Martin Manaranche story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
According to Hervé Guillou: “The naval industry has mobilized to support our armed forces on all priority programs during this period of containment, and the Government’s support measures for businesses, such as sector-specific plans, must now take over to ensure the activity upturn.”
To do so, GICAN and DGA (the French defense procurement agency) have highlighted some key programs to prioritize for a global revival of the French naval industry: acceleration of the FDI Frigate program, hydrographic, maritime surveillance, customs, maritime gendarmerie ships and one that came back several times in the discussion: the droning of ships.
French companies in the naval industry stand ready and have high expectations of a potential defense and security recovery plan to balance an activity undermined by the decline in civilian orders and the inevitable lag in export orders. GICAN is asking the French Government to support maritime R&D, in both defense and civil sectors, to boost supply and to weigh up against international competitors, who are recovering faster.
Drone mother ship concept
The concept of droning ships (or turning surface vessels into drone mother ships) is in line with an emerging global trend . It consists of using manned surface vessels (sometimes fully-fledged surface combatants) for the launch, operation and recovery of unmanned maritime systems, essentially using the manned vessel as a mother ship.
As Naval News previously reported on several occasions, defense companies and navies globally are edging closer to this concept, with on going at-sea tests or with actual procurement programs for such mother ships. Here are a few examples:
- The U.S. Navy experimented with using an EPF as a drone mother ship last year…
- …and so did the Russian Navy with one of its latest frigate.
- The Belgian and Netherlands navies have an ongoing procurement program of MCM vessels that will act as drone mother ships. Contracts have been awarded to French companies Naval Group and ECA Group.
- The Republic of Singapore Navy has a procurement program for the MRCV project which will be a large surface combatant able to deploy and recover UAVs, USVs and UUVs all at once. Several shipbuilders are competing in this tender.
- Japan’s future 30FFM frigate, currently being built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will also be used as an unmanned system mother ship, especially for mine warfare.
- South Korea shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries unveiled last year its HCX-19 concept ship, another example of surface combatant design to deploy (and recover) unmanned systems in all three domains.
It appears that both the French government and the french naval industry wish to keep up with the trend.