Why did the agreement between France and Australia for the construction of conventionally propelled submarines blown up? What’s really at stake? As we know, in 2019 French Naval Group he had won a $ 50 billion contract Australians in 50 years following a tender for the Australian Attack-class submarine program. Several Australian media as early as 2020 they had amplified this campaign against the French group accused of failing to comply with a signed contract for the delivery of 12 submarines and the transfer of knowledge on design and maintenance technologies. The example of a cyber attack suffered by the French industry Naval Group, a specialist in submarine design, demonstrates the multiple intersecting issues underlying this type of power balance.
However, the information war against Naval Group had started much earlier.
Ten years earlier, between 2011 and 2013, Rex Patrick, then an officer in the Australian navy, had received a USB stick containing 22,400 documents detailing part of the military capabilities of the Scorpene submarines, produced by Naval Group for India. Rex Patrick informed the Australian Ministry of Defense in 2013, without any specific follow-up. Three years later, a few weeks after Australia chose France, Rex Patrick made the decision to inform the Australian press.
On August 24, 2016, Cameron Stewart, journalist from The Australian, published an article entitled “Leaked submarine documents: 50 billion lost if the French cannot keep a secret”. A terribly effective attack to demean the trust in the naval group, and immediately question the merits of this choice.
Faced with the scale of the crisis, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must personally intervene to save the contract with Naval Group by declaring: “The submarine we will build with the French is totally different from the designed Scorpene”.
Almost five years after the start of this information war, journalist Alain Austin announced March 1, 2021 in an article published in Independent Australia that the contract with Naval Group “had collapsed and should not have re-emerged”.
A few days later, on March 4, an article announced that the contract would remain valid, but taking up the basic elements of this information war, albeit largely unfounded and denied by Naval Group: “The Morrison government is on the verge of a turning point with its $ 90 billion submarine program, struggling after months of tense negotiations with French company Naval Group on explosions of costs, delays and local outsourcing requirements”.
Naval Group had requested an additional 15 months for reasons of specificity of the design phase, and for this he has found himself at the center of attacks, criticisms and accusations that undermine his credibility towards the Australian Ministry of Defense and its partners and customers.
Other rumors had appeared in the economic sections of the international press. This time, the French industry was accused of failing to comply with the terms of the negotiated transfer of technology and the subcontracting quota that was registered, in particular those relating to future maintenance operations carried out by more than one hundred companies, local communities and their skills development. Again, the media did not specify that only parts of the submarine would be built in France, as specified in the agreement, to train Australian engineers at the Adelaide shipyard.
Finally, the initial costs estimated at 50 billion dollars are revised upwards, with maintenance costs of approximately 145 billion dollars over the next 60 years. Some media have not hesitated to exaggerate the figures, going so far as to report that the Australian side has considered canceling the Naval Group partnership.
Subsequently, the Australian government had refuted all this slanderous information and CEO Hervé Guillou had called these disinformation campaigns an “attack”, accusing the media of voluntarily transmitting this information to damage the reputation of the French group. But the transparency shown by the Australian government towards the contract did not facilitate the process. In this case, the influence of local public opinion, amplified by the resonance of the media campaign, constituted a temporary threat to the reliability of the contract.
Despite an established reputation and experience, the position of the industrial giant in Australia is fragile, as this is its first collaboration with the Australian government. L’americana Lockheed Martin, which will have to manage the design of the combat system of these same submarines, has been present in Australia for some time.
This makes the exercise even more difficult for Naval Group to prove its reliability when it has to work with a company that already has the full confidence of the government. Lockheed indirectly benefits from these attacks, as it further affirms its dominance in the Australian military industry. The CEO of Lockheed has never suffered the same harsh criticism leveled against the French giant Naval Group.
Competition between European producers has undoubtedly played in the informational impact of this commercial confrontation. Naval Group, in fact, had beaten the competition of several old continent groups in previous tenders such as Bae System in the UK, Navantia in Spain, Tkms in Germany, Damen in the Netherlands and Kockum in Sweden.
For his part, the managing director of Jaycar Electronics, an Australian battery manufacturer, had even commissioned a study (representing a group of citizens concerned about the current government program) which had highlighted the advantage of choosing the Swedish competitor of Naval Group, Kockum, with a view to a new tender. Although rejected by the Canberra government, this lobbying campaign shows that potential Australian subcontractors also had an interest in destabilizing French industry. Furthermore, the increase from 50% to 60% of the Australian subcontracting quota could only benefit the Australian Department of Defense above all.
In conclusion, the agreement signed with the US will only increase the risk of nuclear proliferation in the context of the Indo-Pacific.
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