A Pounding in the Pacific

In a move that sent shock-waves around the Pacific Ocean, Australia is bound to become the third-largest operator of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN’s). But let’s start from the beginning.

Australia has a lot of water surrounding it, and the distances are long. Most countries with that situation rely on nuclear-powered submarines for the simple reason that they offers longer endurance and higher speed. However, Australia doesn’t sport any kind of nuclear infrastructure to speak about (besides a single research reactor and remnants of old UK weapons tests), and nuclear power has generally been seen as not an option. As such, when the current Collins-class, mainly famous for being the largest submarines ever designed in Sweden and for suffering from a significant amount of teething troubles due to being the largest submarines ever designed in Sweden – the physical properties of water scale poorly – was to be replaced, the requirement was for a very large conventionally powered submarine. In the end, Sweden, Germany, and France were confirmed to be in the running for the contract. Sweden offered an enlarged version of their current state-of-the-art submarine, the A26, which was a design principle that worked poorly with the Collins. Germany offered the Type 216, which again was a paper product based on the existing Type 214 – but larger. The French concept was to take the new French SSN-class the Barracuda (or Suffren-class as it is also known after the first boat of the class), and convert it to conventional power. And fit a completely different combat management system in it.

The boat that Australia should have bought, the Japanese Sōryū-class. It has now been replaced with the even more capable Taigei-class, which is an iterative low-risk design. Source: Kaijō Jieitai JMSDF

The fact that none of the submarines proposed actually existed probably tells you all about how unique the Australian requirement is. The one country which is building submarines that would fit the requirement was Japan, and they are among the finest submarines on the market. Or rather, they would be if Japan was interested in exporting defence equipment. The Sōryū-class was by many regarded as the front-runner, but in the end it seems it didn’t make it to the final selection. In any case, it was the one submarine that likely would have made sense to the SEA 1000-programme as the Collins-replacement is officially designated.

The Shortfin Barracuda (an excellent name, by the way) ran into problems quite quickly. The Australian counterpart required a significant amount of work be made locally, and notable is that there is no submarine industry in the country. Undertaking submarine production is one of the most complex engineering tasks found, and this requirement added significantly to the price tag. At the same time, the conversion work from one mode of propulsion to a completely different one proved even harder than it looked, and in essence there wasn’t much left of the original Barracuda once the design started to finalise.

Here a number of people will probably yell “Buy German, they know submarines!”, but while the Type 2xx-boats out of TKMS by all accounts are very good, it should be noted that France for decades has been an international powerhouse when it comes to submarines for both the domestic and the export markets. The submarines include both SSNs and SSKs (and SSBNs for domestic use), and have a very good reputation. (they also lead the post-war tonnage war by 1,450 t – 0 t compared to the German boats, though I wouldn’t read too much into that particular statistic). The eventual issues did not stem from getting a French boat, but from getting a paper product.

If it’s stupid but works it isn’t stupid, but unfortunately for the Shortfin Barracuda the basic project was just stupid and didn’t work. Something had to be done, and the Australians deserve credit for avoiding the alluring trap of the sunken cost fallacy (British Army, take note). And here is where this week’s announcement enter the equation.

The triple pact announced between the US-UK-Australia is far from a submarine deal, but rather a comprehensive security package including a number of practical steps, announced arms deals, and general security cooperation on an increased level (and let’s remember that the parties involved already were extremely close under the Five Eyes agreement). However, while getting Tomahawks is nice, there’s no denying that the SSN is the part that grabbed the headlines.

I didn’t expect the French to be happy about the announcement, but the official reaction has been absolutely positively furious. Some have claimed that France is overreacting to a major deal lost, and that it is largely theatre for domestic political reasons. However, most people with insight into the inner workings of French politics seem to take them at their word in this case, and in my opinion the notion that the French are unhappy because of a failed project is a significant oversimplification.

The American decision, which leads to the exclusion of a European ally and partner like France from a crucial partnership with Australia at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, be it over our values or respect for a multilateralism based on the rule of law, signals a lack of consistency which France can only notice and regret.

As the quote above shows, while there is understandably some anger directed towards Australia for breaking the contract (and doing so a mere two weeks after “Both sides committed to deepen defence industry cooperation and enhance their capability edge in the region. Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program” during a joint 2+2 ministerial meeting between French and Australian foreign and defence ministers), the main villain in the French eyes seem to be the US who not only outmanoeuvred the French, but brought along the British and left the French out in the cold. Crucially, there seems to have been little to no warning given to the French, who even if they must have known that the Shortfin Barracuda was in trouble, most likely did not anticipate the US and UK unilaterally deciding to trash the long-held non-proliferation convention to not export reactor technology for use aboard SSNs. Interestingly, it does seem that the initiative – as well as the decision to keep the French in the dark – came from the Australians, making the French framing of this being a US diplomatic backstabbing of the higher order seem somewhat misplaced.

The bilateral US-French relation has been growing in importance in recent years, and France – unlike the British – is a serious player in the Indo-Pacific region due to French Polynesia and the military presence based out of that region. La Royale is also by a margin the world’s third most powerful navy (after the USN and the PLAN). All in all, on paper France would seem to be the obvious choice for the role of junior expeditionary partner if you want to create a three-party alliance (let’s stay away from referring to it as the tripartite pact) in the region, with Australia bringing the local basing options and the US bringing their global reach. However, real life international relations are usually more complex than just playing top trumps. There’s little doubt that the Five Eyes/Anglosphere/Commonwealth/Special Relationship-bonds played an important role in ensuring that UK suddenly appeared in what France apparently sees as a US-scheme – note the reference to the “American decision” in the quote above. The UK is also a country that keeps punching above its weight in international relations based on a combination of historical grandeur, soft power, and just enough military force to be credible.

Nations might only have interests and not friends, but France is sometimes too open with that notion. Diplomacy is after all made between people, and people like to feel valued.

What happens now? France has declared this to “only heighten the need to raise loud and clear the issue of European strategic autonomy. There is no other credible path for defending our interests and values around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region”, but truth be told Paris could interpret the sun shining as a sign that the issue of European strategic autonomy needs to be raised. And while the Australians certainly share part in the blame, it is hard not to feel that France dropped the ball utterly and completely, having had one foot in the door of ensuring a long and deep strategic partnership with one of the key players in the region, only to have it utterly trashed by the inability of Naval Group to deliver on promises. The yard stated yesterday that they have “delivered on all its commitments“, but I do believe they are quite alone in their worldview on that point.

As said, the idea of converting an SSN to an SSK was rather hare-brained to begin with, so I don’t blame them for struggling to deliver. However, if it is supposed to be a strategic partnership between countries, I fail to see how the diplomats weren’t involved to a greater extent at an earlier stage and why a greater priority wasn’t assigned? It might certainly have been the Australian partners who struggled, but in that case Naval Group would have been the one who needed to step up and ensure the success, so that isn’t an explanation in my book either. Hindsight might be 20-20, but the only explanation is that it wasn’t evident in France exactly how fed up the Australian politicians were with the project falling behind. The Australians doing the sensible thing and openly discussing the issues with the French, before cancelling the order and buying turn-key Taigei-class boats from Japan probably wouldn’t have lead to the same kind of diplomatic outrage. As it currently stands, this will be a setback to diplomatic relations between France and the AUKUS, and not because of the arms deal – people nab those all the time – but due to the backstabbing creation of a strategic partnership which also includes tech transfers that goes against long-standing proliferation conventions.

The Astute-class is extremely good, but comes with a price-tag to match. Source: LA(Phot) J Massey/MOD

But it wouldn’t be an Australian submarine program without the customer getting bright ideas. Now follows an 18-month planning phase, and then at some point Australia will build ‘at least’ eight(!) SSNs in Adelaide. It’s difficult to explain exactly how expensive this is bound to end up being. The boats themselves are expensive, even if they would end up buying either the Austute- or Virginia-class straight unmodified from the shelf (and we all know odds are they will be modified), and it’s notable that neither the British nor the French plan for eight boats in their respective fleet. However, building nuclear-powered attack submarines is bound to be one of the few things that will be even more difficult and expensive than building large conventional ones.

