Spain thus becomes the fourth EU Member State to join the PESCO project after Italy and France (12 November 2019) and Greece (12 January 2020).
The objectives of this collaborative project launched in November 2019 by the European Council under the PESCO scheme is to design and develop a prototype for a new class of military ship, named “European Patrol Corvette” (EPC), which allows to host several systems and payloads, in order to accomplish, with a modular and flexible approach, a large number of tasks and missions. Three European Union Member States forming a PESCO can apply for the subscription of the project by European funds. Decisions on the allocation of European funds will be taken in 2021. Proposals will be submitted by industry in the same year. The EPC project would enter the industrialization phase from 2025. The vessels under consideration in France and Italy would be replaced from 2027 with a first delivery for Italy.
Fincantieri and Naval Group are the main contractors in this project, and the EPC is likely to be the first vessel designed by the newly formed joint venture NAVIRIS. The Italian-French company headquarters are located in Genoa, Italy and its R&D center near Toulon, France.
The European Patrol Corvette project was presented by Naviris to Spanish shipbuilder Navantia in January 2020. Navantia confirmed that they had been in discussions for several months to determine how to join the project. Spain was then considering replacing five to six of the Descubierta-class corvettes. Madrid officially applied to join PESCO on March 20, 2020 and Spain was accepted into the EPC project on April 2, 2020.
Naviris is expected to design the EPC under the leadership of Fincantieri in terms of programme management. Navantia could join Naviris to participate in the programme, unless an agreement is reached and proposes a different roles distribution.
In June 2019, the French Navy (Marine Nationale) and the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) expressed the military need for their respective staffs. The European Patrol Corvette should, according to NATO’s typology, be a “Limited Warship Unit” with a fully laden displacement of approximately 3,500 tonnes. The hulls will be approximately 110 meters long with a draft of 5.5 meters or less.
The Spanish participation in the PESCO European Patrol Corvette (as outlined by InfoDefensa.com) shows that the project is available in three versions:
- EPC optimised for anti-surface (ASuW) and anti-aircraft (AAW) warfare with the possibility of extending the warfare domains to anti-submarine warfare (ASW); the vessel is equipped with self-defence capabilities.
- EPC optimized for ant-surface warfare (ASuW) and designed with oceanic reach (range of 10,000 nautical miles at 14 knots).
- EPC optimized for blue-water (off shore) patrol missions
The first version seems to match Italian considerations and could match Greek needs, while France could be interested in two of the three preliminary projects. The respective targets for the Marina Militare and the Marine Nationale are eight EPCs (replacing the Comandanti and Cassiopea classes ) and nine to eleven EPCs for the French Navy.
This supports the hypothesis that since May 2018, the French Navy’s Chief of Staff is looking to replace both the Floréal-class but also the Avisos A69 – or PHM (OPV) – of the D’Estienne d’Orves-class by three to five EPCs. The replacement of the latter could justify a French interest in a European Patrol Corvette that could be fitted with anti-submarine warfare capabilities in order to contribute to the securing of maritime approaches around Brest for the benefit of the oceanic component of the French nuclear deterrent. This implies splitting the original BATSIMAR programme into two types of vessels: A series of six Ocean Patrol Vessels (OPV) and a series of four corvettes or light frigates.
The industrialization of a series of six OPVs would be spread out between 2024 and 2027 (1 + 1 + 2 + 2): the French EPCs would follow immediately from 2026-27. But the replacement of the Floréal-class, which could have been decommissioned between 2020 and 2024, is not part of the current military planning law (LPM 2019 – 2025). This is what is at stake in the “review clause” (2021) and then in the work that should lead to the formulation of the first outlines of the next military planning law (2026 – 2032?) in 2023-24.