France owns the second largest maritime territory worldwide, and as a result, it has “the need for a complete Navy”, said Rear Admiral Hervé Bléjean, Head of International Relations of the French Navy. Speaking with international defence correspondents during the pre-EURONAVAL press conference in Paris on 30 September 2014, the Admiral explained that the French Navy has three core tasks: providing deterrence; conducting expeditionary operations; and maintaining good order at sea. Due to the ongoing modernisation of the fleet, France’s naval industry has a healthy order book: four “Suffren” class (BARRACUDA) nuclear-powered attack submarines; six FREMM multimission frigates; three new 65m long, 2,300 tons multimission vessels (Bâtiments Multi-Missions; abbreviated B2M); light patrol vessels (Patrouilleurs Légers Guyanais; PLG); and support vessels (Bâtiments de Soutien et d’Assistance Hauturiers; BSAH). Eight units of the latter are expected to replace a wide range of aging auxiliary vessels currently in service with the Marine Nationale. Also, the requirement for a new double hulled fleet replenishment tanker/support vessel (Bâtiment Ravitailleur d’Escadre; BRAVE) is being finalised.
|The second FREMM frigate, “Normandie” (D 651), pictured in the dry dock at DCNS shipyard in Lorient in October 2014. She underwent a series of sea trials during the summer. (Photo: Pieter Bastiaans)|
Other equipment on order include NH90 CAÏMAN Marine helicopters and F21 ARTEMIS heavyweight torpedoes. Additionally, the Navy’s single aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” (R 91) is destined to undergo a service life extension programme, starting in 2015. Procurement of a second aircraft carrier is being ruled out due to a lack of funding.
Two Anglo-French procurement projects are underway: the new comprehensive mine countermeasures (MCM) system (Système de Lutte Anti Mines Futur; SLAMF) and the Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) or FASGW(H). The latter, a medium-range naval strike missile replacing the French AS15TT and Royal Navy SEA SKUA systems, is also known as SEA VENOM in the UK.
As part of the SLAMF programme, the ESPADON (Évaluation de Solutions Potentielles d’Automatisation de Déminage pour les Opérations Navales) subsystem is currently being developed by an industrial consortium consisting of DCNS, THALES, and ECA Robotics. It is a demonstrator consisting of an optionally manned surface vessel acting as a mothership for autonomous underwater vehicles like ECA Robotics’ ALISTER 18 twin-body AUV or the same company’s K-STER mine disposal vehicle. A follow-on to the current “Tripartite” class of MCM ships, SLAMF will likely be launched by the European OCCAR in 2016 or 2017.
Concurrently, the French MoD has allocated research & development (R&D) funds to the Topside programme that is destined to provide a combined EW, radar, and communications capability, using integrated multifunction arrays for all RF functions. Money is also being spent on new fast raiding craft for France’s naval special operations forces (Embarcation Commandos à Usage Multiple Embarquable Nouvelle Génération; ECUME NG).
According to Zodiac Milpro, the Defence Ministry has confirmed its acceptance of the first advanced ECUME RIB and has placed an order for nine craft. The purchase is the first part of an investment option that will ultimately result in the delivery of another 10 of the advanced new craft by the French RIB manufacturer.
|The second “Aquitaine” class frigate “Normandie” (D 651) is the first FREMM unit to get Nexter’s NARWHAL 20B 20mm remote controlled weapon station. (Photo: Pieter Bastiaans)|
The Marine Nationale received all three “Mistral” class LHD ships, named Bâtiments de Projection et de Commandement (BPC) in French Navy parlance, and no additional units are being envisaged. The deal with Russia for two “Mistral” class ships remains in limbo though. The French Navy still operates a fourth amphibious landing ship, the older “Foudre” class “Siroco” (L 9012); however, Admiral Bléjean explained that she will be decommissioned in 2015 and put up for sale. New catamaran-type fast landing craft (Engins de Débarquement Amphibie Rapide; EDA-R) have also been introduced to enable over-the-horizon amphibious operations from the Navy’s LHD ships.
