When French attack submarines are operational with cruise missiles and DDS, the Marine Nationale will then master tactical capabilities than only the US Navy and Royal Navy nowadays possess in NATO. Credit: Handout/Marine Nationale.

When the battle was lost at Waterloo, Napoleon fled under the protection of the Old Guard — a unit that refused to surrender.

So goes the famous retort from Gen. Claude-Etienne Michel to Wellington’s troops at its last stand: “La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!” (“The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”)

One might say that same French defiance of the Old Guard, has been built into the nation’s latest hunter-killer weapon — a weapon it labels “a formidable fighter.”

Named for the 19th century Admiral Pierre André de Suffren, it is France’s first-in-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) of six planned boats. Two more are now under construction.

This week the Marine Nationale – the French Navy – put the Suffren (French for Barracuda) through static test dives as part of its initial sea trials, Peter Suciu of The National Interest reported. 

The French Armament Directorate (DGA) will conduct the sea trials, which are expected to last several months, the report said. These will confirm the seaworthiness and efficiency of the submarine before it is officially delivered to the Marine Nationale, the report said.

“The Suffren has just completed its first dive at sea. An apparently modest step, but much awaited for a first in class ship,” said Admiral Prazuck, Chief of Staff of the French Navy as reported by Naval News.

“The trials of this formidable hunter are launched, they will last several intense months and we will ultimately deliver a formidable fighter.”

The sea trials will initially take place near the port of Cherbourg on the English Channel, and this is where the first static dive was conducted, the report said.

This consisted of a controlled intake of water into the submarine’s ballast tanks, until it could be completely submerged without the use of its propulsion. The procedure is designed to ensure the sealing but also the longitudinal and transverse stability of the submarine while underwater.

After these tests are completed the boat will head to Brest, the port city located in the Finistère département in Brittany, which houses the nuclear missile-launching submarine fleet forming the Force Océanique Stratégique (FOST) of the French Navy, the report said.

This is where the boat’s deep-diving tests will take place. In the late summer or early fall the Suffren will head to the Mediterranean port of Toulon for testing the weapons systems. When that is completed, the Suffren will be delivered – likely later this year.

According to Forbes magazine, France’s current Rubis Class boats are significantly smaller than their US and British counterparts, and are a generation older. The Suffren should largely close the gap on France’s leading NATO allies.

At around 5,000 tons surfaced she is about twice the size of the diminutive Rubis class. Yet she is still smaller than either the Royal Navy’s Astute Class (7,000 tons) and the US Navy’s Virginia Class (8,000 tons), Forbes reported.

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The torpedo armament will be very modern: The brand new F-21 Artemis heavyweight torpedo is derived from the Italian Black Shark type. This has an all-electric propulsion using the latest battery technologies.

The boat will also be able to carry the SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile and the new MdCN (Missile De Croisière Naval) cruise missile, Forbes reported. This latter weapon provides the submarine with a strategic “first night” strike capability, hitting land targets hundreds of miles away.

It will be the first time that a French Navy submarine is equipped with land attack cruise missiles.

One interesting feature is that the crew will be much smaller than US and British types, Forbes reported. Thanks to increased automation in every subsystem the crew has been reduced from 70 aboard the preceding Rubis class to just 65. This compares to 98 for the Astute Class and 135 aboard a Virginia Class boat.

With a longer hull, the Barracuda benefits from a higher top speed, which is still classified, but set beyond 25 knots, NavalNews.com reported.

The ships are able to embark up to 15 special operation forces (the famous Commandos Marine). Fully-equipped frogmen onboard the Suffren will either be deployed from the embedded air-lock or from a removable Dry Deck Shelter, Naval News reported.

This DDS then allows the special operation forces to use heavier equipment, including surface and sub-surface vehicles.

Future submarines in the Suffren-class (Barracuda-class) will include the Duguay-TrouinTourvilleDe GrasseRubis, and Casablanca.