French Frigate Chevalier Paul Visits Canada
CHRISTOPHER BOBYN
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 3)

In May 2010, le Vieux-Port de Québec hosted one of the French Navy’s most advanced ships, the frigate Chevalier Paul. Fresh from recent training with the Russian Navy in the Baltic, and subsequent coldwater trials en route to Canada, the Horizon Class destroyer arrived to waiting representatives from the Canadian Navy and the naval industry. With Canada contemplating the acquisition (or building) of new frigates for its navy fleet, all eyes, government, military and industry alike, were eager to view the latest of naval offerings.

Canada has struggled to maintain its national shipbuilding assets for a variety of reasons, some of which are attributable to the boom and bust cycle of ship-building. For years, the maritime shipbuilding industry has presented the benefits of a ship building policy for Canada, and it appears that with NSPS, Canada will take an important step towards acknowledging the critical importance of a strong and viable marine industry, and the strategic and economic importance of shipbuilding to a maritime nation.

The Chevalier Paul is among the most modern frigates used by NATO countries; it is one of four identical ships designed by a joint French and Italian naval program called FREMM (frégates multi-mission). Originally a multi-national venture that included the British, who ultimately left the program in favor of their own frigate design, the Franco-Italian project created the Horizon Class anti-air warfare frigate. Built for France by the French company DCNS Shipbuilding in Toulon in 2005, the Chevalier Paul’s commission is less than a year old, having been launched in 2006 and commissioned in June 2009. Even 11 months after its naval commission, the frigate’s sea trials continue.

So new is the entire Horizon Class, that all of the ship’s operations are rigorously measured and recorded to establish performance baselines. It’s most recent operations in Northern waters from the Baltic to Quebec were used to monitor the ship’s coldwater functionality. The Toulon-based Chevalier Paul was not designed specifically for North Atlantic operations, but rather for the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and the Coast of Western Africa. Indeed the much of the frigate’s eventual workload will be patrolling the shores of former French African colonies.
 
 
Canadian Project Officers welcomed aboard Chevalier Paul.
 
While such a mission harkens back to France’s past, the Chevalier Paul is a leap forward. Classified as a frigate by the French Navy, it nonetheless bears the marking of “D” on its hull for a Destroyer Class. At 6600 tonnes displacement and 152m length, the ship’s shear size makes its ­classification difficult. Indeed, one DCNS representative present in Quebec described the Chevalier Paul as a type of hybrid ship, encompassing Corvettes, Frigates and Destroyers. This amalgamation of classes is indicative of the Chevalier Paul’s place in naval evolution, one in which weapons and engineering advances have dictated new modes of capability, manning, and operations. Traditional naval doctrine has become antiquated by virtue of technology; a navy can simply do more with one precision ship than ever before.

Such precision is abundant in the Chevalier Paul’s impressive weaponry. During a mock-combat scenario presented for assembled Canadian guests in the ship’s Combat Information Centre, the CIC crew quickly dispatched a task group of three enemy ships and a submarine. As the attacks unfolded on myriad LCD overheads and digital maps, the weapons officer used the ship’s decoy countermeasures, Principal Anti-Air Missiles (PAAM) and torpedoes, to eliminate the four threats simultaneously.

The Chevalier Paul’s compliment of 40 PAAM vertical launch missiles are the most formidable of its armaments, the backbone of its anti-aircraft operational purpose in the French fleet, and indeed what makes the ship standout as an offensive power in the French Navy. The PAAM missiles are bolstered by dual front-mounted 76mm “super rapid guns,” dual anti-aircraft guns, and port and starboard launching torpedoes. While the torpedoes themselves have a devastating capability, it is their fully mechanized, robotic, loading system that is the true innovation. This system allows the Chevalier Paul to re-load armed torpedoes in under 10 minutes – completely automated.

The offensive reach is maximized by an accompanying NHIndustries NH90 ­helicopter. The “NATO Frigate Helicopter” version of this craft, already in use by many NATO countries including France, is equipped specifically for anti-submarine and anti-­surface warfare.

