After Australia & India Setback, French Naval Group Wins $6.17 Billion Submarine Deal From Netherlands

The Netherlands has awarded France’s Naval Group a contract worth €5.65 billion (US $6.17 billion) to construct four conventionally-powered submarines, aiming to replace its aging Cold War-era Walrus class vessels.

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Naval Group secured the contract after outbidding competitors ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems from Germany and Saab Kockums of Sweden, who collaborated with Dutch shipbuilder Damen.

Under the agreement, Naval Group will furnish a conventionally-powered iteration of its Barracuda submarine to replace the Royal Netherlands Navy’s four Walrus-class attack submarines. The first submarine of that aging series was decommissioned in October 2023. 

According to a statement from the Dutch Defense Ministry on March 15, the Naval Group is tasked with delivering the first two submarines within a decade of signing the contract.

The contract specifies a significant involvement of Dutch industry, a prerequisite highlighted by Dutch State Secretary of Defence Christophe van der Maat in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Dutch Ministry of Defense

During a presentation at the Dutch naval base in Den Helder, the minister also disclosed the names of the new submarines: HNLMS Orka (Orca), Zwaardvis (Swordfish), Barracuda, and Tijgerhaai (Tiger Shark). The signing of the delivery contract will occur after the parliamentary debate on the tender assessment.  

The Netherlands’ decision to select France’s Naval Group marks a considerable victory for the French company, which has encountered significant challenges in recent times.  

One such setback occurred in 2022 when Naval Group withdrew from participation in India’s P-75I project, which aimed to domestically construct six conventional submarines for the Indian Navy.

Naval Group had proposed a diesel-electric variant of its Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine for the Indian project. However, the company’s decision to pull out stemmed from conditions outlined in the request for proposal (RFP) related to the fuel cell AIP (air-independent propulsion) technology’s sea-proven status. 

The company said that the technology was not currently utilized by the French Navy, leading to concerns about meeting the project requirements. 

Further, Naval Group faced major disappointment when Australia initially chose its conventionally powered diesel-electric variant, the Shortfin Barracuda, of the Barracuda-class submarine; however, the decision was later overturned in favor of nuclear-powered submarines from the United States and the United Kingdom under the AUKUS agreement in 2021.  

Netherlands’ New Submarines 

The Netherlands has embarked on an ambitious naval modernization program. It has already allocated funds to replace its primary naval assets. 

Along with plans to construct over 20 surface vessels within the next decade, representing an investment exceeding €11 billion, the Dutch sought an expeditionary submarine capable of operating in their overseas territories.

The Chief of Defence of the Netherlands, Gen. Onno Eichelsheim, highlighted that the selected vessels offer increased strike power and enhanced operational capabilities, making them suitable for deployment worldwide across various mission types. 

The chosen French submarines, designed by Naval Group as the Black Sword, represent a conventionally powered iteration of Naval Group’s Barracuda family. 

This design prevailed over competing proposals from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, offering a version of the Type 212CD submarine, and a joint bid from the Dutch Damen Group and Sweden’s Saab Kockums for the C718 submarine, derived from the A26 Blekinge class.

Following their unsuccessful bid, Saab/Damen expressed their unwavering belief that their proposal constituted the optimal and most Dutch-centric solution, leveraging existing Dutch knowledge and expertise to enhance the safety and autonomy of the Netherlands. 

Certain lawmakers had also criticized the government for considering Naval Group, raising concerns that the company could prioritize French job creation over the interests of the Dutch naval construction industry. 

However, the Dutch Ministry of Defense underscored the versatile nature of the Black Sword design. The Ministry highlighted its unique ability to operate in both shallow and deep waters. 

This capability enables the submarines to conduct missions independently for prolonged periods, addressing the Netherlands’ diverse operational requirements.

The ministry stated that, akin to their predecessors, the new submarines would maintain a relatively small size, which would enable them to navigate shallow waters effectively. 

Yet, as they will be larger than submarines designed for localized operations, these new vessels will possess the capability to operate independently for extended durations away from their home base.

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The ministry highlighted a significant enhancement in design, saying that the inclusion of cruise missile launch capabilities would substantially augment the submarines’ striking power. 

The Netherlands intends to equip the new submarines with RTX’s Tomahawk cruise missiles, which will provide them with a maritime strike capacity that the Walrus class currently lacks.

The Dutch also evaluated the French MdCN naval cruise missile but deemed its range inadequate compared to the Tomahawk’s range of over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles). 

Additionally, the ministry acknowledged that information regarding the Anglo-French Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC-ASW), still in development, is limited but affirmed its commitment to monitoring developments surrounding it.

The new submarines will be suitable for special forces operations and carry torpedoes. Enhanced sensors will make the vessels better equipped for intelligence-gathering activities. 

Further, modern battery technology would provide them with increased energy capacity compared to the Walrus class, enabling longer periods of submersion, as highlighted by the ministry.