There are of course the even more expensive option left, namely to get surplus vessels as a stop-gap and try to keep them operational.

Side-note: The big winner here is Saab Kockums, since the Collins seem bound to stay in service for quite a bit longer than originally intended, needing service and updates along the way.

An SSN makes perfect sense for Australia, but what is unclear to me is how on earth they have managed to drag the US into this diplomatic mess, when the whole thing could have been a rather straightforward rerouted arms deal and all partners involved share the fear of China as a rising threat. To manage to convert that into something that has the potential to lead to a ‘Freedom Fries 2.0’-moment is quite the diplomatic achievement.

But in conclusion, several things can be true at the same time:

  • SSNs are the obvious operational choice for Australia,
  • Building them themselves will be horrendously expensive and likely lead to poor quality of workmanship on at least the first few vessels, something that might prove deadly if it ever comes to combat as the silence which submarines rely on require skilled workers,
  • The Shortfin Barracuda program was a disaster in the making, and while both parties certainly share part of the blame, cutting the losses was a wise move by the Australians,
  • While the French are sad that they’ve lost the deal, there is reason to start with a look in the mirror before criticising that part,
  • At the same time, the completely opaque launching of the AUKUS and having that include nuclear tech-transfer is what seemingly draw the most ire in Paris, and here they certainly are justified,
  • While not counter to the letter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the way in which this is done does see the US and the UK unilaterally break old non-proliferation standards, something that tend to have the ability to come back to bite you later.

74 thoughts on “A Pounding in the Pacific

  1. IED

    Thank you for this analysis. If you are correct in that the conversion of the souffren is to blame, I can’t help wondering if the easiest solution couldn’t have been to just stop trying to convert the Souffren to conventional propulsion and use it as is? But I guess the french might have been more strict on the non-proliferation agreement. Or the aussies just didn’t like the french anymore…

    1. BB3

      IED – I also wondered if acquiring the French SSN was an option. My guess is that it wasn’t discussed at the outset of discussions, because only conventional propulsion was being considered – in large part due to Australia’s ‘no nukes’ policy. BTW – I’m still unclear how Morrison unilaterally gets to override existing Australian law on this point. I’m pretty sure the Barracuda SSN option wasn’t discussed w/ France either, because Morrison’s statement on June 15 during the recent G7 meeting in London was that he’d just finished discussing with Macron & Naval Group and that that the Attack class deal was likely back on track.

      As I discuss in more detail in my lengthier post below, Australia’s announcement on June 11 of the need to spend $6B AUD on a Collins class LOTE was an obvious opportunity to announce Australia’s decision to step back and consider all its options in light of the huge cost overruns and decade long delay associated with the existing Attack class deal w/ Naval Group. If Morrison had reset things in that manner at the G7 meeting it would have made yesterday’s announcement much less of a surprise and not a direct affront to France. Instead, Morrison met w/ Macron & Naval Group at the G7 meeting and then held a presser saying the project was likely back on track – when he had secretly met and pretty much finalized a separate deal w/ the US & the UK.

      Again, think about how much different/ better would yesterday’s developments been viewed had Morrison stated at the G7 meeting that Australia was considering all its options including sticking with the Naval Group deal. Heck, he could have even privately advised Macron & Naval Group that Australia might consider an SSN option since given all the problems seemingly associated w/ converting the Barracuda SSN to an SSK and he could have asked them if they’d consider selling Australia the Barracuda SSN – and – if so – requested that they submit an alternate proposal for consideration.

      The way Morrison handled things makes it seem like he was purposely keeping France in the dark while making a deal w/ the UK & US. In doing so, he comes off as duplicitous and he made Macron in particular look the fool.

      I also strongly believe that Morrison & the US/UK handled the announcement of this decision very poorly vis-a-vis existing & future relations w/ China, French and other allies. It would have been very easy to announce this development in a much more sympathetic and matter of necessity deal that portrayed old allies throwing Australia a lifeline given the problems Australia was having with the conventional option being proposed by Naval Group. It didn’t need to be portrayed as the US, UK & Australia forming a club to confront China and seemingly to set a course for future cooperation that cuts out other allies – including France & the EU etc. There was no need at this time for the whole ‘AUKUS’ announcement that reinforced the foregoing perception.

    2. H

      Really good and balanced analysis.
      To my understanding this contract is so political because France was looking for developing a military industrial base in Australia which could be a real alliance and relay to protect our territories in the pacific.
      Australian politicians said ok, but actually, this was a default option and when the US agreed to invest in Australia to gain military depth against China, the Australian government turned its back to the French.
      I personally think it is the best option for the Australian, for France it is different as we now need new solutions to protect our territories in the pacific…

  2. Herciv

    Nice analysis. And I agree by a lot of point.
    But I believe more than you that we are witnessing the emergence of a bloc logic.

    For me, the logic of the blocks is multiple.

    1 – It is necessary to be able to form a mass and constitute an autonomous and lockable internal market. Countries of a few tens of millions of people are insufficient to exist in the face of commercial monsters such as China or Aukus, which can activate more or less violent extraterritorial logic capable of taking over industries or even legal systems.

    2 – It is necessary to be able to access and conserve mineral and agricultural resources, and therefore a vast geography is required. Europe must urgently give the Danes the means to develop Greenland. AUKUS gives access to these resources in at least two of its partners.

    3 – We need strategic depth so that if one of the partners is under fire, the others can intervene effectively. This means a global presence. Europe alone without Russia is really a postage stamp. We will have to strengthen our links with India or Brazil or Korea, for example.

    The logic of Aukus is made around a common language and culture. But how a country like Holland, Finland or Korea existe in such a bloc without risk for its own cultur ? I say that this scheme is reproducible possibly between Muslim countries perhaps by the Latin or Buddhist countries.

    The European logic is another way of integration through the common history. On the other hand, we see that nationalisms are strong and can be blocking. But European nationalisms need Atlanticism. Aukus shows that Atlanticism is no longer the priority for the USA, which could allow middle powers like Germany or Spain to question this relationship or they risk not existing at all.

    One of the consequences of Aukus is that the permanent seat of the UK at the UN is no longer of much interest, while the French seat is indispensable to the whole of Europe.

  3. Herciv

    The Anglo-Saxon AUKUS bloc is coherent. There is a cultural and language community, there are common interests all over the world. On the strategic level, there is an unprecedented depth. They are present all over the world. If one of the countries is too much under fire, another one can serve as a relay. In terms of population, there are 500 million of them, the size of Europe. But in terms of geographic size, it is a monster and has access to all the resources it needs. I think that this agreement could very well go towards a greater integration with for example the dollar as a common currency.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  4. Deres

    A point you don’t see is that such treachery on a military contract from the US is not the first from the Biden administration. The F35 has won in Switzerland just after a personnal intervention of President Biden with a totally new bid in Geneva just a few days before the result annoucements. The annoucement of the result was even postponed three days to accomodate the change of the winner that had filtered in the press but was not the F35 … And the germans that are currently in a cooperation with France to develop a patrol plane brutally and without warning decided to buy P8 Poseidon planes at the same time they were discussing the issue of Nord Stream 2 with the Biden administration. One treachery maybe a lone case, but three, one after the other is a trend. The new reality is that Biden plays it personnaly for the big players of the american defense industry whatever will be the diplomatic backlashes.

    1. Kristian Larsson

      Australia cancels a deal with France and it is treachery from the US? But not treachery from the UK who is also a part of the alliance? And not treachery from Australia who was the buyer? Why is it is treachery to walk away from a bad deal that you are dissatisfied with?

  5. asafasfaf

    I really would not be suprised if Australia is forced to buy new non-nuclear boats in addition of modernization of current fleet as 2040 is way too far. Same way as Australia got Super Hornets due to F-35 delays.

