A mega deal to build Australian submarines was so important to France, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said today, that he will personally supervise the project as Paris and Sydney bolster defence ties.
French contractor DCNS last week beat off competition from Japan and Germany to seal the 12-submarine 50-billion Australian dollar (USD 39 billion) contract, prompting Valls to make a surprise visit to Canberra.
“I will supervise, myself, the implementation of our commitments with the Minister of Defence who will be coming shortly to Australia,” Valls told a joint press conference with Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.
“It is an industrial and economic partnership. It is also a partnership that binds us for a very long time on other issues, including security and defence,” he added.
DCNS plans to build a 4,500-tonne conventionally-powered version of its 4,700-tonne Barracuda, which the company has described as “the most technically complex artefact in Australia”.
The DCNS website says, the new vessel would be “the recipient of France’s most sensitive and protected submarine technology and will be the most lethal conventional submarine ever contemplated”.
A Japanese government-backed consortium, led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and German group ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, was also in the running. But, Canberra said, DCNS was considered “best to meet all of our unique capability requirements”.
The tender process was politically sensitive domestically, with national elections expected in July.
Canberra insisted that all the subs be built in Australia amid fears any off-the-shelf purchase could kill off the domestic shipbuilding industry.