Australia and France concluded a bilateral agreement to share classified information on defense programs including sensitive defense technologies related to Australia’s SEA 1000 Future Submarine Program, the office of the Attorney General for Australia announced in a press release last month.
The agreement signed by Australia’s Attorney-General, George Brandis, and French Minister of Defense, Mr Jean Yves Le Drian, aims to “improve sharing of classified information between the two countries and strengthen existing protections,” according to the press release.
“The agreement will directly support the delivery of the Future Submarine Program and will further enable greater cooperation on a range of national security matters.” In detail, the treaty “sets out mechanisms and safeguards to enable the sharing of classified information between Australia and France.” This includes:
- Classification equivalencies and information handling requirements
- Mutual recognition of personnel and facility security clearances, and
- Allocating responsibility between the parties where contractors are engaged in projects that involve classified information.
As I reported elsewhere (See: “Australia Warns French Submarine Maker After Massive Security Leak”), French shipbuilder Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) has a won a bid to engage in exclusive negotiations over the construction of 12 Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A subs, a diesel-electric derivative of DCNS’ Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine, for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
“Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in April that DCNS has won the competitive evaluation process for the design and construction of the RAN’s next-generation submarines. The estimated cost for Australia’s new fleet of submarines is A$50 billion ($38.13 billion)—the country’s largest defense deal in history,” I explained in August 2016. Australia and France are currently engaged in negotiating the details of the defense contract including construction schedules and technology transfer agreements.
Negotiations between DCNS and the Australian government came under intense public scrutiny after the former suffered a massive leak of documents detailing the top-secret combat capabilities of the Indian Navy’s Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) diesel-electric attack submarine, which DCNS has been building with the support of India’s state-run Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) in Mumbai for the past decade (See: “Top Secret Data on India’s New Stealth Attack Submarine Leaked”).
While the technical details revealed offered little indication of a Scorpene-class’ operational capabilities, the Australian Department of Defense expressed its deep concerns over the breach to DCNS and told the French defense contractor that Australia expects the same level of security as U.S. defense contractors considering that the RAN’s Collins-class subs are fitted with a U.S.-made combat system. As a consequence, DCNS Australia announced on August 26 that it will establish an operational Security Committee by the end of 2016.
The recently signed classified information sharing treaty is the next step in the burgeoning Australian-French defense partnership. “This intergovernmental agreement constitutes a significant milestone in the development of a strategic partnership between France and Australia,” according to the press release.