  6. BB3

    As you note, Australia terminating the Naval Group deal seems both justified and the right call as it was already $40B AUD over the initial outrageously expensive $50B AUD initial price tag and the 1st steel hadn’t even been cut. Just as importantly, the projected 1st boat was projected to be at least a decade late getting into service. This delay forced Australia to announce on June 11 that they’d be spending $6B AUD on a Life of Type Extension (LOTE) retrofit of the 6 Collins class subs to extend their service life through the 2030s when the original plan was for them to start being retired in 2025 when the 1st new Attack class subs were supposed to be coming on-line So Australia clearly had ample grounds for re-thinking/ terminating the Attack class deal. Still, Australia’s PM Morrison could hardly have handled this matter more poorly and I put most all the blame on him for the diplomatic row this development has wrought.
    Critics in Australia have been calling for the plug to be pulled on this deal for quite some time, but PM Morrison and others in his government have repeatedly assuring everyone that they were committed to the deal and pressing Naval Group to get things righted. However, we’re now hearing that Morrison’s folks started talking with the US about going nuclear back in March and that the deal w/ the US & UK was pretty much finalized during the G7 meeting in June. If that’s true then why in hell did Morrison meet w/ Macron at the same meeting and then issue a statement to the effect that “the troubled $90 billion submarine project is back on track” ? https://www.watoday.com.au/… Morrison is either seriously stupid or a complete ass ..
    If Morrison wanted out of the French deal and wanted to do it gracefully all he had to do was announced a couple of months ago (or possibly even last year) that Australia was pausing and considering the possible cancelation of the French deal due to unacceptable delays & cost escalation, etc. such that Australia needed to reassess its options. The most recent obvious time to have done this was the week before the G7 meeting when, on June 11, Aussie Defense Minister Dutton announced that, as a result of the unexpected & unacceptable delays in the projected delivery of Australia’s next gen subs, Australia would need to spend $6B AUD on an extensive Collins class LOTE as an interim measure in order to maintain continued submarine capability into the 2030s. https://www.defenceconnect….
    In other words, Morrison could have cast Australia as the victim of Naval Group’s non-performance & inability to keep the Attack class sub project on-time & on-budget despite multiple entreaties to Naval Group & opportunities for them to correct deficiencies & get the project back on track. Then – after saying that they’d engaged in several months of ‘intense & accelerated internal & external discussions that carefully analyzed & considered all available options’, Morrison could have announced the AUKUS deal yesterday and looked the hero without fear of blowback from France & Naval Group.
    But that’s not what Morrison did. Instead, although he confirmed that Australia & Naval Group still had to come to terms on the next phase of the project leading to production of the pressure hull for the first submarine in 2024 stating that “I leave knowing we have properly raised the challenges that we need to address,” the takeaway from Morrison’s June 15 presser was that the project was back on track due to productive discussions w/ Macron & Naval Group. But in light of yesterday’s announcement, the foregoing statements by Morrison seem duplicitous as Australia clearly had been heavily engaged in discussions w/ the US & the UK about dumping the Naval Group deal & going w/ SSN subs. As such, Morrison & Australia come off as the bad guy instead of the victim. It’s head scratching to me that an experienced politician wouldn’t understand this and apparently be OK with allowing this to happen.
    In short, IMO at least, Morrison handled this break-up with France & Naval Group very poorly. Somehow Morrison managed to make Australia look like the duplicitous bad guy in this break-up story when, in reality, Naval Group’s inability to get the 12 Attack class subs delivered on-time and on-budget clearly justified termination.
    For reasons good or bad, Morrison passed on several earlier contractual windows that would have allowed them to pause or cancel the Naval Group deal with no or a very small penalty and possibly have even argued that Australia was due compensation for Naval Group’s non-performance. But even if Australia wasn’t yet ready to declare a break-up during these earlier ‘no-penalty’ cancelation windows, Australia had the opportunity in June to indicate that it had to step back and reassess all its options and point to the billions that it was being forced to spend on the Collins class LOTE program as evidence of the tangible monetary hits Australia was experiencing due to Naval Group’s unacceptable performance.
    Even if just done for optics (because Australia was clearly already engaged in substantive discussions w/ the US & UK), announcing in June that Australia was reassessing all its options seems to me a much better – more politic way of handling the breakup with France & Naval Group before announcing that you’ve miraculously found a new, better looking love interest. Morrison’s actions certainly make Macron look the fool and Naval Group is likely crying foul thinking that they were on the cusp of finalizing the next phase of the contract towards production of the 1st pressure hull in 2024.
    Again – head-scratching to me as to why Morrison’s gov’t seems to be congratulating itself on keeping France & Naval Group in the dark re: Australia’s secret deal w/ the US & UK. I realize politicians often feel they have to do/ say certain things for domestic messaging purposes which can be in conflict w/ how things might be perceived internationally, but Morrison would, IMO, have looked even more the hero domestically if he’d have structured the break-up in the manner I outlined above – without pissing off Macron, France and Naval Group in the process.
    BTW – I also question why the US, UK and Australia are suggesting in public statements that this partnership allowing Australia to get nuclear subs is primarily intended to strengthen the alliance against China. That may well be the case, but why beat your chest and say so and piss-off China in the process – almost forcing China to make statements suggesting that they view this development as hostile to China’s interests and possibly take actions in furtherance thereof.
    It would be just as easy to cast this decision as a lifeline to Australia from longtime allies in light of the Naval Group deal not working out and nuclear subs being particularly useful for Australia’s idiosyncratic needs because of Australia’s isolated, remote location requiring its subs to routinely transit long distances in the open ocean where the refueling and resupply of conventionally powered submarines is logistically difficult & problematic for submarines in particular that don’t want to surface & disclose their location.
    So why not just a simple statement about the US & UK helping Australia meet a need for replacement subs and nuclear propulsion being the logical best choice given Australia’s isolated location. China knows the implications without any need to make unnecessarily inflammatory & confrontational statements .. oh well …

    1. H

      Totally agree with you, the nuclear SSN makes totally sense regarding Australia geography?
      Regarding the 50-90b$ costs, it actually includes the whole subs and infrastructure future life costs. How much will be spent locally and how much are the lockheed costs (which should have provided all the electronics and weaponery) is unknown to me. From the french side, Naval Group announced that the costs are 3b$. Does it includes the 6 year project costs and the expected loss? But it is far from the 50 to 90b$.

    2. peter cann

      “Morrison is either seriously stupid or a complete ass “.. he is both of those things and then some more.

  7. Matias

    Good article. I agree the problem with the French submarine proposed for Australia, is that it was a paper submarine and it was more complicated to design than anticipated, in addition to language and some working culture differences.

    Even though the French have a big navy and presence in Asia, the comments by Macron such as “EU shouldn’t gang up on China with US”, maybe it looked like they were not as serious/critical on China as the AUKUS members and for that reason left out, but maybe they or other countries could join later.

    I will assume the Australian nuclear submarine will not be a new design or if it will be the Austute or Virginia class. Not sure if the Austute is currently in production but the US has plans to produce 3 Virginia Class submarines a year, so I can see where a few could be redirected to Australia to get them started (training) and give them time to setup their production site. I would assume some of the interior equipment would be modified for export.

    1. asafasfaf

      “I will assume the Australian nuclear submarine will not be a new design”

      Sharing of both USA and UK sub tech and long negotiation process has all the hallmarks of new custom design…

  8. Greg

    I wonder whether leasing several Los Angeles class subs would be better then entering into costly ( and dead end ) SLEP program for Collins subs. There has been some discussion of the prospect over the years, but perhaps it’s getting a fresh look now.

    1. asafasfaf

      Old decommission stated Los Angeles class subs would also need extensive and most likely very expensive nuclear related work before Australia could operate them. In that context, inserting state-of-the-art A26 tech into Collins hull is reasonable value for money.