The procurement of the HORIZON air defence destroyers fitted with the Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS) and EMPAR multifunction radar – also dubbed PAAMS (E) – ended after the delivery of a mere two ships; so, the new FREMM frigates will form “the backbone of the French Navy”, according to Admiral Bléjean. On loan from DCNS, the patrol vessel “L’Adroit” (hull number P 725) is being used by the Navy under the auspices of Project HERMES as a precursor to the BATSIMAR (Bâtiment de Surveillance et d’Intervention Maritime) requirement for a series of OPV.
Speaking about the future prospects of the FREMM programme, Admiral Bléjean said: “We need at least two anti-air warfare ships.” These are the so-called FREDA (Frégate Défense Aérienne) frigates that have been envisaged to replace the two aging “Cassard” class air defence destroyers. Just like the two “Forbin” class (HORIZON) ships, they also will be fitted with PAAMS (E). This air defence system is capable of contributing to NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) programme, with its MBDA ASTER 30 missiles being launched from the ships’ SYLVER A50 vertical launch systems (VLS).
The spearhead of French naval innovation is formed by DCNS. Designing and building submarines and surface combatants as well as associated equipment and infrastructure for France and numerous export customers, this company is also increasingly involved with providing in-service support and naval MRO services to the Marine Nationale. DCNS’ current product portfolio includes the DCNS Evolved Aircraft Carrier (DEAC), which, depending on its propulsion system, has a displacement of 52,000 tons (COGAG) or 55,000 tons (CODLAG). When addressing international customers, the DEAC package can be accompanied by the transfer of certain items of technology. It is a heavily automated carrier design featuring an updated SETIS (Ship Enhanced Tactical Information System) CMS and the capability to accommodate up to 40 aircraft and a crew of 900.
DCNS now offers two variants of its Mistral family of amphibious warfare ships: the Mistral 200 LHD and the smaller Mistral 170 LPD (formerly known as Mistral 140). The high-end Mistral 200 was developed in cooperation with STX France, and has a displacement of 22,000 tons. DCNS also promotes its CTM NG (Chaland de Transport de Matériel de Nouvelle Génération) small landing craft that can be used from the Mistral series of ships. Providing multipurpose support, the 30,000 tons BRAVE 200 fleet replenishment tanker/support ship design features a POLARIS CMS, and is offered for the French Navy’s new AOR requirement.
|Capable of hosting 25 crewmembers, instructors, and trainees, the first MST 400 vessel, “Almak”, provides practical training at sea for students from foreign countries. (Photo: Pieter Bastiaans)|
Depending on the specific requirements with regard to system performance and displacement by potential customers, DCNS markets various types of multipurpose OPV, corvettes, and frigates. At the high end, ordered by the Navies of France and Morocco, the company’s SETIS-equipped FREMM frigate has a displacement of 6,000 tons, a length of 142m, and is manned by a crew of 108. Designed for AAW, ASW, ASuW, and land attack, the highly modular Franco-Italian FREMM design features a stealth architecture that includes low radar cross section (RCS) characteristics and a reduced IR signature. It also features optimised means for passive detection including ESM and panoramic IRST, of which the latter augments THALES’ HERAKLES multifunction radar, while relying on tactical data-links to help build-up a Common Operational Picture (COP). Silent operation is enabled by the ship’s CODLOG (Combined Diesel Electric or Gas) propulsion system. While the generic FREMM design is capable of accommodating various VLS, the French ASW-configured “Aquitaine” class is fitted with two eight-cell SYLVER A43 VLS carrying MBDA ASTER 15 effectors as part of the ship’s SAAM-FR air defence system. Also installed are two eight-cell SYLVER A70 VLS that will accommodate MBDA’ MdCN naval cruise missile. Armament also includes MBDA’s 200km (108nm) range EXOCET MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missile system, OTO Melara’s 76/62 Super Rapid Gun, Nexter’s NARWHAL 20B 20mm remote controlled weapon stations, and EuroTorp MU90 lightweight torpedoes. The ship’s sonar equipment consists of THALES Underwater Systems’ 4110 CL hull-mounted sonar and the same company’s CAPTAS 4 (UMS 4249) combined active and passive Variable Depth Sonar (VDS). The third FREMM frigate, “Provence” (D 652), conducted her first at-sea testing while the fourth unit, “Languedoc” (D 655), was floated out in mid-July.
