19 December 2016
PARIS – Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is due to sign Tuesday an intergovernment agreement with his Australian counterpart, Maryse Payne, on cooperation on the AU$50 billion ($36 billion) Australian Future Submarine Program, Australian defence industry minister Christopher Pyne said.
That signing in Adelaide, South Australia, will be “the next milestone” in working with DCNS, the boat builder, and Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office, Pyne said after giving a Dec. 15 keynote speech to IHEDN, the Institute for Advanced Studies in National Defense, at the war college, here.
Pyne added that he and the Australian prime minister would attend the signing and that Australia and France had already signed a security agreement in the week of Dec. 5.
The program to build 12 ocean-going, diesel-electric submarines is the single biggest item in the Australian defense budget, he told a lecture theater packed with IHEDN students, officers and industry executives.
DCNS will build the diesel-electric boats, with Lockheed Martin supplying the combat integration system.
Australia is the only country with which France has agreed to share the Barracuda submarine’s “propulsion system,” Pyne said in an upbeat tone despite his cold. “That makes us very proud France wants to work with us that closely,” he said.
The propulsion system refers to the pump jet propulsion on the Barracuda nuclear-powered submarine being built by DCNS for the French Navy, with the first of class dubbed Suffren.
Australia will work with DCNS and DGA, while the Australian Submarine Corporation at Osborne, South Australia, has reorganized to work with DCNS, he said.
Lockheed’s work as combat systems integrator will allow the Australian submarines to be “continually interoperable” with the U.S., extending a link available on almost all Australian platforms, he said.
Picking DCNS to build the boats signals a “deeper relationship for a long-term strategic industrial cooperation” between Australia and France, Pyne said. That alliance includes technology transfer and extends ties between the armed forces that go back 100 years, when troops from Australia and New Zealand fought as allies in World War I.
France has great financial interest in the Pacific, with the exclusive economic zone around its overseas territories in the region, said François Géré, chairman of think tank Institut Français d’Analyse Stratégique.
“Australian government has put defense at the forefront of our policy agenda,” said Pyne, adding that his was the first appointment as the nation’s defense industry minister.
Canberra chose DCNS as its design partner in view of “capability, quality of the French offer and the assessment that working with DCNS to design and build a regionally superior submarine would best meet Australia’s unique requirements,” he said. Australia has set up a resident project team in Cherbourg, northern France, following the design and mobilization contract signed in September.
Pyne singled out Thales Australia for giving a boost to domestic industry, by supplying the Bushmaster and Hawkei light armored vehicles, with the latter fitted with a new-generation integrated communications and management system. Export sale of those vehicles and other Australian weapons are a “key priority” as the home market is not big enough to support a strong domestic industry, he said. “Exports change that.”
Pyne, asked about Australia’s policy toward fighter and transport aircraft, assumed France was a partner nation on the F-35 rather than operator of the Dassault Aviation Rafale.
Asked about Australia’s plans for space, he said, “space industry is underdone” and Canberra needed to decide its policy. Acquiring new satellites was a potential area of interest.
“We are spending a great deal of money on defense and I would be surprised if space didn’t find a way of accessing technology and innovation and capacity to listen to potential opponents,” he said. Adelaide will host the 2017 World Space conference with 4,500 delegates expected.
Australia has a “determination to sharpen the edge of our blade” by acquiring weapons, platforms and systems, he said. Australia published two “significant” documents this year, an integrated investment program and a defense industry policy, aimed at delivering new capability.
Canberra seeks to offer industry “clarity and certainty” over the next 10 years, with the government planning to invest AU$195 billion to 2025/26, the nation’s largest defense spending, he said. Military spending will reach 2 percent of gross domestic product in 2021.
“The transfer of technology and industrial capability to Australia so our defense industry can meet our sovereign capability will be crucial, not just to our security but our prosperity,” he said. The shipbuilding program is based on 54 vessels, comprising 12 offshore patrol vessels, nine frigates, 12 submarines, and 21 Pacific patrol vessels, with as much work as possible in Australia.
Pyne met Le Drian, DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon and foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on his visit. The minister also visited DCNS at Cherbourg, where the company is building the Barracuda.
Pyne traveled to Britain prior to his French trip, visiting Rolls-Royce's naval business where he viewed the MT30 gas turbine engine fitted on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which is being completed ahead of sea trials next year.
The engine has been selected for the new Royal Navy Type 26 frigate being built by BAE Systems, which Australia has shortlisted as a contender for its own frigate program.
UK defense minister Michael Fallon and defense procurement minister Harriet Baldwin met Pyne to discuss defense cooperation and fostering innovation, objectives that are at the heart of both Britain and Australia’s national defense policies, the defense ministry said Dec. 13.
The ministers also discussed joint operations carried out by the UK and Australia and the partnership the two nations share as members of the Five Power Defense Arrangements and the Five-Eyes Intelligence alliance, the ministry said. As part of the UK-Australia export relationship, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship has been shortlisted for Australia’s Future Frigate program. Pyne also met representatives from the defense ministry, Defense Equipment and Support, and visited Rolls-Royce and BAE.
State-owned DCNS, backed by the French government, won the Australian tender with its offer of the planned Barracuda Shortfin 1A, beating rival offers from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, backed by Tokyo.
Thales holds a 35 percent stake in DCNS and is a specialist in sonars.
The IHEDN is sending 50 students to Australia in March, part of plans to strengthen French ties. The French ambassador to Australia sat in on Pyne’s wide-ranging speech, which included Australian domestic policy, geopolitics and French-Australian operational ties.
With additional reporting by Andrew Chuter in London.