CANBERRA (AFP) - A megadeal to build Australian submarines was so important, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Monday (May 2), that he pledged to personally supervise the project as Paris and Canberra bolster defence ties.
French contractor DCNS last week beat off competition from Japan and Germany to seal the 12-submarine A$50 billion (S$51 billion) contract, prompting Mr Valls to make a surprise visit to Canberra.
"I will supervise, myself, the implementation of our commitments with the minister of defence who will be coming shortly to Australia," Mr Valls told a press conference with Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull. "It is an industrial and economic partnership. It is also a partnership that binds us for a very long time on other issues, including security and defence."
Mr Valls said it was a "win-win" deal, adding that Paris would fulfill all its commitments including job creation in Australia and the transfer of technology.
DCNS plans to build a 4,500-tonne conventionally-powered version of its 4,700-tonne Barracuda, which the company has described as "the most technically complex artefact in Australia".
The DCNS website says the new vessel would be "the recipient of France's most sensitive and protected submarine technology and will be the most lethal conventional submarine ever contemplated".
A Japanese government-backed consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and German group ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, were also in the running. But Canberra said DCNS was considered "best to meet all of our unique capability requirements".
The tender process was politically sensitive domestically, with national elections expected in July.
Canberra insisted that all the subs be built in Australia amid fears any off-the-shelf purchase could kill off the domestic shipbuilding industry.
"We are an island nation and we need to ensure that we have the best defences. Now, that is the primary objective," said Mr Turnbull.
"We partner with France to ensure that we have the best technology and we work together to develop the supply chain here in Australia right from the shipyard to every person, every firm that is contributing to this effort.
"This is a great national enterprise and it will drive our economic plan for jobs and growth in the 21st century."