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From beneath the deep blue: SMX-Ocan seeks to redefine the non-nuclear limits

Author: Scott, Richard

Publication info: Jane's International Defense Review : IDR; Coulsdon 47.12 (Dec 1, 2014).
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"First-generation fuel cells use metal hydrides, and are maintenance intensive owing to the need to replace
filters and membranes at frequent intervals.

Full text:
Key Points
DCNS has invested in a series of R&D programmes intended to improve submarine operational performance
with regard to submerged endurance, covert ISR, and integration of unmanned vehicles
The SMX-Ocan concept design has exercised DCNS design resource to conceive a large, non-nuclear
submarine capable of deploying a significant weapon payload over large distances
French shipbuilding and systems group DCNS is investing in the maturation of a series of platform innovations
and systems technologies designed to improve the performance and safety of conventionally powered

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These multiple Research and Development (R&D) efforts - addressing endurance, situational awareness, and
unmanned offboard systems - have been embodied in a large, long-endurance non-nuclear submarine concept
known as SMX-Ocan that builds on the design of the French Navy's new Barracuda nuclear-powered attack
submarine (SSN).
The SMX-Ocan concept design has provided the company with a high-level start point for engagement with
Australia over possible involvement in the Project SEA 1000 Future Submarine programme.
Showcased at the Euronaval 2014 exhibition in Paris in October, the enabling R&D projects outlined by DCNS
fall into three significant areas: improved submerged endurance through novel battery and air independent
propulsion (AIP) technologies; an enhanced above-water intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
capability; and integrated facilities for deployment of adjunct unmanned vehicles. All three have been the
subject of company-funded design, de-risking and demonstration activities according to Alain Cursat, DCNS's
submarine bid and marketing manager.
"We see significant potential in these technologies, and have invested as a company so as to mature their
technical readiness," he told IHS Jane's . "At the same time, we have integrated these with the basic hull
platform of the [French Navy's] Barracuda nuclear-powered submarine, modifying this with a new non-nuclear
The objective of the SMX-Ocan concept design exercise has been to produce a large, non-nuclear long-
endurance (90 days) undersea warfare platform capable of deploying a significant weapon payload over large
distances. DCNS has identified interest in the Asia-Pacific submarine market, with Australia foremost in mind.
Despite its large size, SMX-Ocan is claimed to be capable of operations in confined littoral waters where
manoeuvre room is limited. "At about 5,000 tonnes submerged displacement, this is a big submarine,"
acknowledged Cursat. "However, the X-fin control surfaces, and the addition of two retractable multidirectional
podded propulsors [fitted fore and aft], will provide excellent manoeuvrability and slow speed control."

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The design objective addressed by the SMX-Ocan concept design team was for a non-nuclear submarine that
could transit for one week at 14 kt, then operate for one month on AIP, and then perform another week-long
transit at 14 kt, said Cursat. "What we have done is to retain the hullform, dry deck shelter, combat system,
mast configuration, and weapon stowage capacity of Barracuda. But we have introduced a hybrid non-nuclear
power and propulsion train comprising six [1,250 kW] diesel generators, three lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery
modules, and two second-generation fuel cell modules."
DCNS has previously developed and delivered the MESMA (Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome) AIP
system, derived from steam-turbine-based technology. However, the company is now pursuing two radically
different solutions designed to prolong the submerged endurance of conventionally powered submarines.
The first is high-capacity Li-ion batteries. This technology offers high submerged speeds on demand and
improved response to power ramp-up and variations. Furthermore, Li-ion batteries can be recharged at sea.
"Our investment in Li-ion battery R&D goes back more than a decade," Cursat said. "The big difference with this
technology, compared to lead-acid batteries, is the ability to deliver high powers in a short period."
The second solution is a second-generation fuel-cell AIP system based on diesel reformer technology. "This
represents a technological breakthrough compared to current-generation AIP systems in terms of performance,
safety, flexibility, and maintenance," said Cursat. "First-generation fuel cells use metal hydrides, and are
maintenance intensive owing to the need to replace filters and membranes at frequent intervals.
"In our second-generation system, hydrogen is produced from diesel fuel by a reformer, obviating the need to
store hydrogen on board the submarine. We have also developed a patented system that produces air by
injecting nitrogen into oxygen from the module's storage tank. The air reacts with hydrogen in the fuel cell to
produce water."
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DCNS has logged several thousand hours' operation on a full-scale reformer fuel cell demonstrator. "We have
not yet packaged the technology for a submarine, but the technical maturity is there," Cursat said.

