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Dutch government to decide on the purchase of four French submarines

This undated handout aerial picture released on October 20, 2020 by French shipbuilder Naval Group shows new French navy nuclear attack submarine Suffren, a Barracuda class, during tests at sea.

Posted on March 18, 2024

Dutch media outlet RTL Nieuws, quoting “informed sources” reported that France’s Naval Group is likely to be the one to replace the thirty-year old Walrus class fleet of Dutch subs, beating rivals Saab from Sweden and Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS.)

Saab would have partnered with Dutch Damen Shipyards, while Naval cooperates with shipbuilder Royal IHC, another Dutch constructor.

Dutch submarines

According to Jaime Karremann, editor of Dutch navy monitor portal, the Dutch navy has three submarines which all entered service in the early 1990s. A fourth sub was retired in December last year.

“They are ageing. They really need replacement. That should have happened a long time ago,” he told RFI.

“They are not primarily used for coastal defence,” he says, “but rather deployed far from home, in the Atlantic, the Caribbean or the Persian Gulf.”

“They collect intelligence and can be used to drop special forces.

Some fifteen years ago, the Dutch weren’t convinced that they wanted to replace the vessels at all.

“Until 2013, it wasn’t clear if we shouldn’t get rid of them altogether, like in Denmark,” says Karremann.

But since 2014, the year Russia invaded Crimea, things have changed when expenditure started to gradually rise. “It accelerated over the last couple of years,” he says, “meaning that there’s more space in the budget for submarines.”


This photograph taken on November 6, 2020 shows the new French navy Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine Suffren, docked in Toulon’s harbour.

According to an article by the Telegraaf newspaper on 28 February, which first reported about the possibility of Naval getting the deal, the Dutch navy wants to replace their old fleet with four Barracuda-class submarines at a total cost of up to €6 billion.

The news, however,  triggered a furious response from critics in the Dutch parliament who say that the French company has an unfair advantage over Dutch rivals, as “the Naval Group shipyard, owned by the [French] state, can take larger risks and deliver for prices a commercial wharf can barely compete with,” according to De Telegraaf. A parliamentary debate this Thursday could modify the result.

For France, there is more at stake. “The submarine dossier is high on the agenda” in Paris, says Karremann, pointing to the mega-deal that went south last year.

In 2023, Naval thought it had a massive €31 billion deal with Australia for the construction and sale of twelve conventional subs. But at the last moment, Australia joined forces with the US and the UK in the “Aukus” deal, which included the sale of nuclear fueled ships to Canberra, manufactured in the US and the UK.

According to a research briefing by the British House of Commons, Australia will still have to wait a while before the subs are ready to sail as they “will be built in the UK and Australia and work will begin by 2030, with a view to entering service…[in]the early 2040s.”

Meanwhile, the document says, Australia will use three Virginia-class submarines which it buys from the US, “with potential for the sale of a further two.”


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