DCNS’ SETIS-equipped GOWIND 2500 corvette, with a length of 103m, has been ordered by Malaysia and Egypt. Manned by a lean crew of 65, the multirole combatant has a displacement of 2,700 tons, whereas the 80m GOWIND 1000 design displaces 1,500 tons, accommodating a crew of 56. The latter is well-suited for EEZ patrols although the vessel’s capabilities can be further enhanced by adding mission modules, including ASW.
DCNS’ FX4 programme should result in a new frigate design aimed at fulfilling the Frégates de Taille Intermédiaire (FTI) requirement. FTI will eventually replace the current five “La Fayette” class light frigates.
The Kership joint venture between DCNS (45%) and Piriou (55%) has led to a series of multipurpose OPV designs that are optimised for less-demanding maritime security operations. The OPV range includes the OPV 50, 75, and 90 designs, while the new B2M (Bâtiments Multi-Missions) multimission vessel forms part of the multipurpose range together with the MPV 80. Manned by a crew of 30, the POLARIS-equipped OPV 90 has a length of 87m, displacing 1,000 tons.
Construction of three B2M units has commenced at Piriou’s shipyard in Concarneau. All units will be delivered to the French Navy in 2015 and 2016, while the contract also includes in-service support during a six-year period. Armed with two .50-calibre (12.7mm) heavy machine guns and two water cannons, the 65m B2M has a wide stern deck that can accommodate up to six 20-ft containers. Manned by up to 40 personnel, the B2M can also carry two 7m RHIB.
Piriou also offers a separate range of fast coastal patrol vessels, the CPV 82 (25m) and CPV 105 (32,5m), as well as the MST 44 (Bâtiment de Formation Maritime; BFM 44) maritime training ship and the LCT 50 landing craft; the latter two designs through the Kership partnership. One MST 44 vessel (named “Almak”) is operated under a performance-based contract for the French military by the navOcéan alliance since late 2013. This joint venture comprises the service provider company Defense Conseil International or DCI (70%) and Piriou (30%). With the French Navy lacking an adequate organic training capacity, it is not unlikely that more of these MST 44 ships might be needed in the near future to enlarge the navOcéan programme. Sources quote a total of 10 units.
In addition, Piriou has considerable expertise in providing in-service support as it has supported more than 120 French Navy vessels since 2004, including more than 100 launches from the Brest Naval Base, as well as sail training ships, hydrographic vessels, ocean-going tugs, and more. The Brittany-based company has also been involved in refitting French Navy training ships, including a full re-engining of eight vessels.
In November 2013, Piriou conducted an unorthodox move as it acquired the P400 type patrol vessel “La Tapageuse” (P 691), the last of the “L’Audacieuse” class patrol vessels, from the French Navy without any client identified beforehand. Once the ship had been refitted, it was to be offered as a short-term, cost-effective solution for operators that are looking for an operational vessel of this sort. However, as heard at the EURONAVAL 2014 exhibition in Le Bourget, Piriou’s approach has already paid off as it has managed to sell the vessel to the Gabonese Navy. Also included in the deal is the delivery of an OPV 50 from the Kership range while DCI’s naval component will be involved in providing initial crew training. It is likely that Piriou is planning to do similar deals involving surplus P400 class patrol ships in the future.
Despite being very pleased with its nuclear-powered submarines, the French government sees a need to maintain the country’s know-how on conventionally-powered submarines. DCNS has now launched the new conventional SMX Ocean attack submarine that will augment its range of SCORPENE diesel-electric submarines (1000 and 2000 series). Equipped with VL tubes, the submerged platform carries a maximum of 34 weapons, offering a strike capability against land, sea, and air targets. The SMX Ocean will be able to deploy a torpedo tube-launched UAV as well as unmanned underwater vehicles that can be accommodated in a specially designed docking bay. Designed for ISR tasks, the discrete VIPERE buoy provides digitally stabilised imagery both a day and night. Operated from the submarine by using a 2km long optical fibre glass cable, VIPERE can be recovered by using a winch.
By Pieter Bastiaans
|Leveraging technology from the BARRACUDA SSN design, the newly designed concept of the SMX Ocean submarine features a surface displacement of 4,750 tons, a length of 100m, and an endurance of up to three months. (Photo: Courtesy of DCNS)|