The Australian Department of Defence officially began its largest defense investment project in its history on Sunday with the opening of a submarine design office in Cherbourg, France, as part of the $38 billion project to deliver 12 new submarines to the Royal Australian Navy.

French contractor Naval Group, who will serve as the international design partner on the project, and Lockheed Martin [LMT] Australia, selected as the combat system integrator, will work with the Department of Defence as part of the Future Submarine Office, where naval architects and engineers will design the new submarines.

Royal Australian Navy logo.
Royal Australian Navy logo.

The Future Submarine Project, included in Australia’s recently released Naval Shipbuilding Plan and part of the Future Submarine Intergovernmental Agreement signed with France in December 2016, will begin with the design phase in the new French office and ultimately transition to construction at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Australia.  

“Today marks an important and tangible milestone for the program as the facility allows all three partners to work together in a modern and highly secure environment to further enhance and develop the already close partnership,” Naval Group CEO and Chairman Herve Guillou said in a statement. “We are looking forward to establishing an Australian workforce in Cherbourg to develop the skills and understanding required to establish a regionally superior submarine and develop a sovereign Australian industrial capability.”

Construction of the first future submarine is expected to begin in either 2022 or 2023 and eventually enter service in the 2030’s. Overall construction of 12 new submarines is expected to last through the 2040’s, with the last of the fleet entering service in the 2050’s.

“The Intergovernmental Agreement between Australia and France signed on 20 December 2016 provides the overarching legal arrangements to underpin a 50-year submarine acquisition program that will result in a sovereign strategic capability. In particular, the agreement will facilitate the transfer of cutting-edge skills, knowledge, and technology, and the achievement of sovereign sustainment capability,” the Australian government wrote in its Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

The current Collins-class of six submarines will remain through the 2030’s, with investments of $1.98 billion for future capabilities and $5.1 billion for sustainment efforts. The Future Submarine Office will be known as “Hughes” House in honor of Rear Admiral Owen Hughes who had served as director of the Collins submarine project.