Naval Group began constructing the first third-generation French nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SNLE 3G) in an event underscoring France’s commitment to bolstering its defence capabilities.

The steel-cutting ceremony at the Cherbourg shipyard on 20 March symbolises a shift in France’s naval deterrence posture, aligning with its vision of safeguarding national security well into the 21st century.

These four third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines will provide the French Navy with significant improvements in their nuclear deterrence and maritime warfare capabilities, with the SNLE 3G expected to remain in service up until 2080–90, according to GlobalData’s intelligence on the French defence market.

The submarines will replace the four Le Triomphant-class (SNLE 2G) SSBNs in service from 2035.

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Representing the cornerstone of France’s strategic oceanic force (FOST), the SNLE 3G programme embodies a collaborative effort between the armed forces, the French defence procurement agency (Direction Générale de l’Armement – DGA), the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and Naval Group, in association with TechnicAtome. 

Pierre Éric Pommellet, CEO of Naval Group, emphasised the significance of this endeavour, stating: “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.”

The initiative encompasses the construction of the largest submarine ever built in France, with production distributed across various sites in the country. Naval Group embarks on an industrial venture to fortify France’s maritime strength.

The SNLE 3G submarine features enhanced stealth, extended detection capabilities, and weapons systems. These submarines ensure optimal operational efficiency and have a mission lifespan that extends well beyond the 2080s.

Moreover, the technological advancements pioneered by the SNLE 3G programme will benefit France’s future submarine fleet and enhance the performance of existing SSBNs (SNLE 2G). This strategic modernisation initiative shows France’s commitment to maintaining a deterrence posture and safeguarding national interests amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics.

As France embarks on this historic mission, mobilising over 400 companies and 400 skills nationwide, the SNLE 3G programme is a testament to France’s industry and dedication to national defence. With construction underway, the French Navy stands poised to ensure the security and sovereignty of the nation for generations to come.

The French Navy recently announced the return of its Ruby-class nuclear attack submarine, Perle, to operational status after prolonged maintenance and repairs initiated in 2019, exacerbated by a fire incident in June 2020.

Following damage recovery and upgrades, including the capability to employ the F21 heavyweight torpedo, Perle underwent dockside and sea trials, with operational potential extended until 2028.