The Rubis-class of nuclear-powered attack submarines for the French Navy was originally envisioned as an eight-strong group until two were cancelled, leaving just the six to be led by FS Rubis (S601). FS Saphir (S602) - the subject of this article - then followed as the second boat in the class, her construction beginning on September 1st, 1979. Originally intended to carry the name of "Bretagne", she was renamed "Saphir" in 1981 and launched on September 1st that same year before being formally commissioned into service with the French Navy on July 6th, 1984.
Sister boats in the class include Casablanca (S603), Emeraude (S604), Amethyste (S605), and Perle (S606).
As built, Saphir displaces 2,600 tons when submerged and 2,400 tons when surfaced. Her design reaches a length of 241 feet with a beam measuring 25 feet and draught of 21 feet. As a nuclear-powered submarine, her propulsion system is centered around a pressurized water, K48 series nuclear reactor and this is mated to 2 x turbo-alternators with 1 x electric motor driving a single shaft at the stern. The boat is also outfitted with 1 x SEMT Pielstick 8PA4V 185 SM diesel-alternators and 1 x auxiliary engine which supplies propulsion for surfaced traveling. With this arrangement, Saphir can reach speeds of up to 25 knots and range becomes essentially unlimited due to the nuclear technology. Endurance is limited by onboard food stores which can last the crew some 45 days at sea before requiring replenishment. The vessel has been tested to depths of 300 meters which broadens the tactical capabilities of the attack submarine considerably. The vessel is crewed by seventy personnel.
At the heart of every attack submarine is its armament and sensor/processing systems. As such, Saphir is appropriately outfitted with 4 x 533mm torpedo tubes to fire the F17 Mod 2 torpedo as well as the SM39 "Exocet" anti-ship missile. The boat can carry up to 14 reloads of each or a mixed set and can further be called upon to lay naval mines when needed. Processing systems including a DMUX 20 series multi-function suite, an ETBF DSUV 62C towed antenna array, the DRUA 33 series radar and the ARUR 16 system.
Saphir, like the other boats of the class, were stricken with slow speed and noisy operation from the get-go, leading to the AMETHYSTE ("AMEleoration Tactique HYdrodynamique Silence Transmission Ecoute") Rebuild program of 1989. the primary goal of this program was to reduce the acoustic signature of the boats - the Canadian Navy rejected the design themselves based not only on cost but also noisiness. Changes to the design included a more rounded nosecap (as opposed to the original blunt shaping), upgraded sonar fits, and revised electronics. Amethyste and Perle were the first boats granted the fixes with the other four boats following to the standard through work spanning 1989 into 1995.
To date, Saphir has led a rather low profile service life. In September of 2001, she was called to torpedo the Cold War-era T47-class destroyer D-Estree which had been relegated as a target. During COMPTUEX 2015, she was credited with the "sinking" of the U.S. Navy carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during allied war games.
Saphir remains in active service as of this writing (2019) and makes her homeport out of Toulon. She, and her sisters, is set to be succeeded by the Barracuda-/Suffren-class boats under construction as of January 2019 (detailed elsewhere on this site).