Defense official defends French submarine-making capability

PARIS (AP) — France’s Defense Ministry used Twitter to offer a robust defense of the country’s submarine-making capabilities and to criticize Australia’s decision to choose the United States as a partner in a major defense deal.

Defense Ministry spokesman Herve Grandjean devoted a series of tweets to tearing into the deal, which also includes Britain. Some say Australia’s announcement last week pulled the diplomatic rug from under France’s feet.

“France has built more than 250 submarines” over 120 years, Grandjean said, and “the feedback in terms of engineering and know-how is considerable.”

Australia plans to cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire U.S. nuclear-powered vessels instead. The French government has suggested it was betrayed by the Indo-Pacific security deal.

Grandjean charged that Australia’s decision was “bad news” for Australians. He said the new AUKUS partnership will mean the country is likely to get the submarines a decade later than planned. Instead of 2030, “(now) it will be more like 2040,” he tweeted.

“That’s a long time, when you see how fast China is militarizing,” Grandjean warned.

He also addressed criticism that French submarines may not have been quiet enough to do the job. Grandjean said the conventional submarines offered by France were likely quieter than nuclear ones, as a conventional submarine “does not have a permanent cooling system for its reactor in operation.”

He also explained why Australia’s change of heart stung France so badly. He said on the same day as the unexpected AUKUS announcement, “the Australians wrote to France to say that they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and with the progress of the program.”

The U.S., Australia and Britain have insisted the diplomatic crisis wouldn’t affect their longer-term relations with France, even after Paris recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia for the first time in history because of the deal.

Speaking Tuesday in France’s Parliament, Defense Minister Florence Parly stepped up the rhetoric, calling the about-turn a “breach of trust between allies and a strategic turning point” where Australia “decides to entrust completely its future to the United States faced with the Chinese threat.”

Parly noted that France is present in the Indo-Pacific because “the increased aggressiveness of China is the source of great difficulties and we must we able to offer an alternative.”

She said hiding behind all these issues is the fact that the US may want “to increase the escalation, confrontation with China,” adding potentially “a military dimension.”

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