It is not easy to develop an innovative submarine. But at every Euronaval exhibition, DCNS, the French naval systems company, displays a concept in this category. This year's choice was the SMX-26 submarine.
The small, 20-crew boat, dappled in green and gray, descends to the seafloor in no more than 12 meters of water, where it watches and waits. To avoid creating a vacuum beneath itself, making it hard to rise off the seafloor, the SMX-26 extends three legs that are independently adjustable. These also assure the boat remains horizontal on uneven terrain, explains Xavier Itard, director of DCNS submarine programs. “It can even move about on the legs,” says Itard.
Another advantage of not resting on the bottom is that the boat can fire torpedoes. It will also have two flexible hoses: one for air supply, the other for exhaust gas, meaning it can recharge batteries while on the seabed.
Itard says the designers, who were led by Marie Nicod, wanted to validate a number of ideas. One was to design a small submarine for countries with shallow littoral waters. The idea is that the SMX-26 submarine will monitor a coast with an optronic periscope and, if necessary, surface to fire a 20-mm gun or launch six commandos in a rigid inflatable boat.
Whether the concept will lead anywhere remains to be seen. The SMX-23, a concept boat that was shown at Euronaval 2006, did result in the 855-ton Andrasta submarine program, which though available, has yet to be ordered.
Perhaps more than their designs, it is the shipyards themselves that will have to be flexible in the coming years to survive their rivalry for shares of a shrinking market, where there will be fewer customers, as well as buyers that want to build all or part of a ship in their own countries.