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His arrival was eagerly awaited by the French navy. For the first time in nearly twenty years, a French nuclear attack submarine (SNA) returned, Wednesday, April 7, to moor in the harbor of Toulon (Var), after a journey of seven months which led him in particular to the South China Sea. An area where France has long been keen to make it known that it is in a position to project itself, if necessary, with such means, while tensions and maneuvers are increasing in these contested waters, in particular by China and the United States. United.

For this return from a mission under a clear spring sun beaten by the mistral, theEmerald, one of the six ANSs available to France, and all its crew, were honored by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Pierre Vandier, who made the trip to greet this “Mission of strategic interest”. But it is above all the media coverage of this return, throughout the journey of theEmerald these last months, which constitutes the sign of the importance of this deployment. Usually, absolute secrecy is kept on French submarine missions at sea.

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From October 2020, the Australian Navy, relayed by the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, had thus made it known, on social networks, that theEmerald had reached Perth, where joint exercises then took place. A communication also took place in November 2020, when he made a stopover on the American island of Guam, in the Pacific. Joint exercises also followed. Finally, the head of state himself, Emmanuel Macron, sprained the usual discretion on submarine missions, by evoking the journey of theEmerald, during his vows to the armies in January.

“A pioneering mission”

The mission of the French SNA, called “Marianne”, took two years of planning. In particular because of its duration (seven months against three usually maximum), its route (in waters little known to the navy), and operational contingencies: with six ANS, France has a relatively small fleet, which limit the number of its commitments. “It was a pioneering mission”, considers the captain of the frigate, Antoine Delaveau, one of the two “pashas” of theEmerald, who piloted the outward journey to Guam, with 70 men, before the relief of another crew.

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Beyond the experience accumulated over some 36,000 hours of diving, the French ANS journey was an opportunity to update the hydrographic records available to the navy. These seven months at sea have also been an opportunity to display closer ties with allies such as Australia and the United States. Or to sail with the fleet of countries like Japan and especially Indonesia, which seeks to strengthen its naval forces in the face of Chinese assaults against its territorial waters. Jakarta could thus be tempted by the acquisition of French submarines.

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