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France Sells Submarines to Australia in One of the Biggest Defense Contracts in the World

The 12 advanced vessels, touted as the best of their kind in the world, cost $40 billion and are meant to keep up with regional powers like China.

by Pierre-Louis Caron
Apr 26 2016, 5:50pm

Image of submarine via DCNS/EPA

France has won one of the biggest defense contracts in recent years with an order to build 12 submarines for the Australian navy. The $40-billion deal — which has been described as Australia's "largest-ever" defense contract — is part of the government's promise to invest heavily in the country's military and was described by experts as the largest of its kind in the world.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Tuesday that French military shipbuilder DCNS had won the contract. Speaking on Tuesday to French radio station Europe 1, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the contract as a "great" and "beautiful" victory for France. According to the minister, France beat two years of "stiff competition" from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi to clinch the deal.

According to the DCNS website, the Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A submarine will be "the most lethal" submarine ever made, and will equip Australia with a "regionally superior" submarine capability. The 97-meter long vessel will be silent, and its propulsion technology and state-of-the-art sonar will give it "tactical advantage" over the enemy.

Construction is expected to begin in 2017, and the new fleet should be operational by 2027.

France and Australia have both said that the "historic" contract would bring a much-needed boost to domestic employment, with the vessel being designed by French engineers but built almost entirely in Adelaide, in South Australia.

"Australian built, Australian jobs, Australian steel, here right where we stand," said the Prime Minister, who traveled to Adelaide to make the announcement.

Construction of the new fleet is expected to create 2,800 jobs in Australia. With the next federal election less than a year away, the creation of thousands of new jobs could boost the current government's chances for reelection. Last week, Turnbull announced that 12 offshore patrol vessels and a fleet of frigates would also be built in Adelaide.

As well as generating new jobs, the deal makes good on a promise to invest in the nation's military — as outlined in the government's recently published Defence White Paper. After several years of reduced annual defense spending, Australia's defense budget is set to rise significantly between now and 2021, so that the country can "keep up" with Asia-Pacific powers like China. Over the next five years, the government is set to inject 195 billion Australian dollars ($150 billion) to expand the country's military capabilities. The money, the government has said, will be spent on weapons, training, research and defense innovation.

The Australian army currently has troops deployed in 10 overseas operations, including in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq, where it is part of an international coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

This is not the first time Australia turns to France for its defense needs. In October 2015, Turnbull announced that the nation's land army would order 1,100 Hawkei armored vehicles as part of a $1.3 billion deal with French defense contractor Thales. At the time, Turnbull justified the deal by invoking the need for greater protection from improvised explosive devices, denying the acquisition would mean greater military engagement.

Back in October, Corentin Brustlein, a research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations, told VICE News that, while the Hawkei contract was "not negligible," it was dwarfed by the government's plans to sign submarine and fighter jet contracts. Such contracts, he said, were "much more in line with Australia's ambitions: to be more autonomous if needed."

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenewsFR

This article originally appeared in VICE News' French edition.

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