FREMM: a sound basis for CSC project?
© 2014 FrontLine Defence (Vol 11, No 3)

France’s newest class of warship is an impressive model of innovation and flexibility, incorporating the best of maritime and naval technology. The multi-mission frigate (FREMM) Aquitaine was built in the DCNS Group’s shipyard in the Brittany seaport of Lorient, and represents the pinnacle of French technological excellence.Answering a requirement that is similar to the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project, two variants have been developed for the French Navy – one incorporates extended anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, and the second variant will be equipped with an extended anti-air warfare (AAW) capability (FREMM-ER).

Also similar to Canada’s frigate plans, Aquitaine is the first-of-class of a program of 12 multi-mission frigates that will systematically replace French F67 (Tourville-class), F70 (Georges Leygues-class) ASW destroyers, and F70 (Cassard-class) AAW destroyers.

Another key requirement imposed by the French Navy was to minimize the life cycle cost of these ships. This has been achieved through several innovative solutions, including:

  • design flexibility that takes into account an easier and more robust in-service support (accessibility to equipment, removal routes, commercial-off-the-shelf equipment when appropriate…)
  • integration of new-generation, highly automated technologies that allow the French Navy to dramatically reduce crew size by 60 percent while addressing the challenges of recruiting and retention.
  • fuel efficient propulsion system: electric propulsion for patrol and transit speeds; gas turbine for higher speeds.

Improved command post tasks, like navigation and combat system management, have streamlined crew activities and simplified operator tasks. Automatic control systems enable operators to respond more quickly and more efficiently to operational requirements, damage, incidents and changes affecting the ships tactical situation, 24/7, at all states of readiness.

The bridge features state-of-the-art consoles for all essential operations including navigation, conning and communications. Under normal circumstances, bridge operators monitor, control and coordinate onboard systems, and safety and security functions via centralized systems.
Multifunction consoles on the bridge and in the combat control centre replace dedicated monitors and work stations, enhance bridge functions and conduct of operations, and permit real-time task completion. Automated vessel management functions enable crew members to focus on ship control and navigation concurrently with operations.

During her “shakedown cruise,” the Aquitaine joined U.S. Navy vessels off the coast of South Carolina on 30 March for a brief exercise to give the frigate an opportunity to demonstrate her capabilities. The FREMM, her NH-90 “Caiman” helicopter and several USN vessels comprised the friendly forces which successfully detected, tracked and engaged the opposing ‘coalition force’ of USN ships and aircraft.

The exercise tested the interoperability of tactical datalinks to share information gathered by force-wide sensors that are essential for joint and allied operations. Secure chat sessions enabled the combat operations team to remain in constant contact with all allied units, and most importantly, with the USN command team, permitting the Aquitaine to participate as an active member of the force.

As with her predecessors, notably the Horizon-class air defence destroyers, FREMM is fully interoperable with U.S. and NATO navies, and able to perform the highest demanding responsibilities, such as Air Defence Commander within carrier battle groups.

Equipped with a variety of weapon systems, including short and long range missiles, light torpedoes and multi-purpose radar, these vessels can be used in all types of high intensity warfare: anti-submarine, air defence, anti-surface, land attack, and counter asymmetric warfare missions.

The FREMM multi-mission frigate is Europe’s largest surface combatant program. Each ship represents over three million hours of work per year to produce a frigate every 10 months.

Understanding the key role – particularly the much shorter timelines from concept to implementation – that innovation plays in our technology-hungry world, the FREMM was designed from the ground up for flexibility. Systems, components and functionalities can all be customized on a client-by-client basis. Simulation and modeling technologies permit DCNS to design a whole ship (platform, platform systems and combat system) with the customer from the outset, efficiently, effectively and economically.

DCNS Canadian representative Olivier Casenave-Péré explained to Frontline how easily a ship similar to Aquitaine could be built in Canada with Canadian partners, providing comparable work to Canadian industry. He is convinced that DCNS is capable of delivering a Canadian modified FREMM-design to meet CSC program capabilities and requirements, and that this Canadian solution will provide the RCN with the most modern, fully interoperable ship available, while delivering the maximum number of ships within the budget.

To illustrate the success of such a ­business model, Casenave-Péré offers the example of the 2008 bilateral agreement between Brazil and France to procure four Scorpene diesel-electric submarines. A new shipyard (where the submarines will be built) is included in the deal, as well as a new submarine base, the creation of a school in France to teach Brazilian naval architects and engineers how to design submarines, and the transfer of the requisite technologies to their client.

Tim Dunne, FrontLine’s Maritime correspondent, is based in Dartmouth.
© FrontLine Defence 2014