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Submarines: France Helps Russia Design Better Boats
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October 30, 2007: French warship builder DCNS has made a deal with the Russian Krylov Shipbuilding Research Institute, to provide advanced submarine design technology. DCNS builds France's nuclear and diesel-electric submarines. This includes the new Barracuda class SSNs as well as the new Scorpene class AIP boats. The Scorpenes represent a new generation of non-nuclear submarines, like the Russian Amur/Lama, and the German Type 212, that have been entering service in the last few years. Unlike past non-nuclear submarines, which used diesel-electric plants, these new boats use fuel cells or other forms of air-independent propulsion (AIP). Germany commissioned its first Type 212 boat, using air-independent propulsion, two years ago. Four of these are being built. These are special boats, as they possess fuel cells (or AIP, Air Independent Propulsion) , which enable them to quietly operate underwater for weeks at a time. They still have diesel propulsion, but this is only used for surface travel. These AIP boats are also very quiet, quieter than most nuclear boats in service. This makes them an even match for a current nuclear boat equipped with better sensors.

 

The Scorpenes are 1,400 ton (surface displacement) boats, with a crew of 32. Each has six 21 inch torpedo tubes, and carries 18 torpedoes and/or missiles. The similar German 1,500 ton 212s, for example, are much smaller than nuclear boats (188 feet long, compared to 360 feet and 6,200 tons for the new U.S. Virginia class SSNs). The nuclear boats are used for a lot more than hunting other ships, and subs, while the 212s are mainly attack boats, and well designed and equipped for it.

 

The development of fuel cell technology for subs, and use of these boats, has become a mature technology, and will eventually be available to many more nations. These AIP boats are, expensive (about $600-700 million each), but that's less than a third the cost of a nuclear boats. These AIP boats are also highly automated, requiring a crew of only 30 or so. But with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles (launched from the tubes, as well as mines), they could be, in the wrong hands, a major threat to the U.S. fleet. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to run (you don't need as many skilled sailors for the crew) and very lethal, American admirals are watching very closely who gets their hands on this technology.

 

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