A few days ago, an article from Sea and Marine caused a certain media frenzy in the national defense sphere. He explained that the Bretagne frigate of theto the National Navy, an Aquitaine-class ship, had seen its R-ECM jammers, equipment designed by Thales, which allows the ship to jam ship radars but also enemy anti-ship missiles, removed to equip the new Lorraine frigate. Indeed, only 7 batches of jammers have actually been ordered by the French Navy to equip its 8 FREMM frigates, leaving a ship permanently without these systems, which are nevertheless considered critical for first-class ships, likely to operate in very high intensity in the face of major threats, even if, let us remember, the maintenance schedule for French frigates provides that there is at least one Aquitaine class frigate under maintenance at all times. However, the recent episode of the Russian cruiser Moskva heavily damaged by what appears to be two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, is a fitting reminder of the need for this type of equipment for such ships.
It must be said that the case of the R-ECM jammers of the FREMM frigates only represents the tip of a much larger iceberg, the French Navy being accustomed to chronic under-equipment of its ships. Thus, the stealth light frigates of the La Fayette class were initially to be equipped with a hull sonar, torpedo tubes and a vertical launch system for its anti-aircraft missiles, only to be equipped with none of this equipment, depriving the ship of anti-submarine capabilities and limiting its anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense capabilities. Similarly, the 3 helicopter carriers of the Mistral class, ships considered as key ships (capital ships in English) by the French Navy, carry only very limited means of self-defense with two anti-aircraft systems with very SIMBAD short range and reduced jamming capabilities. Even the new Defense and Intervention Frigates, which will enter service from 2026, will carry only 16 vertical silos for anti-aircraft missiles, and will not have any jammers or close-in anti-missile systems, unlike their Greek counterparts armed with 32 silos and a CIWS SeaRam. As for the long-awaited High Seas Patrollers, to replace the antediluvian A69, they will only have, as heavy armament, a single 40mm Rapid Fire CTAS cannon, and if they will carry a hull sonar, will not have any short-range anti-aircraft system, nor torpedoes yet relatively useful for anti-submarine warfare missions.
In fact, the example of R-ECM jammers from Brittany is only one example among many others of a deep and long-standing trend in the French Navy, which has many ships that are insufficiently equipped and armed to operate in an area of fight. We can therefore wonder about the reasons for these arbitrations, carried out both by the planning of the French Navy and by the Ministry of the Armed Forces. Obviously, the explanation is above all budgetary, the Navy only having, each year, a budget of the order of €1 to 1,5 billion for its new equipment (excluding deterrence), insufficient to build and equip a fleet of the size desired by Paris. However, the National Navy staff could have decided to reduce the size of its fleet, so as to transfer the released budgets to the required equipment. But such a decision would entail many difficulties with significant consequences for French naval capabilities.
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