    2. Blue 5

      I suspect that they will have to lease some SSNs in order to get the experience necessary for their own fleet. Old 688s would be an obvious choice

  9. JayJay

    Views from France :
    This a major diplomatic crisis happening. France is absolutely furious about, as you rightly pointed out, not so much the termination of the contract – it can happen – but the way it has been done – in the shadows, with everything appearing to be decided from Washington.
    That’s why the UK is not that much criticized in France : it is seen as a puppet of the US, and it will be more and more the case with the brexit, so no need to talk too much about UK.
    Thé real deal is with the US. It’s the second time in months that they sabotage a French defense contract : first time was in Swiss, where the Rafale contract was about to be announced when Biden came to Geneva : two weeks later the deal was awarded to LM in what appeared to be a « forced buy », that nobody in Swiss was able to justify given the fact that the F35 was the least suitable fighter of all the competitors.
    Now this crisis is much more important : French officials said it was a « a la Trump » decision; in fact, all the diplomats and elites that welcome the victory of Biden now start to understand that he is very similar, and in some way worst than Trump. The question for France of alignement with the US is on the table. The question of participation to NATO is also on the table : as a reminder, France was historically not a NATO member and joined in 2007 with Sarkozy. My guess is that France will come back to a much more Gaulliste posture of non systematic alignement with the US.
    As for the US, they should remember 2003 and Irak : at the time, France was able to gather a very large coalition against the war… and proves to be right after time. So even if France is a relatively small country, a bit of humility from US side would not hurt.

    1. JoJo

      Trouble began brewing almost immediately after Canberra chose the French bid ahead of alternate designs from Germany and Japan in April 2016.

      That August, before the Australian deal was formally signed but after it had been announced, the company DCNS admitted it had been hacked after 22,000 documents relating to the combat capacity of its Scorpene submarines being built in India were leaked, raising concerns about the security of its Australian project.

      What are the most secret and classified in the military for a country? Submarines are at the top of the pyramid.

      Despite that, Australia later that year signed its largest-ever defense deal with DCNS for 12 Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A conventional diesel submarines.

      The project was meant to cost 50 billion Australian dollars (€31 billion). But that figure has since almost doubled. By 2020, Naval Group had revised the 90 percent local input figure down to 60 percent. By 2021, the French firm was pushing back against even that, saying Australian industry wasn’t up to scratch.

      An delay after delay. Maybe France should take a look at itself, and not blame everyone else.

      1. JayJay

        If I may, you completely miss the point. As written by lot of contributors, and CF at the first place, this crisis is not over a broken arms deal. It goes way beyond that : it’s a shift of alliances which may have long and profound consequences the stability of the indo pacific region.
        Regarding the contract itself, if you listen to Naval Group, it’s 100% the silt of the Australian government. If you listen to the Australian government, it’s 100% the fault of. Naval Group. So the truth is probably close to 50/50; I would personally give a good 60% to the Australian government as they are notorious to ask for extravagant and moving targets. You probably know that the British contract for frigates is in big trouble as well, it casts a doubt on the procurement management of this country.

      2. Herciv

  10. JayJay

    Other comment : this decision casts doubts about major cooperation programs with Germany. Knowing the strong connection between Germany and Washington, it is easy to imagine that should Biden decide to kill the SCAF, he could do so the same way he just killed the submarine contract with Australia.
    So this will for sure reinforce voices in France who advocate for a pure national fighter program rather than a cooperation

    1. Mathias

      (German here)
      SCAF is extremely difficult on the industrial side (France who has all the skills necessary – but now has to share workloads in order to afford the development, leaving part of its industry unhappy vs Germany / Spain investing vast amounts of money and having to fear France leaving à la Rafale after development is done).
      But on the political side, messaging ist quite clear that SCAF is the only option on the table. It even seems we will be replacing the Tornado fleet with F-18 instead of superior F-35 (which the Luftwaffe would prefer) out of fear that getting F-35 would send the wrong signal to France and risk cancellation of SCAF à la P8/MAWS.
      Futhermore, after this Aukus drama, I simply can´t imagine that any german politician would be willing to land a second hard blow to the French, the price to Europe would be far too high. And the French leaving FCAS to join Tempest just became all but impossible.
      I guess the chances of SCAF succeeding just went up.

      1. I am alluding to nothing, but what you yourself wrote; “To see how far Germany supports France, I would look at EU level as I guess we will try to mask everything we might do trough EU channels”

        It is still not an alluding stance by me, I simply want to know. It might be for different reasons that germany does this, if you think about it. I can think of at least one reason. In the initial phase of for example research and/or procurement there are a lot of butterflies in the stomach among the involved partisans.

      2. Mathias

        Ah, okay – I got confused since you answered to a reply I made further down the comment section.
        Anyway – it’s just my suspicion, but I guess going trough EU would be very typical for Germany, especially in the times of Merkel. Doing what’s necessary, keeping in touch with your friends behind the scenes – and avoiding any kind of headlight or grand statements like the plague.

        (until now – absolute silence from germany, von der Leyen and Borrell are quite quick with condemnations, while the second line begins trying to cool France down. Suits my narrative so far, we’ll have to see. Really interesting times with high stakes not seen in decades. Whoa)

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  13. ovovov

    Corporal Frisk, please restrict your ambitions to writing on issues that you actually understand.
    This is not one of them.

    Australia doesn’t need nuclear submarines. If you think they do that’s because you know squat about submarines and Australia.

    Australia can’t afford nuclear submarines. If you think it can that’s because you know squat about nuclear subs and Australian economy.

    Australia won’t be able to put the first one into service faster than in 20 years unless a majority of work is outsourced to Britain – which is the main driver behind the project. BAE is short on cash and struggling to fund work on the last three Astutes and the Dreadnoughts. And ater that work is done there’s the SSNR – Astute replacement – and then…nothing. Nothing. After 2050 Britan won’t have nuclear subs to build and after 2035 they will work on two at the same time. Right now they are working on 5-6 and that’s barely sufficient to finance the facility. Golly Brilliant Global Brexit Great Britain needs jobs and the idiot with a stack of hay on its head is doing what he can.

    The reason why the deal with Naval went to 90 billion AUD was because almost everything was meant to be done in Australia which has to build the industry from scratch for the construction and life-cycle support. France said yes and Australia still wasn’t happy. It said “too expensive”.

    That’s bad faith. That’s how you recognize when someone wants to swindle you.

    There were many issues with the Barracudas but it wasn’t the fault of the French. It was the fault of the utterly incompetent and corrupt Australian government which wanted to funnel billions into creating an industry for the purpose of building just 12 submarines!

    You are right that Soryus would be the ideal choice – and there was a strong lobby in the RAN for that option – but the production run in Japan ended in 2021 and both Soryu and Oyashio classes have 35-year life so the Taigei class is being built at a reduced tempo and greater cost. Japan needed work and orders, not money. Australia persistently suffers from delusions of grandeur and made the same mistake as before. A primitive, pre-industrial backwater with one of the most simplistic resource-based economies in the world decided it will build one of the most sophisticated industrial products currently available. The Arabs are so much smarter than Australians. They know they have the money but not the skills.

    Oh and lets not forget that the real reason why French offer was chosen was that France agreed to full technology transfer and localization. Those were needed by the Coalition government in 2016 when it faced a threat of electoral loss. It declared 50 billion deal in April and won narrowly the election in June. The crucial votes came from South Australia where the subs were meant to be built.

    Now it’s the very same story. The government is falling in the polls and the election is in May of 2022. The deal with the French which they chose, they dictated, they led and they negotiated is a failure. So they need even bigger story to win again. Can’t just cancel the deal that they made so NUCLEAR SUBS.

    American warmongering. British perfidy. Australian stupidity. That’s what AUKUS stands for.

      1. ovovov

        Yes, stupid people who think they’re smart are absolutely entitled to their stupid opinions. At least this seems to be the prevailing sentiment in our society.

        So next time just put a disclaimer that says “I don’t know what I’m talking about and can’t be bothered to do proper research but I really need you to read what I have to say” and I won’t complain.

        It’s not your ignorance that bothers me. It’s your dishonesty. Learn when to STFU.

      2. Luckily, I can calm you with the fact that this text in particular have received praise from numerous people with better insight, and people on both sides of the question for that matter, with criticism largely being about certain details, so there’s no need for a disclaimer.

  14. Graham

    If Australia wanted to say “up yours” to China with nuclear powered submarines it should ahve simply purchased the French nuclear powered subs and just taken out the bidets.

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  16. What’s really disturbing is that with a couple of exceptions, nobody has considered the possible bad effect on NATO, and not just from France but other EU members of NATO. Which means it’s not all about the French. Strengthen the Pacific alliance at the expense of the Atlantic one?

