Australia formally signed a A$50 billion (US$35.43 billion) “strategic partnership” with France yesterday to build 12 state-of-the-art submarines, a signal of Canberra’s willingness to project its power across the Pacific.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the “very audacious plan” at a ceremony in Canberra as “part of Australia’s biggest ever peace-time investment in defense.”
The partnership’s main pillar is a contract for France’s Naval Group — a consortium with state backing — to build 12 attack-class submarines that has been years in the making.
The first submarine is expected to be finished in the early 2030s, starting with sea trials in about the first quarter of 2031 and operational testing at the end of 2032.
Critics have said that it is too late: The waters to Australia’s north and east are the scene of an intense struggle between the US, China and regional powers, who are all vying for influence.
Australian military analysts hope that the subs would allow the country to maintain a credible deterrent against possible hostile actions.
French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly cosigned the agreement in a ceremony that took place in the shadow of a memorial to US forces in front of the Australian defense offices in Canberra.
“It takes a lot of confidence for Australia to bet on France, and a lot of confidence for France to share with Australia the capability that is so close to the core of our sovereignty and our strategic autonomy, and a result of immense investment over decades,” Parly said.
Under the Strategic Partnership Agreement, 12 conventionally powered submarines derived from the Naval Group Barracuda nuclear design would be constructed in a new shipyard in South Australia.
Naval Group chairman Herve Guillou said Australia chose the French submarine design because of its endurance, long range and acoustic superiority.
“We are looking at a very, very long-term partnership with Australia,” he said.
“If we look at the change in the market, we need ... to be able to face the new giants in this market, like CSCC [China State Shipbuilding Corp, 中國船舶工業集團] in China, like OSK [United Shipbuilding Corp] in Russia,” he said. “We really want to take the initiative of being stronger before the others are stronger.”
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