AP PHOTOS: Aboard France’s aging nuclear submarines — old boats but new missions

TOULON, France (AP) — Once again, the oceans beckon for France’s veteran nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The Associated Press got rare access aboard a French navy Rubis-class submarine as it was being readied for another mission in sprawling naval dockyards in the Mediterranean port of Toulon.

France’s fleets of nuclear-powered submarines are shrouded in secrecy. The French military wouldn’t allow this submarine to be identified by name. A naval security officer scrutinized all the images AP journalists took aboard the vessel and asked that some be deleted or cropped to avoid showing submarine technology and security measures at the docks.

Aboard the cramped vessel, submariners crammed into the confines of a small compartment and carried out maintenance work. Others loaded supplies aboard, carrying boxes down narrow gangways. In the control room, crew members hung strips of lights amid the spaghetti of cabling and equipment.

This vessel is one of three Rubis-class attack submarines that France bases in Toulon. They carry a crew of 70. Powered by their nuclear reactor, they don’t need to refuel often and can patrol the oceans for months on end.

The Rubis can carry anti-submarine and anti-ship torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Their jobs can include protecting France’s larger nuclear-armed submarines. France has four of those.

On its upcoming mission, this submarine will be escorting France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier as it takes part in an operation in the Mediterranean with the NATO military alliance. The French carrier strike group will be under direct NATO command during the operation, which is a first.

Cmdr. Manuel Bienvenu, the submarine’s chief officer, said that his vessel would soon be leaving port to join the strike force. But he said the submarine could also be deployed to other missions if need-be.

“The international situation can change, can evolve rapidly, including during the mission. And we are capable of responding to all demands made of us,” he said.

France’s navy is replacing its Rubis-class submarines with more modern and more heavily armed nuclear-powered submarines. The first of the new Suffren class of attack submarines has been in service since June 2022. The second, the Duguay Trouin, went into service this month. Another four Suffren-class submarines will join the fleet by 2030.

They will replace the remaining three Rubis-class vessels, which were built in the 1980s. Three Rubis-class submarines have already been retired — the Saphir in 2019, the Rubis in 2022 and the Casabianca in 2023.


This story has been corrected to show that the dateline is Toulon, not Toulouse.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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