  17. MWW

    I would be interested in why you believe that the French Navy, is the third most powerful in the world. I mean I have a different opinion but seriously am interested in why you believe this to be the case.

    1. JoJo

      Sure, France as third sounds like a mistake. I would think most analysts would say sixth place for France after both UK and Japan.

      1. France sports both CdG, the Mistrals, and crucially the escorts to create two meaningful task forces, plus their submarines. The UK is unfortunately hard-pressed to create a single task force due to the low number of escorts, and Japan is lacking when it comes to the aviation component.

        Granted, in a China-scenario where Japan is able to bring their home game against the French and UK expeditionary forces, I can buy the argument that Japan would be the stronger one.

      2. MWW

        This is meant as a reply to Corporal Frisk, but don’t seem to be able to reply to his post.
        I really don’t want to get into too much of comparing one navy vs another. As I think France, the UK, and Japan all have strong navies and strengths in various areas.
        However I do question the idea that France has more escorts for task groups than the UK. France has a larger number of patrol type escorts. But they would have limited use in a task group. They also all have quite low speeds.

        So I don’t think you can really include the six Floréal-class frigate or the six D’Estienne d’Orves class. For one their only weapons are 100mm main gun and 2 x 20mm guns.

        So the main French escort fleet would be 2 Horizon class destroyers and 8 (currently 7 but soon to be 8) Aquitaine class destroyers. There are also the 5 La Fayette class frigates, but these again were designed more for single ship patrol type tasks. They have quite a low top speed, very limited AAW self protection, and only one hull currently seems to have a hull sonar. So most likely limited use in most task groups.

        Again I really don’t want to get into the whole one navy is better thing. I really respect the French navy and think it has a lot of strengths. The Mistrals certainly seem nice, and I think the UK navy would rather have them than the Albions. Charles de Gaulle also seems a very nice and capable carrier.

        However in terms of escorts there isn’t really much difference in numbers. The UK navy has 6 type 45 destroyers and 8 (with towed array sonars) type 23 frigates as its main escort fleet.
        It also has the other 4 type 23 frigates, that don’t have the towed array fitted. The remaining type 23 (of the 13 that they did have) has just been decommissioned.

        So really I think it could be argued that it is a case of 10 main escorts for France and 14 for UK. With France having a further 5 lower level escorts and the UK having 4 lower level escorts.

        France has more patrol ships and with better armament. The six Floréal-class frigate and six D’Estienne d’Orves vs the 8 River class ships in the UK navy. However I don’t think anyone is really going to count them as task group level escorts. France also has four D’Entrecasteaux class patrol ships, but these are really just commercial ships with very limited armament.

        However the biggest difference in my opinion is in the support ships. I believe the French navy only currently has the two Durance class tankers.

        I did write a longer reply but managed to delete it by mistake.

      3. Agree that the avisos aren’t relevant for surface task forces, but the RN Type 23 have really struggled with availability during recent years. They were excellent ships, but are simply getting worn out, so together with six air defence ships (the Type 45 is excellent, but too few in number) I struggle to see the RN in practice matching the French numbers even if on paper they come out on top. Obviously, when it comes to individual scenarios certain capabilities might weigh heavier than others which might tip the balance.

      4. MWW

        I agree that the type 23’s are getting on and need replacing as soon as possible. However even though the British newspapers always seem to have a article moaning about the poor availability of them. The actual figures don’t normally fit with that. Also the their availability seems to actually be improving over the last couple of years. From the current public information of the 12 type 23 frigates, 4 and in refit/maintenance, 3 are deployed (outside UK /Atlantic waters), 1 is supporting the DSEI event in London, and the other 4 are listed as located in UK waters, ports or the North Atlantic and are available for operations. So considering it is generally accepted that only 1 in 3 ships will be deployed at a time, then it isn’t that bad.

        I don’t know how this compares to the French ships. Although I would be interested in reading anything on French availability.

  18. Hello, first time poster, though I have read your blog for something like 2 years. I am French, and after some time to think, I’d like to offer some (French) perspective in a calm manner to anyone who might be interested. Sorry for the long history recap, but I thought that was needed, bear with me, it is linked to the present situation. Sorry if I make any mistake, English is not my first language, but I have tried to be understandable.

    A bit of history on modern French diplomacy and alliances: after the second world war, both France and the UK had similar problems. They were declining former big colonial powers. But after the Suez crisis of 1956, the UK and France took opposing decisions concerning their place in a cold war world dominated by two superpowers.

    The UK thought that it could not have an independent diplomacy opposed to the US, so it aligned itself closely to the US. Even in their nuclear deterrence, with the share of information on submarines and an missile system dependent on the US.

    France on the other hand, tried to seek a “third party” approach: though it was obviously closer to the US than to the USSR, it wanted to be independent of both and try to have its own speech, closer to the unaligned movement (and tried to have important diplomatic links with many of these unaligned countries, like India, Yougoslavie or Indonesia for example).

    Hence the two decisions taken by De Gaulle in 1966 to ask the American troops to leave France, and to get out of the integrated command of NATO- though not of NATO itself, that is an important distinction. In case of war with the USSR, France was to side with NATO: France wanted its troops to fight in western Germany rather than on the borders of France if the Warsaw pact ever were to attack.
    But this relative independence allowed it to be understood that, on the other hand, France would probably NOT join an attack of NATO against the USSR or its allies, thus contributing to a form of balance. Same for nuclear deterrence: the UK and US had close to the same strategy regarding nuclear weapons, but France had a different one. If the soviet troops ever were to cross the Rhine towards France, the French nuclear weapons would start flying. France was also keeping the possibility open (vaguely, on purpose), to use nuclear weapons “tactically” if the conventional war was turning for the worst for the French army and the enemy troops were closing in on its borders.

    That was a threat both to the USSR: even if they decided to attack in continental Europe, if they wanted the war to have any real hope of staying non-nuclear, they would have to “only” invade west Germany, not France and the Benelux; and to the US and the UK: if they ever were tempted to abandon continental Europe in case of soviet attack, NATO defeat on the continent and retreat towards the islands of the UK and “mountain-protected peninsulas” of Spain/Portugal and Italy, that would not necessarily prevent a global nuclear war.

    You may think the nuclear deterrence strategy of France was harsh and wild on that matter, and that is a valid opinion, but it might have contributed to the balance of power and the fear that a war in Europe between the two blocks, even if it was intended as a limited conventional war, whoever had started it, and even if the two superpowers tried to limit it to a conventional war by sacrificing some of their allies, might turn into a global nuclear war nonetheless because of the French wild card.

    Let’s fast forward: the first cold war ended. Only one superpower remained, the US. France has abandoned its nuclear tests to the Pacific (the brief restart of them in 1995 did not do any good to French image in the area) in 1996, promised never to do it again, and nowadays is less seen as a nuclear wild card. France also grew gradually closer (or rather, more “aligned”) to the US in the 21st century: the only time the disposition of NATO to defend an attacked ally was called for by the US after 9/11. France along with all of NATO, answered the call. Bush junior praised France, the “oldest ally of France” for deploying “a third of its fleet” to support the American operation to take down the taliban in October 2001.
    This nice relationship didn’t last though, with the US deciding to attack Irak in 2003, and France was the only US ally to clearly say to the US that this was a really bad idea, especially with NATO troops still busy in Afghanistan. Maybe France was too honest, or candid even, in that occasion, and took the worst of the US blame despite being far from the only country opposed to it in this time of happy US warmongering: “Forgive Russia, forget Germany, punish France” was the official US diplomatic stance.

    After some years, and the US realising that it had indeed been a bad idea, the relationship with France warmed up again. France made many efforts for that: Sarkozy had France re-enter the integrated command of NATO in 2007. Common military operations with the US, the UK and other NATO allies took place in Libya in 2011, and in 2017 in Syria (though the French were in favor of more important military actions against the Assad regime, the US decided to not do more than a few bombings).

