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Australia deals submarine blow to France but says strategic issues a priority

The French government and Naval Group have expressed anger and disappointment at Australia's decision to cease its procurement of Attack-class submarines in favour of a nuclear-powered platform through a new security partnership with the UK and the US.

The Australian government has not commented on the possible repercussions of the decision on its relationship with France. Instead, it has emphasised that its decision was influenced by strategic considerations.

In an emailed statement to Janes, Naval Group said, “The Commonwealth decided not to proceed with the next phase of the [Attack-class] programme. This is a major disappointment for Naval Group.”

“For five years, Naval Group teams, both in France and in Australia, as well as our partners, have given their best and Naval Group has delivered on all its commitments,” said the company, which is majority-owned by the French government. “The analysis of the consequences of this sovereign Australian decision will be conducted with the Commonwealth of Australia in the coming days.”

The French Armed Forces Ministry's statement on its website was stronger. The ministry called the submarine announcement a “regrettable decision” that is “contrary to the letter and spirit of co-operation” between France and Australia.

The ministry added that the decision “leads to the removal of an ally and a European partner … from a structuring partnership with Australia at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Janes reported in mid-June 2021 that the Australian government had set a deadline of September to submit acceptable revised costings for the design phase of the Attack-class submarine programme.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said the deadline for Naval Group was “to convince the government it can progress with the project to build Australia's new submarine fleet”.

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