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Missing submarine a lesson for Australia


The French designer building Australia’s new fleet of submarines will take lessons from a missing Argentinian vessel.

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The search for the ARA San Juan and its 44 crew has entered a critical phase with oxygen levels close to being exhausted.

The submarine was 432 kilometres off Argentina’s coast before contact was lost a week ago.

Naval Group has the $50 billion contract for Australia’s 12 new submarines to be built in Adelaide.

Naval Group executive director of the Australian subs program Jean-Michel Billig says crew security is a top-level requirement in the design.

“Wherever there is an accident, we want to understand what triggered the accident and that this accident cannot happen on our boats, and if necessary we have to adapt the design,” he told reporters in Paris.

It is too early to speculate on what happened in the Argentine case but Naval Group is closely monitoring the situation.

The French submarine maker has pioneered technology in extracting crew and has super secret communication measures for emergency situations.

The first steel for the Australian submarines is expected to be cut by 2022, with the first vessels due to enter service in the early 2030s.

The Australian submarine design will be based on France’s Barracuda nuclear powered submarine.

Billig confirmed the the first French Barracuda is facing a year’s delay to hit the water because of problems with a nuclear power plant, but this won’t impact Australia’s project which will be diesel powered.

Australia’s ambassador to France is expected to inspect the first finished French submarine next week.

Meanwhile, One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson will not be invited for a submarine 101 in France.

Hanson came unstuck in October when she attempted to grill Australian defence department officials about an inaccurate theory that pump jet submarines can only stay under water for 20 minutes.

Department experts had to patiently explain to her engineering features and that a pump jet propeller related to battery life and had nothing to do with underwater endurance.

Billig politely declined to invite the senator to see the French Barracuda submarine.

“The French Barracuda is a sensitive topic for French national security,” he said.

“We do (visits) on a need-to-know basis.”

The first five of 100 Australian engineers to undergo a three year submarine design course in Cherbourg, France, are expected to start their training in January.

They’ll then return to Adelaide to train other Australian engineers on Naval Group’s processes.

The writer travelled to France on a study tour as a guest of the French Embassy in Canberra.


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