French ‘Frankenstein’ Nuke-Attack Submarine Resumes Sea Ops After Unprecedented Repair Post Fire Accident

After a violent fire onboard the French submarine SNA Perle that put it out of operation, the vessel is finally back into the operational cycle after a long period of repairs completed within the deadlines set by the Marine Nationale or the French Navy.

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SNA Perle is a first-generation nuclear attack submarine of the French Navy of the Rubis-class and is the sixth and the last to be manufactured. Launched on September 22, 1990, the vessel went into service on July 7, 1993, and is still used today.

However, SNA Perle was taken out of service and sent for repairs in 2020.

On July 6, the French Navy announced that following a sea trial process, the SNA Perle completed its period of Unavailability for Maintenance and Repairs (IPER) on June 30, 2023, which marks the vessel’s return to the operational cycle.

Moreover, the Chief of the Staff of the French Navy said in a tweet, “As announced several months ago, the SNA Perle is back in the operational cycle, three years after the fire which ravaged its forward part. It underwent a remarkable and unprecedented industrial operation, respecting deadlines.”

The tweet accompanied a video showing the submarine’s front on fire. Several firefighters and crew members could be seen working in coordination to douse the fire and bring the situation under control amid thick smoke billowing from the vessel.

Then the video shows the stages of repair work the vessel has been through over time, docked in different shipyards. Brief clips of engineers and mechanics working diligently to restore the ship show how the industrial operation was conducted.

The 1.30 minutes-long clip has a time-lapse that keeps changing frame showing how the vessel has gone from being heavily damaged by the arson that put it out of action to being repaired to looking as good as new and conducting trials in the sea.

The last few shots of the video have been taken from the sea as the vessel submerges, splashing the water onto the camera.

The French Navy said in its official announcement that a commission of the representatives of the Directorate General for Armaments (DGA), the Fleet Support Service (SSF), the Permanent Commission for Programs and Tests (CPPE), and the Nuclear Submarine Squadron of attack (ESNA) validated the technical compliance of the vessel as well as its ability to navigate while diving in complete safety.

The nuclear attack submarine (SNA) initially had intense repair work by the Naval Group based in Cherbourg using a procedure that had never been employed before. This was followed by the resumption of its IPER in Toulon at the end of 2021.

Later, in November of last year, the SNA Perle departed the basin and started testing dockside. Only in May this year was the vessel put to testing at sea. The first static dive, performed on May 22 in the harbor of Toulon, signaled the beginning of the sea trials, according to the French Naval forces.

The service further noted in its announcement that during its IPER, the SNA Perle was “made fit to implement the F21 torpedo arming the SNAs of the Suffren-type.”

Back From The Ashes

Over three years ago, while the Perle was docked at the military port of Toulon for maintenance and repairs, a fire broke out near the ship’s bow. The fire began in the morning and was fully doused almost twelve hours after it started.

When the fire was noticed, firefighters poured foam into the submarine’s back chambers. According to reports from the time, a fireboat and at least 30 specialized naval fighters were immediately roped in.

Fortunately, the fire did not result in any known injuries. Moreover, there was no chance of radioactive contamination since the submarine’s 48-megawatt pressurized water nuclear reactor had been removed when it entered the drydock in January 2020.


On October 22, 2020, the Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, decided to have the Perle repaired in Cherbourg and extend the series’ first SNA Rubis until 2022. The transfer of the submarine between the two ports was carried out using the “roll dock” type barge.

The Naval Group shipyards, under the direction of the Fleet Support Service (SSF), carried out repair work on an unprecedented scale as part of a significant technical shutdown.

Using cutting and welding techniques mastered by the manufacturer, the work involved replacing the front half of the submarine with that of the recently retired submarine Saphir, followed by the completion of the electrical and hydraulic connection between the two pieces.

Over 250,000 hours were spent working and over 100,000 hours studying to unite the front part of Saphir to Perle. The submarine’s displacement increased by 68 tons, and she gained nearly a meter in length throughout the process.

However, even though everything was going as planned, Perle sustained a second fire while undergoing refurbishment in a dry dock at the Toulon arsenal in September 2022. However, no substantial damage was reported in this incident. Before the fire, the submarine was expected to resume operations in the first quarter of 2023.

The submarine finally departed dry dock on November 17, 2022, to conduct more testing before the anticipated start of sea trials that began in May. And after a long period of constant industrial work, the vessel is finally back into action, securing operational potential until 2028.