    As for China, after some time of naivety (along with a good chunk of the western world, including the US), France realised in the 21st the threat China posed to peace and the world order as it is today. It therefore grew closer to the US and other countries in the Indo-Pacific regions in the 2010 decade, with many military cooperations, participations to military exercises with, among others, the US, the Uk, other European countries, Japan, Australia, and India.
    France put in place its own strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, the most important ones being with India and Australie. It was based on military sales, yes, but also on common sharing of military informations, logistical agreements in military bases for naval forces among partners, and the promise of regular trainings between the armed forces, especially the navies. France and US have exchanged planes on their respective carriers: rafales have landed on US carriers, and US F18 have also landed and operated on the Charle de Gaulle (CDG). The French navy participated in many US task forces with US carriers, and on two occasion (December 2015 and March-April 2021), France temporarily took the lead of a previously led US task force fighting ISIS with its CDG, when no US carrier was available. France also sent the CDG and the task force associated (sometimes with European, UK or US frigates in the escort, exactly like there are European, UK, Australian, Japanese or others in the escort of US lead task forces) near the south China sea, as well as its nuclear powered submarines. Those submarines were seen on US or Australian bases.
    France also started to put in place a promise of being able to deploy 24 rafales and support them for a long time (in addition to the navy) in a close future (2025 approximately) anywhere in the world on allied or French bases to either defend its “outre-mer” territories or its allies. Interestingly, as a test, we sent some rafales in French Polynesia (literally on the other side of the world compared to their bases in France), not through the expected road: France- UAE (or Djibouti)- India- Singapour and/or Australia maybe(?), but through the US and Hawaii, with therefore a symbolic stop in Pearl Harbour (no need to remind you that the First Pacific war started here. Or that the Japanese warned the US at the last moment, too late for them to react.)

    The relationship of France with US had of course not been without bumps in the recent years. There were of course the Trump years, with for example (among many things), his contempt for European allies not sharing their fair share of the military burden (though not really directed at France), the additional taxes on French wine or German cars, the threat of closing US bases in Germany and transferring soldiers to a more obedient Poland (as for their strategy towards Russia), etc. Despite the apparent reset with the election of Biden, there were also the lost sales of rafale in Switzerland and naval patrol planes to Germany under Biden, I’ll get back to that.

    As for military sales, there has always been a harsh competition between US and France, France usually selling to countries the US refused to sell weapons to or had not bothered answering to their needs. And yes, I am aware that it is a tad hypocritical to sell weapons to countries that do not share the same western values as us, but exportations is the price for French independence and being able to produce by itself most of the weapons France need, mostly ITAR free so as not to be dependent on US pressures.
    In recent years, France had to cancel the sale of 2 BPC (logistical boats) to Russia after the invasion of Crimea in 2014 (which might mark the start of the Second Cold War, unless you count 2013 and the complete control of Xi Jinping over China). That was under strong pressure of the US, other European allies and because France realised that its strategy to try to warm up to Russia had failed. After that, Poland canceled rather harshly a sale of French helicopters for US ones. Without any diplomacy: when the French asked for explanations, Poland pretty much said “we have no explanation to give to barbarians who ate with their hand before WE invented the fork”. Yes, that low. France didn’t make too much a fuss about it, I think to not weaken European unity, that really doesn’t need any more problems.
    Recently, in 2021 and under the Biden administration, the German cancelled a common project with the French for a naval patrol airplane, and instead bought P8 Boeing. Then, in Switzerland, it was thought that they would buy an European plane, either the eurofighter or the French rafale, but then Biden came to Switzerland, and 2 weeks later the F35 was surprisingly chosen, with a promise it would be much cheaper (despite the numerous delays and overcosts) and much better for Switzerland (despite the fact a stealth attack bomber doesn’t seem suited for air policing).
    That, along with the more global fact that the US retreated from Afghanistan without any consideration for their allies (whether European or Afghans), had already shed some doubts that Biden was really going to be more respectful towards US allies than Trump (who did more or less the same to the Kurd allies of the anti-ISIS coalition).

    Which (finally, sorry to have been so long) brings us to the crisis at hand. The US, UK and Australia used a very secret operation to deceive France, despite the fact the Australians were up until late August saying that they were trying to find solutions for the French-Australian submarine program, and that an important round of negotiations about moving forwards into starting building the submarines in Australia (that was to start in 2023) was expected to end in September.
    They were successful, France didn’t see it coming, despite knowing the contract had problem and was far from saved, France didn’t know Australia had already chosen competitors. France had won a competition for providing diesel-powered submarines to Australia; much of the delays and overcosts stem from the fact that the Australian wanted to convert a nuclear powered submarine into a conventional pone, wanted it to build it in Australia despite their shipyards were not ready for such a huge task, and also wanted it filled with US systems (Lockheed Martin) instead of French systems. “Only” 8 Billion euros of turnover were therefore to be for Naval Group, the rest was for Australian companies and LM. France could have more easily in fact built nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, and it would have been much cheaper to buy it off the shelf from France, much of the overcosts being because a whole complex and advanced industry was being built by the French for Australia.

    So, why is France taking it so bad? Why much more reaction than to an (admittedly big) loss of business for the French military industrial complex? Several reasons.

    First, the secrecy and deception. This operation was very secretive, and the conception of it looks very similar to an hostile economic operation against an enemy, not an ally. See here for more details:
    So, the UK, US and Australia went to huge lengths to deceive France, so that it had no way to salvage the contract, know of it in advance or even react. Hence the “stab in the back”.

    Second, it’s the announcement of a big alliance and partnership on many subjects. One that completely excludes France. I can maybe understand why they wanted to make it such a big deal, as a warning against China. But, as this was so secretive towards France, and it completely ignores France and its established strategic partnerships, it seems as much aimed at shattering France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific as to contain China. France strategy was more parallel than opposed to that of the US in the Pacific. Remember that the partnership with Australia was one of the two main legs of France strategy in the area, along with the one with India. Now, that strategy is crippled.

    Additionally, they are also weakening a very important international treaty, the non-nuclear proliferation pact, that Australia had until then defended fervently. It’s a much more “souple” interpretation than what was previously seen, with the export for the first time of a nuclear-based submarine to a non-nuclear power, though it’s for propulsion and not for nuclear weapons.

    Third, the manner it was announced is a complete slap in the face, diplomatically speaking. No mention of France, except for Biden’s in passing mention of “US oldest ally, France”. They are simply denying France any influence in the Indo-Pacific area. Despite the fact that France is the only country from continental Europe that has any big stakes in the area, any real long-term military presence, and might be key in tipping some European countries that may want to get more invested, military and strategically speaking, in Asia, against China.

    The Australians say they have tried to contact Macron at the last moment, but he didn’t take the call. Probably because it was night in France, and that earlier that night Macron was awake and busy, as he twitted about a French success that had just happened, the elimination of Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui, head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. He was responsible for the death of 4 American soldiers in an ambush in Sahel in 2017, as well as the deaths of French soldiers in Mali, regularly. So the French were warned only by some lower ranking official and at the very last moment.
    France has been slapped in the face, stabbed in the back, and then Biden remark about the “oldest ally of the US” is not doing any good to sweeten it: it’s like saying, after a slap, “Yes, good boy. Yes you are. Here is a (meager) bone, now go sit in the corner, we’ll call you when we need you.”
    It’s also a reminder of Bush Junior in 2001, remember? “France is US oldest ally, and has engaged a third of its fleet to help us”, right before the 2003 diplomatic crisis, “punish France”. Empty and insincere words.

    Its the combination of all these factors, as well as some remains of bad history in modern times between France and the US, that makes it such a big deal and that the French government had to, yes really they had no choice, had to react as strongly as they did. If they had not reacted, that would have meant accepting to be completely aligned with US strategy and diplomacy, but with a much less important role and much less consideration than the UK (which, arguably, is not really favored in this position either, see the reaction of some British representatives in the Parliamant after the Afghan retreat, who were bitter that the US had not even listened to their requests to slow down the calendar of operations).

    You have to understand that Macron is, compared to many French presidents coming before him, very pro-Americain (relative to French politics that is). He is considered as very liberal economically, and he was already criticised for aligning too much it’s strategy on the US, especially towards China. In fact, the French strategy was, slowly but surely, leaning towards getting closer to a strategy of containment of China in Asia in cooperation with the US and all its allies. But the French people would not have understood if there had been no reaction from the French government to this crisis.