The technological advances of the Chevalier Paul are not limited to its armaments. The ship’s communications interoperability with French allies and even its physical design are innovations unto themselves. Interoperability was unquestionably a key specification laid out by the French and Italian Navies from the outset of their frigate program. Though certainly operable alone, it reaches peak performance within a greater task group. To coordinate its efforts among allies, the ship relies on tri-dimensional radar, hull sonar and radio IFF to keep the aforementioned CIC inundated with instant and accurate situational awareness. Defensively, thanks to an innovative structural design, the ship can jam enemy communications while, and minimizing its own radar signature.

The Chevalier Paul’s physical size is in no way discreet, however its sleek and angular (almost windowless) appearance and radar absorbing materials help it to become just that when enemies attempt to track the ship from afar.
 
 
Highly automated damage control centre.
 
Internally, the frigate was conceived to be immensely livable (by naval standards), heightening the comfort and ultimate ­productivity of the crew of 180. Boasting innovative crew quarters of two or four beds (depending on rank), personal space is cleverly maximized – each with its own private toilet/shower – a far cry from the communal sleeping and bathing facilities found on older ships. Personal internet access is standard for all crew, of course, making the distances from family all the smaller, even if virtually. The sleek design of the ships exterior is mirrored in its clean white hallways, kitchen and cafeteria (which recycles all its waste to minimize the ship’s ecological footprint) and the modern IKEA-styled officers mess, complete with espresso machines (it is a French ship after all). Lifestyle is at the forefront of the Chevalier Paul’s design – the engineers realizing that the quality of crew performance is in direct correlation with their overall happiness at sea.

Indeed, the manning of the frigate is among the most modern of its many advances. France has been faced with lowering recruitment levels for the Navy and it has had to factor smaller crews into new ship designs. However, smaller crews are not entirely dictated by manpower shortages, but also a need for fewer men by virtue of the complete digital integration into the ship and its weaponry. In fact, the Chevalier Paul, while accommodating the reality of smaller Navy, takes full advantage of the limit in order to maximize its overall performance. The crew are trained to carry out a variety of tasks, none of them perfunctory, almost every member carrying out complex digital and manual workloads at some point. Sailors can fill in for one another thanks to clever cross training on each other’s stations, allowing for continual operations regardless of illness or casualties. The resulting quality and competence of even the lowest ranking sailors is that of a robust individual professionalism, all while minimizing the needed manpower. The required crew of 180 for the Chevalier Paul is two-thirds of the previous generation of frigate, and yet they can ultimately carry out more complex operations as a team than their predecessors. The crew of the Chevalier Paul is indicative of the greater modern French Navy; smaller and less ponderous, fewer but far more capable and educated, and in turn more effective than ever in its missions.

Truly, the Chevalier Paul is progressive on all fronts, and nowhere is this more evident than the presence of the ship’s Imam. Citing the evolving make-up of France’s many ethnicities, the French Army began training Imams to serve as unit Chaplains in 2005. While the accommodation of Muslim citizens into French society has been wrought with polarized politics and even violence, the Army program of implementing Imams alongside their Christian and Jewish counterparts proved to be a ­success and helped to bring Muslim Frenchmen into military service. This incorporation of the Muslim faith into the Army was soon adopted by the French Navy, and now the Chevalier Paul boasts France’s first naval Imam among nine other Muslims serving on the ship. Imam Bouzid Nordine Messili administers to the multi-denominational needs of the entire crew onboard. Even in the socio-political arena, the Chevalier Paul manages to break new ground.

The Frigate Chevalier Paul represents a benchmark in frigate design and naval technology. The Canadian Navy and industry guests who saw her will have much to garner from the many advancements the ship has to offer. The Chevalier Paul’s innovations are all encompassing, successfully packaging modern armaments, defensive capabilities, interior and exterior ship design and forward thinking crew manning into single ship. Built with anti-air warfare in mind, the frigate’s apparent modernity allows it to fulfill many roles at sea. Indeed, from Quebec City the Chevalier Paul moves on to Haiti, where it its crew will aid in humanitarian work. In a world where militaries, and their Navies chief among them, need to carry out a variety of tasks, ships in the vein of the frigate Chevalier Paul and her three Horizon Class sisters, are likely to become templates for ships to come. The technology of 40 years ago, when Canada’s aging ships were built, is indeed ancient by today’s standards.
While the Canadian Navy has yet to decide on a foreign procurement or home built option for its own replacement frigates, the Chevalier Paul has shown what can be expected of a modern build in the future.

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© FrontLine Defence 2010

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