TechnicAtome and Naval Group have recently performed the divergence of the nuclear reactor onboard French Navy’s first Barracuda-class attack submarine, Suffren.
The divergence of Suffren’s nuclear reactor was performed by teams from both the companies on the Cherbourg site in accordance with the authorizations issued by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire – ASN) and the French Defence Procurement Agency (Direction générale de l’armement, DGA). This new milestone is a prelude to the vessel’s first sea acceptance tests prior to its delivery in 2020.
Designed under the responsibility of the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Agency (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, CEA), the nuclear reactor was built under the prime contracting of French reactor designer TechnicAtome with Naval Group responsible for the production of the pressure equipment and the integration of the reactor on-board the Barracuda submarines.
One thousand employees from both companies are working full time on the six reactors of the Barracuda program.
The divergence operation is conducted from the Propulsion Control Station (PCS) of the Suffren. The operation consists in triggering a controlled nuclear reaction in the core for the first time. Lasting only a short time, this operation marks the beginning of the constant monitoring of the nuclear reactor by the operating teams. This operation will be continuous until the decommissioning of the submarine, planned for the 2050 decade.
“The first divergence of the nuclear reactor is a privileged moment for all those who contributed to make this operational and technological success possible. From the designer to the operator, and including the fitters, testers, welders and so many other trades, this is a rare moment of collective achievement, the symbol of a sector that lives up to its ambitions in the service of the French Navy”, said Loïc Rocard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of TechnicAtome.
“The start-up of the nuclear reactor on-board the Suffren submarine is a new demonstration of the know-how of the French nuclear industrial sector, with TechnicAtome and Naval Group in the forefront. This success gives the country an unequaled defence tool with a high degree of industrial autonomy benefitting the sovereignty of France”, said Hervé Guillou, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Naval Group.
Suffren was launched on July 12 this year in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron. The submarine is expected to begin its sea trials in the first quarter of 2020 to arrive in Toulon before the summer.
French Navy Barracuda class SSNs
Barracuda class (also called Suffren class after the lead ship of the class) is a class of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs; French: Sous-marins nucléaires d’attaque, SNA) being developed for the French Navy.
Launched in 1998 by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), the Barracuda program renews the Navy’s SSN component currently composed of six Rubis class SSNs commissioned from the early 1980s. The associated development contract was notified in December 2006.
Naval Group is the overall prime contractor of the submarine program and TechnicAtome is the prime contractor for the nuclear reactor. The French Defence Procurement Agency ( Direction générale de l’armement, DGA) is in charge of the overall program, with the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, CEA) for the nuclear reactor.
Barracuda SSNs will use technologies from the French Navy’s currently operational Triomphant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), including pump-jet propulsion.
The submarines will have a length of 99 meters, a diameter of 8.8 meters, a surfaced displacement of 4,700 tonnes and an underwater displacement of 5,300 tonnes.
The boats will be powered by a 50MW K15 pressurized water reactor derived from the reactors on board the Triomphant-class SSBNs and Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier. They will have two propulsion turbines, two turbo generators and two electric motors driving a single ducted propeller (pump-jet). The SSNs will have a maximum speed of about 25 knots and a maximum diving depth of more than 350 m.
The Barracuda-class submarines will be armed with torpedo-tube-launched cruise missile, MdCN (Missile de Croisière Naval, Naval Cruise Missile). MdCN is the sea-launched variant of the SCALP EG low-observable air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) developed by MBDA Missile Systems. The missile has an operational range of over 1,000 km (620 mi) and can be fired against strategic land targets.
The submarines will be also armed with F21 Artemis heavyweight torpedoes, Exocet SM39 Block2 anti-ship missiles and FG29 mines.
Barracudas will have a crew complement of 65. In support of special operations missions, they may also accommodate up to 12 commandos, while carrying their equipment in a dry deck shelter attached aft of the sail. The dry deck shelter will also allow the deployment of underwater vehicles.
The primary missions of the Barracuda-class vessels will include anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare (ASuW, ASW), land attack, intelligence gathering, crisis management and special operations missions.
The French Navy plans to have six SNA Barracuda in service by 2030 and the first four is scheduled to be delivered over the period of 2020-2025. Considering that the lifespan of Suffren type SSNs will be more than 35 years, these new submarines will serve the French Navy at least up to 2060, making it one of the major French weapon systems of this century.