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SMX-Ocan features the same combat system as the Barracuda SSN. The weapon compartment forward has
capacity for up to 34 weapons (a mix of heavyweight torpedoes, mines, anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, and
anti-air missiles). In addition, a six-cell vertical launcher module aft of the sail provides capacity for additional
land-attack cruise missiles.
Another feature is a dry deck shelter integrated into the sail. This can accommodate a swimmer delivery vehicle
or special forces boats.
Separate provision is made for the launch and recovery of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) from a UUV
bay beneath the aft casing. Emerging through a hatch, UUVs would be deployed, then recaptured, using a
tethered 'saddle' structure. This approach has already been the subject of a company-funded R&D activity.
"In July 2014 we successfully conducted an autonomous UUV docking into a submerged saddle container," said
Cursat. "We performed this three times, and believe this [to be] the first time that a docking has been achieved
on a moving platform with a UUV manoeuvring in three dimensions."
The trials were performed, in conjunction with Ifremer, using the Aster-X UUV demonstrator. According to
Cursat, the trials demonstrated decimetric navigation precision, using a long-range acoustic guidance system
for the approach phase, then switching to an optical system to enter the capture 'basket'. "We think we will have
a complete production-ready system in two to three years," he said.
Above-water ISR is another area where DCNS has sought to expand the art of the possible. SMX-Ocan has
been designed to incorporate eight sensor/communications masts in its sail, including optronic search/attack
masts, electronic support measures (ESM), and satellite communications. In addition, a tube integrated into the
sail will provide a capability to store and launch up to four expendable fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs). Encapsulated for launch from depth, then deploying wings after broaching the sea surface, the UAVs
have a range of about 50 km.

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Another ISR innovation prototyped by DCNS, and proposed for SMX-Ocan, is the Vipere multifunction buoy.
According to Cursat, Vipere is designed to provide the submarine with a communications gateway and/or an
ISR node while operating at depth. "What we have developed with Vipere is a buoy that can be deployed and
recovered using a winch hydrodynamically integrated into the submarine so as to eliminate the need to come up
to periscope depth," he said. "It gives you an eye above the surface for discreet surveillance and
reconnaissance missions."
Cursat continued: "In operation you have 2 km of cable to pay out, with a fibre-optic link in the cable providing
for real-time data transfer for either communications or sensor data.
"The buoy itself stays static on the sea surface, with only a small part visible, for a period of about 15 minutes
while the submarine itself can continue submerged at speeds up to 4 kt. The hydrodynamics of the buoy have
been designed to reduce any wake as recovery starts."
Vipere has already completed proof-of-concept testing, including the deployment, operation and recovery of a
prototype buoy configured with four high-definition micro-cameras (providing 360 panoramic surveillance).
Other payload options include GPS and AIS receivers, and an ESM system for intercept, measurement, and
direction finding of RF signals.

SMX-Ocan performance and


100 m Beam

8.8 m Surface displacement

4,750 t Maximum diving depth

350 m Maximum speed, submerged

20 kt Accommodation

60 (25 core crew + up to 35 special

operations troops or mission Payload

Up to 40 weapons (34 in weapon

Operating endurance
compartment/6 in VLS)
Up to 90 days Maximum range

Credit: Richard Scott London

Subject: Submarines; Military technology; Research & development--R & D; Vehicles; Design;

Location: France Western Europe

Publication title: Jane's International Defense Review: IDR ; Coulsdon

Volume: 47

Issue: 12

Publication year: 2014

Publication date: Dec 1, 2014

Dateline: London


Publisher: Jane's Information Group

Place of publication: Coulsdon

Country of publication: United Kingdom

Publication subject: Military


Source type: Trade Journals

Language of publication: English

Document type: News

ProQuest document ID: 1627834839

Document URL: https://search.proquest.com/docview/1627834839?accountid=145163

Copyright: Copyright IHS Global Limited, 2014

Last updated: 2014-11-29

Database: Military Database

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