LE REDOUTABLE class gallery

(Q-244 image). After WWII, France took good note and decided, as soon as the first nuclear weapons appeared, that they should be in the select club of countries possessing such weapons. Due to the French policy of not depending on the United States, they had to start from scratch in the development of such weapons, with the consequent economic and technological effort. In 1956 the DCN company began the construction of an experimental nuclear submarine designated as Q-244 that was going to be powered by a natural uranium and heavy water reactor, since at that time France lacked the technology for uranium enrichment. This reactor was too heavy and lacked power to be installed in a submarine, so the Q-244 project was abandoned in 1958 due to insurmountable technical problems, though an experimental hull was laid down.
(Q-244 image). After the failure of the Q-244 project, it was decided to continue with the nuclear program and they were forced to purchase enriched uranium from the United States to start the construction of their own nuclear reactor. The United States agrees to the sale on the express condition that the uranium be used exclusively for experimental purposes. A prototype reactor installed on land under the “Coelacanthe” program is then built in Cadarache, which is installed in a hull section with similar characteristics to those that the future SSBN submarine will have. On August 14, 1964, the reactor diverged and 10 days later it was operating at full power. This reactor will later be used as a basis for those installed in the Le Redoutable class.
(Gymnote SSB image). Following the success of the new reactor, it is decided to build the first SSBN, without even proceeding with a nuclear attack submarine (SSN), resulting in an immense challenge for French industry. In 1962 it was decided to rescue the hull of the Q-244 submarine to build a new diesel-electric submarine with which to develop missiles and specific equipments. This submarine was christened Q-251 Gymnote and was an 84 meter long boat, with a submerged displacement of 3,250 tons and armed with four missile tubes for SLBM in an extended casing. She entered service in 1966 and fired the first M-1 missile in 1968. In the late 1970s it was modified to test M-4 missiles and in the early 1980s it was redesignated as S-655 Gymnote. This submarine was decommissioned in 1986.
The development of the SSBN had attached several programs for the manufacture not only of the boat, but of a ballistic missile, the nuclear warhead, the nuclear engine, transmission stations, breathability in the submarine and precise inertial navigation systems such as gyroscopes and accelerometers. The importance of these last equipments is reflected in that they cost almost as much money as the prototype on land of the nuclear reactor. The overall economic effort was of such a size that it was decided to carry out the budget allocations every five years, to avoid as much as possible the cumbersome annual budget negotiations.
On May 16, 1963, the agreement for the construction of the first French SNLE (SSBN), the S-611 Le Redoutable (on the image), was officially signed. The work was commissioned to the Cherbourg Arsenal, which has since been in charge of building all the SSBNs for the Marine Nationale. The original requirements consisted of a boat of 8,000 tons on the surface, with a hull of 128 meters in length and 10.60 meters in diameter, 130 crew members, 20 knots of speed (in immersion), capable of reaching 300 meters of depth, staying up to 60 days of patrol at sea and being armed with 16 SLBM missiles and 4 torpedo tubes.
Due to the huge size of the new submarine, it was decided to use “80 HLES” type steel of great resistance but 20% lighter than conventional steel for submarines. In late 1964, construction began on Le Redoutable boat (on the image), the first in a series of six units. The bulkiest equipment was installed before closing the hull and launching the submarine, which was then stranded to continue its construction. A reactor workshop was installed on an adjacent dock and a boiler from the former Jeanne d’Arc training cruiser is brought in to test the turbines and turbogenerators before connecting them to the nuclear reactor. For its part, the reactor core was loaded at the beginning of 1969, diverging for the first time in late February of that same year.
The hull of these submarines consisted of 24 annular sections of about 200 tons welded together, which form the so-called “pressure hull” that is externally lined by a “thin hull” that gives it the hydrodynamic shape. The power plant consisted of a pressurized water nuclear reactor that was 8 meters long and weighed about 700 tons. They also carried two 750 kW Pielstick 8PA4V185 diesel engines and several accumulators for use in an emergency with which they could navigate about 9,000 kilometers.
In May 1969 the sea trials began, among them the launch of two M-1 missiles in May and June. The trials lasted until November, when she returned to Cherbourg to finalize the installation of the weapons and to dismantle part of the protection against Gamma radiation, which was oversized. Part of the lead that forms the reactor shield is removed, improving the stability of the boat. On December 1, 1971, Le Redoutable (on the image) entered service and on January 28, 1972, it carried out its first patrol armed with sixteen two stage M-1 missiles, with a range of 2,500 km and equipped with a 500-kiloton MR-41 nuclear fission warhead.
