Multi-Mission Frigates
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 3)

On 4 May 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proudly unveiled the brand new Aquitaine, the first FREMM series frigate to be built for the French navy. Not only are these “frégates multi-missions,” being built in France, representing an accomplishment for the French ­maritime industry, but their armament is also being produced in France.

“Maritime construction is strategic to our country,” said Sarkozy to a crowd of dignitaries and journalists at a Lorient, France, shipyard where the Aquitaine was built. “It is important to nurture this industrial knowledge,” he said, referring to Lorient’s four-­century history of building warships for the Marine nationale, the navy arm of the French military.

At the turn of the 21st century, France and Italy recognized they had similar requirements in the renewal of their navy fleet, so they partnered to develop a common type of frigate. Building is done separately, however, with shipbuilder DCNS producing the French FREMM. Delivery of 11 vessels began this year with the launch of the Aquitaine, and will be completed within a 10-year schedule.

The extensive DCNS expertise in naval shipbuilding has been a big factor in the build continuing on-schedule and on-budget.

The FREMM program includes four types (anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, anti-surface, and naval fire support), based on a modular system. Each type has the same multifunctional and heavily-armed core, to which modules, or options, are added to make them usage-specific.

So far, France has ordered 11 FREMM, nine of the anti-submarine type (ASM), and the other two will be used as anti-aircraft vessels (FREDA).

All vessels will be armed with a 76-mm artillery, eight surface-launched Exocet MM40 Block 3 missiles (the latest in antiship missiles), 19 MU90 lightweight torpedoes, and an NH90 helicopter.

DCNS was successful in furnishing the FREMM with cutting-edge variable depth sonar. The system, which mixes passive and active sonar and can be launched automatically, has extraordinary carrying power to detect silent targets. The anti-submarine FREMM will be equipped with 16 Aster 15 and 16 missiles (ship point defence), while 32 Aster 15 and 30 missiles (ground-based area defence) will be found on the anti-aircraft type.

In 2014, Storm Shadow cruise missiles will be added to the French FREMM’s arming, making them the second surface vessels (after the Americans) to be equipped with these deep launching rockets.

A multi-capable vessel, the French navy plans to use the FREMM for numerous missions: air-marine surveillance, escort, maritime traffic control, and maritime rescue.

The 6,000 ton (142 meters long and 20 meters wide) FREMM will be a good choice to participate in international task groups as their communications system is interoperable with NATO requirements.

The vessels are propelled by a hybrid system. In silent or anti-submarine mode, electrical engines ensure that their level of noise is as low as a small trawler. At cruise speed, the gas turbines will be used.

The FREMM only require 108 crew (lodging capacity is 145). This reduced number of operators (compared to similar-sized ships) is due to a high degree of automated systems, from navigation operations to the command post and the combat system. For example, the multifunctional bridge consoles combine navigation, command, and communications operations.

DCNS is confident that the introduction of automatic systems on the FREMM will be beneficial, especially at the combat level. Michel Le Bouedec, head of the industrial methods department at DCNS, agreed that there are risks, but these are easily outweighed by the benefits of automation. Most systems have a manual override capacity. Any impact would be on the watch rotation system which has been manned to capitalize on technology.

The French navy plans to use the FREMM to replace the anti-submarine frigates F67 and F70, as well as the anti-aircraft frigates F70. Once the Aquitaine is accepted by the French navy in 2012, the Normandie will follow in 2014 and the remaining nine FREMM will be handed over, one every 10 months.

The cost of the project for the French government is approximated at €7 billion ($9.5 billion).

FREMM vessels are being marketed to other countries. Morocco is awaiting its DCNS-built ship in 2013. Brazil, Greece, and Saudi Arabia are said to be looking into the project very closely.

© FrontLine Defence 2010