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Steel cutting for the first third-generation French Navy nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), known as the SNLE 3G, took place at Naval Group’s yard in Cherbourg on 20 March 2024, the French shipbuilder announced the same day.

Launched in February 2021, the SNLE 3G programme will deliver four SSBNs to form France’s future sea-based nuclear deterrent. The programme brings together the armed forces; France’s defence procurement agency (Direction Générale de l’Armement – DGA), which is responsible for overall project management; the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), responsible for the nuclear boilers; and Naval Group, which is responsible for overall project management of the submarine build, in association with TechnicAtome for the nuclear boilers.

The programme’s first follow-on contract, awarded in February 2021, covers development studies up to the end of 2025, as well as long lead time procurement, production of the first hull and boiler room components for the first 3G SSBN and adaptation of Naval Group’s manufacturing resources to the specific requirements of the 3G SSBNs.

Production of the main components of the nuclear boiler room and propulsion system, in particular the tank for the first SNLE 3G, has already begun at Naval Group’s Nantes-Indret site.

The 3G SSBNs will feature a number of major technological advances over their predecessors, which Naval Group detailed as featuring: an extended detection capability, with sensors of the highest technological standard; enhanced stealth, including improved hydrodynamics and increased manoeuvrability; high-performance weapons and combat system, able to carry out deterrence missions until the end of the 2080s; the highest levels of nuclear safety and security; the latest standards of living conditions for sailors on board, thanks in particular to a new plant for reprocessing the ship’s atmosphere.

Naval Group stated that some of these features would find their way into the French Navy’s four current Triomphant-class SSBNs “to ensure the best possible performance throughout their operational life up to the 2050s”.

Noting that a nuclear submarine “is one of the most complex objects ever built by man”, Naval Group stated that the construction of an SNLE 3G submarine “requires the integration of almost 100,000 devices, as well as hundreds of kilometres of cables and circuits”.

The programme, the company said, “benefits the entire French naval industry”, adding that “almost 90% of the SNLE 3G programme’s added value will be produced in France for several decades, representing some 3,000 direct, highly skilled jobs that cannot be relocated”.

Naval Group described the SNLE 3G programme as “a national adventure that will involve the whole of France, mobilizing more than 400 companies and 400 skills across the country: from Alsace to Brittany, from the Paris region to Toulouse and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region”.

Pierre Éric Pommellet, CEO of Naval Group, was quoted in a company press release as saying, “We are proud to symbolically launch the production of the hull of the first third-generation SSBN today, alongside the DGA, the French Navy, the Atomic Energy Commission and TechnicAtome, as well as all our state and industrial partners. Through this major programme, Naval Group is fully committed to serving French sovereignty and nuclear deterrence, by mobilising all its skills, talents and industrial resources, and by drawing on a solid defence-industrial and technological base, spread across the country.”

A steel-cutting ceremony for the first third-generation French Navy SSBN (SNLE 3G) took place at Naval Group’s yard in Cherbourg on 20 March 2024. (Photo: Naval Group)