expected to cement France's spot as a leader in naval defence. 

The submarine is the first of six ordered by the French government to be built by French shipbuilder, Naval Group, as part of France's 9 billion euro stealth vessel programme. 

Naval group also recently signed a contract to build 12 of the same submarines for Australia, in a deal worth around 31 billion euros.

Weighing a whopping 5,000 tonnes, the new Suffren is to be taken for sea trials in 2020. The rest of the Barracuda class is to be unveiled over the next decade and expected to be in service in the French navy until at least 2060.

The Barracudas will be replacing the Rubis-class submarines previously used by the French navy and will be capable of launching cruise missiles up to 1,000km against ground targets.

French National Marine sailors parade in front of the new nuclear submarine called "Suffren" in the Naval Group shipyard in Cherbourg, northwestern France on July 12, 2019. LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

Defence expert, Dominique Trinquand, says there are several benefits to the new submarines.

“They will benefit the French navy in three ways. First, they will protect aircraft carriers, secondly they will help in gathering intelligence, and thirdly, boost capacity to launch attacks from the sea.

“These are nuclear attack submarines with a new ability to launch cruise missiles up to 1,000km.”

'Level playing field'

The new Barracudas claim to be quieter than previous French submarines, making them harder to detect, while also being "ten times" more sensitive to detecting other vessels.

Trinquand said the new submarines would level the playing field in naval defence technology.

“The new submarines certainly put France at the same level as the UK, not at the same level of the US in terms of numbers but in terms of technology and capacity," he said.

“There is new equipment coming to all French services: in the airforce, the army and the navy. Today's launch...puts France at the right level in the defence environment.”

The Barracudas’ missions will include anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, land attacks, crisis management, intelligence gathering and special operations.