    So, what now? Well, I think it will be a harsh lesson for Macron and its government. Do not trust too much the US or its closest allies, who would choose to ditch France in favor of the US in a heartbeat, as they just did once again. Unless I’m wrong, Macron is likely to be reelected next year for 5 more years, and so this diplomatic strain on France and other countries will probably linger. (There is no good alternative to Macron in the upcoming election: the left and the right are completely divided, and the only other possibility is either Marine Le Pen, a far right politician, or even worst, Eric Zeymour, a populist polemicist. Trust me, they would me worst for everyone, both France and its partners, than Macron. Sadly, the possibility, albeit small, that Le Pen is elected exists.)
    Even if it’s not Macron anyway, future governments will probably learn from this experience. It might be a tough but valuable experience in the long run for France, to be less naive, more assertive and not trust too much even its closest allies. The choice is then for France either to rely more on EU allies, or to rely less on any other country by trying even more to have a capable army depending on no one. The question of the level of participation of France in NATO (remaining in the integrated command or not?) is also at stake. The strategy of France in the Indo-Pacific region is to be reinvented. Closer ties with India, maybe, with a stronger offering of producing rafales in India, a similar model as to what the Russians are doing, and taking advantage of the fact Dassault aviation already has a foot in India by setting an industrial base. Probably also offering to sell submarines, diesel or nuclear powered to some marines in Asia that fear China too, since now that the US has opened the Pandora box, France has no interest in keeping to the most strict interpretation of the non-proliferation treaty. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, maybe even Vietnam, come to mind. Other military sales and strategic partnerships to these countries too, maybe in cooperation with India in offering a rafale that would be at least partly built in India.

    Stopping, or at least greatly diminishing, military cooperation with Australia of course. The Australians have, from the French point of view, not respected their promises, so the agreement of closer cooperation will be considered null and void. The trust is destroyed, and would take time to be granted again. Any cooperation would have to be rebuilt, maybe not from scratch but from a much lower point than what was achieved until now.

    With the US, it is of course more complicated for the French armies. France need the logistical support of the US, for example in Sahel, were they have common ennemies. It is not in France’s interest to go to far in retaliations or in straining the military ties with the US. But on the other hand, France has to react strongly, to remind the US that they are an ally, not a vassal, something the US seems to have forgotten.

    For the UK… well, France is not surprised. They are our best enemy, or our worst ally, we don’t know anymore, and we are theirs, and have been throughout History. The fact they were apparently the first ones to contact the Australian about this whole scheme will surprise absolutely no one in France. In fact, with the Brexit, their intent was rather obvious, even honest in a way: they don’t want to be as close allies with any continental European country anymore, their priority is the US and the Commonwealth. Thus, the straining of an already somewhat strained relationship is probably going to be the least obvious one. The bilateral Lancaster House Treaties of 2010 for a close defense and security cooperation had already been somewhat reduced to a few strategic cooperations, as some big projects (common fighters, common aircraft carriers) had not been pursued early on, but some are still very much active (missiles or nuclear cooperation), and it would probably not be in either of our countries interest to stop them. Geography is what it is, the UK is always going to be France’s neighbour and a (non-continental) European country, as much as they’d like to deny it. France is counting its true allies, they are not numerous, and most of them are in Europe, being too agressive with the UK with which most Europeans countries have close ties would be counter-productive to the pro-European stance of France (you may say it’s the same for the US, but France is trying to convince its European allies they should rely less on the US, and more on their immediate neighbours and themselves, it’s a question of coherence).

    Another consequence for French intel services: they have concentrated on Russia, China, Iran and other potential ennemies. They should try also to pay more attention to their allies. After all, we all know the US never hesitate to spy on its own allies, and has done time and again, we should do the same towards them, so much of the fate of the world relies on the US that France should not be blind towards real US intentions.

    Also, if France is not considered an important power by the two superpowers and we are getting ignored, maybe it is a good thing in a way, and we can stay out of the war they seem to be pushing the whole world towards. The probability that France will stay neutral (and simply defend its Pacific territories), and encourage some of its European neighbours to stay neutral along them, has increased, and Australia, the UK and US might have lost an ally against China. I’m not saying France would have necessarily automatically joined a war against China, in a US-led coalition in case of invasion of Taiwan by China for example, before all that, but the likeliness of that happening has seriously decreased. Not only that, but for other European allies (members of NATO or not), if France doesn’t join this coalition, it could be an opportunity to hide behind someone else to take the blame if they don’t join either, like they did in 2003 (many European countries who also opposed the war in Irak did it discretely, and were happy to have France as a lightning rod of sort to escape most of the American wrath). On the contrary, some European countries with a small but not entirely negligible navy could have joined a French-led European naval task force (another one would probably be led by the UK) by sending one or 2 frigates/destroyers (or mine sweepers, or even logistical boat) as escort, and would have participated in this US-led coalition to help Taiwan in a minimalist way. I am not overestimating the French influence over its neighbours, who are mostly not really interested in getting involved in a real fight in the Indo-Pacific region anyway, but it is a possibility.

    A recent example of this (small, but not negligible) influence is the French led European task force Takuba, fighting terrorists in Mali: despite France constantly asking the Europeans to help in a fighting role, many preferred to only help in a logistical role, or in UN-led formation missions for the Malian army. Yet, some have joined France in the fighting role nonetheless (though mostly with rather small contingents): Estonia, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Romania and (soon) Greece (plus a few in only liaison officers’ role that I don’t count as a fighting mission).

    In this matter, being an independent nuclear power is a big advantage: without the US, France is weak in the Indo-Pacific region? True. But just casually remind China that French Polynesia and New-Caledonia are France. That at any moment, there is a French ballistic missile submarine somewhere in the oceans of the world. And that French is very much intending to use nuclear weapons if any part of its territory were to be attacked and invaded. With that, China should have no problem at all with a neutral France, and would not take incredibly dangerous risks for some far away land.

    So, what could Australia have done to avoid this diplomatic rift with France? Well, very simple really.

    They could have announced officially and in advance that they are changing their mind, and that given the new strategic threat that China poses (or they could have avoided naming China, whatever), they now need nuclear-powered submarines, with much higher autonomy than the previously requested diesel-powered ones. Then, they announce they are looking for alternatives, and are still discussing with the French the aftermath and cancellation or transformation of the previous contract. They could then have asked France if they could be sold the non-transformed version of the very modern nuclear-powered Barracuda/ Suffren class that is entering right now in French Navy service (in fact, the first one, the Suffren, is about to enter full operational service in the coming weeks- not at all a paper submarine). This is among the best and most silent submarines in the world (if only because there are not that many very recent nuclear powered submarines entering service). If France had refused to deliver the nuclear technology, or if no agreement could have been reached concerning for example the construction or maintenance in Australia, they could then have cancelled completely the contract in good faith and paid the appropriate cancellation fees. Discussions about a continuation of the strategic partnership between France and Australia, that are in no way exclusive of other strategic partnerships with the US or UK, could have continued without much strain. In parallel, they could have talked with the UK and the US, not hiding these discussions to France, though not making it too public if they want for obvious reasons concerning China. You are going to say: but wouldn’t they have lost time doing that? No, because we see the AUKUS agreement gives Australia, the UK and the US 18 months to discuss the practical details of what kind of submarines they want. With discussions officially (though discretely) opened, this period of thinking could have begun as well, and no time would have been lost. The only real downside to that is that it could have given an earlier warning to China of Australian intentions, but given the already heavy pressure of China upon Australia, that would not have changed much.

    1. Mathias

      Wonderfully wirtten, learned quite a bit – thanks !
      (to nitpick – France left MAWS, but even from a german perspective quite understandably so)

      1. Thank you.

        You say France left MAWS. As in, “Missile Approach Warning System”? I’m afraid I don’t know what you are referring to. Did France leave a joint program of MAWS with other countries, that is relevant to something I said?

      2. Mathias

        I meant “Maritime Airborne Warfare System”. Germany hoped to use P3 Orion until this project arrives, but the planes were in worse shape than thought and no option. France offered some of their old planes as stopgap, but instead Germany bought 5 P8 Poseidon as interim solution, which lead to France leaving the programme for an all-French solution.