Le Redoutable and Le Terrible submarines were armed with the M-1 missile, but since its capabilities were quite limited, the new M-2 missile appeared in 1974. This missile had a range of 3,100 km and was slightly heavier. The M-2 began to be installed from the third submarine of the class, Le Foudroyant, and was later installed in the first two units of the class. However, the M-2 missile was quickly replaced in 1977 by the M-20 missile, which carried the new 1.2 megaton TN-60 thermonuclear warhead and penetration aids. The new M-20 missile was installed in L’Indomptable and Le Tonnant submarines, and later it was also installed in the three previous submarines armed with M-2 missiles.
(Le Redoutable boat image). In addition to nuclear missiles, the Le Redoutable class had four 533mm forward torpedo tubes with 18 DTCN L5 torpedoes at the beginning, which were later replaced by DTCN F17 torpedoes. Since 1987, after modifying the submarines to use M-4 ballistic missiles, they were equipped, (except Le Redoutable boat), with Exocet SM-39 Mod.2 anti-ship missiles. These missiles were in sealed capsules and were fired by compressed air through torpedo tubes. As the missile emerges from the water, the capsule is ejected and the missile’s rocket motor ignites.
(Le Foudrouyant boat image). These submarines carried complete electronic equipment consisting of a Thomson CSF DRUA 33 navigation radar, a Thomson Sintra DSUX 21 multifunction passive/active sonar (flank arrays), a DUXX 5 passive low-frequency sonar and a DSUV 61B very low frequency linear towed array. As an ECM system they carried a Thomson CSF ARUR 13 radar detector.
French deterrence doctrine required that there always be three patrol submarines ready to launch their missiles at any time. The other five submarines were gradually delivered, baptized as S-612 Le Terrible (1973), S-610 Le Foudroyant (1974), S-613 L’Indomptable (1976), S-614 Le Tonnant (1980) and S-615 L’Inflexible (1985), although this last boat is quite different from the rest and is considered as a different class. In order to maintain the patrol system, each submarine was assigned two crews designated as “red” and “blue”, with the “blue” crew from Le Redoutable doing the first patrol on a French SNLE. At first, the patrols were developed in the Norwegian Sea or in the Gulf of Genova due to the short range of the missiles, but with the improvement of the missiles they were able to patrol in safer waters and less guarded by the Soviets.
The patrols used to last 55 days when they entered service, but they were progressively lengthened to 70 days. Such a long duration without surfacing required the submarines to have good facilities for the crew. The crew consisted of 135 men, including 4 engineers, a doctor and two nurses with surgical training capable of performing anesthesia and X-rays. The ship had a small room for urgent surgical interventions such as fractures and an infirmary. The men rest in cabins with 4 or 6 berths, but due to lack of space they used the “hot berth”, that is, while one was on duty, another slept in the same berth. It was tried that the feeding was the best possible to make the patrols more bearable.
(Le Foudrouyant boat image). The submarines were based on Ile Longue, a peninsula located in the port of Brest. The base was built between 1967 and 1972 and has two dry docks and workshops where missiles and nuclear fuel are maintained and stored. In addition, 4 terrestrial transmission stations had to be built, which emit low frequency waves (VLF) capable of penetrating the surface layers of the ocean, since the electromagnetic waves do not penetrate the water. These stations are located in Rosnay, Saint-Assise, Kerlouan and La Régine and are supported by other communication devices in case these stations were attacked.
L’Inflexible submarine (on the image) entered service in April 1985 and is considered of this class, but in reality it is designed to be able to use the new M-4 missiles. These missiles were larger and heavier, had three stages, a range of more than 5,000 km and carried 6 independent warheads of 150 kilotons each. For this reason, different electronic systems were also installed than in the other submarines of the class. Of course, since 1993 the rest of the units of the class, except Le Redoutable, were refurbished to use the M-4 missiles.
Le Redoutable class began to be withdrawn from service with the arrival of the new Le Triomphant class SSBN armed with M-45 missiles. The first to be retired was Le Redoutable (on the image), which was in December 1991 after conducting 51 patrols and 83,500 hours of immersion. In July 1996 Le Terrible was retired, later in April 1998 Le Foudroyant was withdrawn, in December 1999 Le Tonnant was decommissioned after 54 patrols carried out, in April 2005 it was the turn of L’Indomptable after 125,000 hours of immersion and in January 2008, L’Inflexible was withdrawn after having carried out 59 patrols and 90,000 hours submerged.
The head of the series, Le Redoutable (on the image) after having disassembled its nuclear equipment, has been preserved and can be visited at the “Cité de la Mer” (City of the Sea) in Cherbourg. It is the only visitable SSBN submarine in the world. The Ministry of Defense sold the submarine in 1996 and contributed money to transform it into a museum. The boat is displayed in a 136 x 19 meter dry dock and was opened to the public in April 2002.

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