The frigate is today the surface combatant of excellence for the navies of the first rank, combining the versatility of their sensors with advanced weapon systems to ensure a wide range of missions, from escort to control of maritime spaces, and sometimes even denial of access and land strikes. In this article, we will study some of the main classes of modern medium-tonnage frigates, called to become the backbone of many navies in the world, in order to compare them with each other but also to refine the perception of the technological balance of power and military in the naval field.
China: Type 054A
With 30 units in service for the People's Liberation Army alone, the presented first class frigate is the most prolific of the frigates since the famous American OH Perry class. Entered into service in 2008, the Type 054A is 134 meters long and weighs barely 4000 tonnes when loaded. However, this frigate specializing in anti-submarine warfare is remarkably well equipped, with 32 vertical cells for medium-range HQ-16 anti-aircraft missiles (max 50 km, Buk family) and Y-8 missiles, local version of the US anti-submarine SUBROC. In addition, 8 C-803 subsonic anti-ship missiles with grazing trajectory with a range of 180 km, 2 triple torpedo launchers of 324mm, 2 close anti-aircraft systems CIWS Type-730 of 30mm, and a main gun 26mm PJ76.
Each frigate also has a PESA Type 382 radar with a power of 100 KW capable of detecting a hunter at high altitude at a distance of 250 km, as well as an MGK-385 hull sonar and a sonar towed H / SJG-206, giving it anti-submarine detection capabilities both in coastal areas and in the high seas. The combat system of the ZKJ-4B / 6 ship is derived from the TAVITAC system of Thomson-CSF, today Thales, within the framework of technology transfers in the 2000s when the two countries maintained very close relations. Beijing was then the main customer of the French defense industry.
Although light, the Type 054A are in fact well armed and equipped, and able to carry out anti-submarine escort missions, one of the privileged missions of frigates in the world. With an export price of less than $ 400 million, it is also very economical, and has already been chosen by Pakistan (4 units) and Thailand (3 units). A more modern version, the Type 054B, should soon see the light of day. This frigate should benefit from the latest Chinese technological advances, and in particular from a flat-faced EASA radar, a locally made combat system, new armaments andan electric propulsion system. It should also be longer and more imposing, but in a limited way, the Chinese nomenclature being strict on its needs in terms of tonnage.
France: FDI Belharra Program
122m long for 4500 tonnes in load, the Defense and Intervention Frigate, or IDF, designated Belharra for export, is today the flagship of the French military naval industry. Ordered in 5 units by the French Navy, it will complete the surface fleet made up of the FREMMs of the Aquitaine and Alsace classes, and the FDA Horizon of the Forbin class. Although almost 25% lighter than FREMM, the FDI retains a large part of its capacities, especially in its export version as offered to the Greek Navy, with 3 Sylver 50 for 24 octuple vertical launcher systems Aster 30 anti-aircraft missiles with a range of over 100 km, and a Sylver 70 system for 8 MdCN cruise missiles reaching more than 1500 km. In addition, the frigate has the brand new AESA flat face radar Sea Fire 500 from Thales, offering very extensive capabilities for the detection of aerial targets, but also surface or ballistic targets.
Alongside the traditional (for French ships) 2 × 4 MM40 Block 3C Exocet anti-ship missiles and the 76mm gun, the Belharra also has remarkable anti-submarine capabilities, a specialty of the French naval industry, with a Kingklip hull sonar and a Captas-4 towed sonar, completed by its NH90 CAIMAN Marine helicopter and its Flash tempered sonar. Both Caiman and Belharra have Mu90 light torpedoes to take on the submersible once located. In addition, the ship has a high degree of automation and data digitization, making it appear as a “digital” frigate according to Naval Group, its designer.
However, the FDI is not without weaknesses. First of all, its price remains high, at € 750m per unit in the export version 4 sylver, excluding ammunition. Above all, it is handicapped by the limitations of the French VLS Sylver system which, unlike the American Mk41s or the Russian UKSK, does not allow different types of missile to be loaded depending on the mission. Thus, the Sylver70 can only use MdCN cruise missiles, the Sylver 43 only Aster 15 anti-aircraft missiles, the Sylver 50 being the only exception in being able to receive Aster 15 or 30.
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