To say it was expected would be an understatement. Friday April 16, Naval Group delivered the Alsace Air Defense Frigate to the French Navy. In the coming months, it will take the place of the anti-aircraft frigate T70 Cassard withdrawn from service in 2019, leaving the French Navy with only 3 frigates dedicated to the air escort missions of major units, such as the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. , or Assault Helicopter Carriers of the Mistral class. A second FREMM DA frigate is being built in the Naval Group shipyards in Lorient, Lorraine, and is to be delivered next year to the French Navy to replace the T70 Jean Bart frigate which could join the Hellenic Navy.
The Alsace is the 9th FREMM frigate built by Naval Group, after the 6 Aquitaine class anti-submarine FREMMs delivered to the National Navy, and two ships delivered to the Moroccan and Egyptian Navy. Like its sister ships, the Alsace is 142 m long for a tonnage of 6000 tonnes when loaded. Very similar in appearance to the FREMM of the Aquitaine class, it is nevertheless a ship highly specialized in anti-aircraft warfare, while having the same anti-submarine warfare capabilities as its big sisters. To fulfill this mission, Alsace has swapped its 2 Sylver 70 vertical launch systems intended to accommodate 16 MdCN cruise missiles, with 2 Sylver 50s in addition to the two already present, in order to implement 32 anti-aircraft missiles. Aster 30 or Aster 15.
To strengthen the anti-aircraft capabilities of its frigate, beyond simply doubling the number of missiles dedicated to this mission, Naval Group and Thales have modified the main Herakles radar to optimize its capabilities, with increased power and more transmitter modules. for this passive electronic antenna radar. In addition, the mast of the frigate has been redesigned and refined, so as to reduce its disturbing effects on radar waves, offering Alsace an extended 360 ° detection capacity without shadow. The operations center, like the SETIS combat system, have been modified to respond to these changes. In fact, Alsace will be able to place a no-fly bubble with a radius of more than 100 km, based on the very effective Aster 30 missile already in service on the Horizon anti-aircraft frigates, the anti-aircraft destroyers. - British aircraft Type 45, or on the FREMM Brittany and Normandy of the French Navy. If Alsace no longer has the ability to strike the FREMMs of the Aquitaine class towards land, it nevertheless remains extremely capable in the field of anti-ship warfare, with 8 MM40 Exocet missiles, and in the field of warfare. anti-submarine, for which it has the same attributes as the Aquitaine, with a Kingklip hull sonar, a Captas-4 variable depth sonar, Mu90 torpedoes and an ASM helicopter. Thus armed, the frigate Alsace is able to fulfill a wide range of missions, giving the crews of the French Navy a foretaste of what will be the Defense and Intervention Frigates or FDI which are to enter service from 2024.
The fact remains that if with two Horizon air defense frigates of the Forbin class, 6 FREMM of the Aquitaine class, 2 FREMM DA of the Alsace class and 5 FDI of the Admiral Ronarc'h class, the French Navy will have the 15 frigates of the 1st class. modern and capable rank as required by the 2013 White Paper on La Défense, this format remains too limited in view of the needs and threats, by the very admission of the Naval Staff. Officially, the French Navy estimates that it needs at least 3 additional 1st rank frigates to meet the operational pressure of the moment. But given the tensions that are developing in the Mediterranean, in Europe, in the Middle East and in the Indo-Pacific theater, a format beyond 20 frigates will probably be required in the years to come, with at least 6 ships specializing in the Anti-aircraft defense.
The issue of 2nd rank frigates remains, when it comes to it, entirely posed for the French Navy, which has 11 ships of this type to be replaced soon, the 5 Furtive Light Frigates of the La Fayette class and the 6 Surveillance class frigates. Floréal specializes in overseas missions. For the time being, no order has been made official for their replacement, despite the fact that these ships are all the more essential today since the French Navy's corvette fleet has quite simply been eliminated with the withdrawal of the Aviso A69 specializing in anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, or their reclassification as High Seas Patrollers, and that the Oceanic Patroller program announced last year will not meet this need. However, with the hardening of tensions in the world and the multiplication of threats, the very concept of the 2nd rank frigate may appear unsuitable, because it is too vulnerable, and could have to make way for better armed ships, especially in the anti-aircraft field. and anti-submarines, as can be the Gowind 2500 corvettes of Naval Group, and with better resistance to damage.
The arrival of Alsace is undoubtedly a significant step in strengthening the operational capacities of the French Navy. However, and like the Army and the Air Force, which share the same constraints, the current format of the French naval and naval forces is still too heavily marked by considerations from a bygone era, even which has never really existed except in the optimistic vision of many leaders at the end of the war cold. Guaranteeing the defense and security of metropolitan waters as well as of the ultra-marine territories of the second exclusive economic zone in the world will require an in-depth review of the format of the National Navy, as it will be necessary to review the means of other national armies to respond to emerging security issues. Economically sustainable solutions exist to respond to these challenges, but both leaders and political figures need to be aware of this.