The French Blacksword Barracuda seduced Dutch parliamentarians

On March 15, 2024, Dutch authorities confirmed the victory of the French Naval Group and its submarine Blacksword Barracuda, in the tender procedure for the replacement of the four Walrus-class submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy. This decision took the two other European manufacturers involved in the competition by surprise.

For the German TKMS, which proposed an evolution of its Type 212CD, it was a question of reproducing the success recorded in 2019, in Norway, and of putting an end to several commercial failures in recent years. For the alliance formed by the Swedish Saab and the Dutch Damen, the objective was to bring into play national preference, and to put the Swedish manufacturer back on the market, after twenty years of lean cows.

However, it was Naval Group which was selected, with a more compact version of the Shortfin Barracuda, initially chosen by Australia, and derived from the Suffren class SSN, provoking the ire of the Swedes, Dutch and Germans. If the latter undertook a legal procedure, which was not very credible, to challenge the impartiality of the procedure, the former, for their part, promised to focus their efforts on the necessary parliamentary validation procedure to continue the order.

A decisive parliamentary hearing for the continuation of the ORKA program and the Blacksword Barracuda submarines

It was on June 3 in the afternoon that members of the (outgoing) government, and parliamentarians, debated this contract, which is intended to be one of the most ambitious ever negotiated by the Dutch armies, for an amount estimated between €5,5 and €6 billion. And there was no shortage of questions and points of tension among parliamentarians...

SSN Tourville class Suffren Naval Group Cherbourg
Naval Group's Barracuda family is derived from the Suffren class SSNs. Here, the Tourville before its launch.

Let us first recall that the last Dutch legislative elections, last fall, saw the victory of the PVV, the nationalist party of Geert Wilders. However, it took 7 months for political actors to create a coalition government bringing together the PVV, but also the center-right VVD of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the center-right NSC, and the rural party BBB.

This government recomposition, which had left the care of the initial arbitration, concerning the ORKA program, to the outgoing Minister of Defense Christophe Van der Maat, could give rise to fears of certain tensions, in connection with the accusations made, through the press, against the industrial sharing proposed by Naval Group with the Dutch naval defense industry, supposedly much lower than what was proposed by Damen and Saab.

Another subject of tension, which has always appeared in the Dutch press, is the supposed refusal, on the part of the United States, to arm the new French submarines with BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. According to this thesis, otherwise poorly supported, but widely commented on Dutch social networks, Washington should refuse to work with French industrialists on this subject.

Finally, Damen like TKMS, questioned the probity of the French offer, nothing less. Indeed, it appeared that Naval Group's offer was €1,5 billion less expensive than those of its competitors, or 20 to 25% of the contract price.

Saab Damen submarine Netherlands
According to a member of the new Dutch government coalition, if the Saab model had been retained, the additional costs would have been such that the armies would have had to forgo acquiring new equipment for 3 or 4 years.

For Swedish, Dutch and German manufacturers, such a price gap could only result from a different quotation scope between the offers, a massive gap in performance, or subsidies from the French State, distorting competition. . To support this accusation, the Dutch press also reported a supposed refusal by the French authorities to audit the materiality of the offer transmitted.

In fact, there were many concerns regarding the future of the ORKA program for the French Naval Group, especially since, as usual, it did not seek to enter the game of jousting via the press. , with Anglo-Saxon industrialists. And the parliamentary hearing on June 3 thus proved decisive for the future of the program.

The outgoing Defense Minister, Christophe Van der Maat, responded point by point to the objections appearing in the Dutch press in recent weeks.

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  1. Hello M. Wolf,

    you seem to present this parliamentary hearing as being the validation by the Dutch parliament of the award of the contract to Naval Group. Other media such as Le Monde are mentioning a vote (in plenary session?) to take place next week. What exactly is it?
    Sébastien Manciaux

    • There was no vote. But the major political groups indicated that they supported the proposal, which did not prevent the tabling of a motion to postpone. In any case, nothing will be validated before the legal aspect (the TKMS appeal) is arbitrated, that is to say, between the end of June and mid-July. Until then, opinions may still evolve. But the most interesting thing, since this hearing, is that Saab seems to have turned towards other destinations (Canada in particular), and Damen is much less vehement (perhaps he is sparing his future cooperation with NG? ). This indicates that, for them, barring an exceptional event, the matter is over. Furthermore, no one publicly questions the sincerity of the French offer anymore. There really was a before, and an after, with this audience at its center.

  2. For those interested in this procedure, and as the title of this article already announced, the Dutch parliament approved yesterday, June 11, by a vote the choice of the Barracuda from Naval Group which had been made by the government of the Netherlands on March 15.
    All that remains is the legal obstacle which should also be removed according to the solid information found on this site... Bravo Mr. Wolf for your insight.


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