      3. Ok, thank you for that precision, I had forgotten that this project was shortened MAWS.

        The 4 “old” planes (Atlantic 2) that France offered Germany as a stop gap are old platforms, yes, but with a very modernised defense system, so not really outdated. France intends to keep these planes (that gave, and still give, full satisfaction as far as I know) flying until 2035 and beyond. Makes sense for France since we built them, though I can understand why German prefered brand new US planes. And Germany on the contrary abandoned the project to modernise its P3C Orion and keep them until 2035, so it needed replacements now, not after the long development of a new plane. The timetables were no longer matching.

        I suppose France considered that if Germany was to buy US planes, a common plane was not needed anymore (in practical terms, Germany already filled approximately half the fleet of naval patrol planes it needs with these American planes, 5 out of 8-10 max probably; developing a brand new plane for the other half doesn’t make much industrial sense). Such are the multi-national projects in defense: sometimes the needs of different armies don’t match anymore, and the project fall through.

    1. Herciv

      The AUKUS is no more than an anglo bloc. If everything is understood. All the nations all over the world have to find witch bloc they can belong to.

  19. Herciv

    PM’s trip to Indonesia cancelled amid fallout over AUKUS alliancehttps://www.skynews.com.au/australia-news/defence-and-foreign-affairs/pms-trip-to-indonesia-cancelled-amid-fallout-over-aukus-alliance/video/4d36d6d5443d240c5e32f4f8d9e071ef
    ” He also reached out to the prime ministers of Singapore, Japan and India.”

    And Germanyhttps://www.german-foreign-policy.com/news/detail/8708/

    The conflict now additionally overshadows the long-planned stay of the frigate Bavaria in Australia. Germany is also affected by France’s snubbing by the three AUKUS states: Atlas Elektronik from Bremen, among others, would have been involved in the construction of the French submarines; but also in terms of foreign and military policy, “AUKUS is putting a damper on European efforts in the Indo-Pacific,” according to German military circles. [10] The CDU foreign policy expert Johann Wadephul is now demanding that the new German government “clearly take France’s side” after the election; moreover, Brussels finally needs “strategic autonomy: Otherwise, the EU will continue to be bypassed in the future.”[11]”

    1. JayJay

      Hello , very interesting to look at the international reactions to this crisis.
      Globally, Indo-Pacific countries seem worried about this alliance, the risk of nuclear proliferation and the race for arm escalation that Aukus has kind of kicked off. Germany is very quiet, but come on, should we really await anything bold from Germany on the international stage.
      I think France plays wisely for the time being by getting closer to India and Indonesia (what a hasard, these are Rafale countries :)). These are key players in the zone and there is a clear possibility to build a strong alliance to counterbalance Aukus and to kind of interplay betweChina and Aukus.
      To be followed, we are entering interesting- but dangerous times.

      1. Herciv

        I think that by far it is the most interesting. Aukus is a coherent partnership cement by a same cultur, covering the whole world and made to go beyond the scope of everyone here. The indo-pacific reaction is to note that AUKUS as Chinese could be worrying by having their own decisions without taking account of the rest of the world.
        The next months will be very interresting in that I think that other blocs will emerge perhaps around ASEAN or MERCOSUR or UE with cross partnership.
        All AUKUS members game will be to make the AUKUS a little association of cultural and mind affairs. This is not. But they need to find other members agreing to follow an anglo way of though ruled from US.

      2. Mathias

        As a german, I would expect more than just our usual hesitation in power politics as we still hope to sell Australia some IFVs (let´s se how well that goes now ….), and well … elections.
        To see how far Germany supports France, I would look at EU level as I guess we will try to mask everything we might do trough EU channels

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  21. Herciv

    About the negociations to come between France and Australia. France is in a very good position since the Colins’s engines are partly made in France … Or the Australia will pay by billions or the colins are useless.
    “Unfortunately, the AUKUS partners have managed to alienate France in the process of assembling their new coalition. Canberra’s cancellation of the contract with France’s Naval Group to supply 12 diesel-electric submarines inflicted the material harm, but it was the manner of doing it that really stung French pride. Paris called it “a stab in the back” by Canberra, Washington and London.

    This was not only boofheaded diplomacy. It leaves Australia with no supply contract for any new submarines from anywhere whatsoever, and actually endangers critical capabilities of Australia’s existing six submarines.

    How? Because the six Collins class subs that will constitute Australia’s only submarine capability for the next 20 years rely on French companies for essential components. The main motors of the Collins class subs are made by Juemont and their switching gear is made by Schneider Electric, both French firms. These components were designed and built specifically for the Australian subs – you can’t buy them off the shelf at Bunnings.

    The Morrison government says that it will extend the lives of these subs into the 2040s. To do so, they will need support from Juemont and Schneider. If Paris vetoes this, Australia will be even more exposed than it is now.

    Morrison says the decision to dump the French contract was all about the greater capability of the nuclear option from the US and UK. But French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says he called his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on June 23 and specifically asked whether Australia would prefer the French subs be nuclear-powered rather than diesel?

    The original submarine model built by France’s Naval Group is nuclear-powered; it was converting them to diesel at Canberra’s request. It would actually be easier and faster to supply Australia with nuclear-powered French subs, according to a source with technical knowledge. Le Drian says he never got a reply. No wonder Paris is furious.”

    1. Matias

      Just some things to point out.

      1. Also in the AUKUS agreement it means that the US and UK will send more ships to dock in Australia, thus patrolling the area more and making Australia more secured.
      2. Australia PM will also consider renting or buying some SSN from US or UK in the mean time.
      3. According to the Australian PM they preferred the US or UK SSN because their nuclear reactor did not needed to be refueled for 35 years and the French required to be refueled (rods replaced?) every 9 years.
      4. The US will also rotate squadrons of different type of aircraft to Australia.
      5. In a different note I understand Australia was also not too happy with the French Tiger helicopter and it will replace them with Boeing AH-64 Apaches.

  22. Herciv

    The spokesman of the ministry of the army changes completely his strategy.
    No more glove concerning the AUKUS members :

  23. Herciv

    Sorry it is better in English

  24. Herciv

    Just for the archives :https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2021/06/BULARD/63167
    Even the most ardent supporters of the Indo-Pacific – such as the Indian international relations specialist Brahma Chellaney, who saw the QUAD as a “new dynamic (…) in response to China’s aggressive expansionism” (17) – were quickly disillusioned by what they called “American arrogance”. The cause of this reversal was the penetration into the waters of India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of a guided missile destroyer during naval exercises called “Freedom of Navigation” on 7 April. Far from apologizing, Washington sent New Delhi back on the ropes, saying that these zones meant nothing in international law and that India had “excessive maritime claims”. Yet it is in the name of respecting the EEZs of the riparian countries claimed by Beijing that the American navy and air force, like those of the QUAD, come and go in the China Sea!

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  25. Simple Fench Citizen

    Hi Corporal,

    Just a quick reaction to one sentence “If it’s stupid but works it isn’t stupid, but unfortunately for the Shortfin Barracuda the basic project was just stupid and didn’t work.”

    I am really not convinced that the project was stalled and would not have worked: the shipyard was being built, the tenders were prepared or already in place, there was a LM team in Cherbourg along with several dozens Australian engineers.

    And we now learn that the Australian project director, an admiral, had sent a formal letter both to the French Ministry of Armed Forces and to Naval Group, informing them that a contractual milestone had been completed and that the contract would proceed to the next phase.

    Behold! The letter was received on September the 15th, 2021

    Source : official porte-parole for the french Ministry of defense Hervé Grandjean (in French, sorry, deepl is your friend 🙂https://twitter.com/HerveGrandjean/status/1440432455706558466https://twitter.com/BFMTV/status/1440424844982571009

    Something went badly wrong with this contract, but it may well be that it was not from the French side.

  26. Blue 5

    Excellent and informative article with a dash of Husk Kit humour. Comments section as always a great addition to the original story.

    Lot of talk of blocs and alliances (plus submarines) makes me feel a little pre-1914…

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