Jean Bart came back from its "final mission" in early March... But now the frigate just got a new assignment.
The French Navy announced that Jean Bart came back home to Toulon from its “last ever mission” on 4 March 2021. But the Cassard-class anti-air frigate will soon set sail for yet another mission, Naval News has learned from two distinct French Navy sources.
We learned last week that the crew of the vessel has been informed that they would be deploying in April to Greece. The goal of this “final” assignment: Demonstrate to the Hellenic Navy that Jean Bart is still a capable platform. A second source confirmed to us this week that the frigate has been given an unforeseen “final mission”. Contacted by Naval News, a French Navy public affairs officer did not confirm the information. The public affairs of the French ministry of armed forces did not respond to our solicitations for comment.
Jean Bart is part of the “stop gap” solution proposed by France. This solution itself is part of the “Strategic Package Offer” being pitched to Greece. It consists in four FDI (Belharra) frigates, modernization of the in-service Hydra-class frigates of the Hellenic Navy and two used vessels as part of the interim solution. According to French financial newspaper La Tribune, the second vessel being offered in addition to Jean Bart is the Latouche-Tréville, a Georges Leygues-class anti-submarine warfare frigate.
Ahead of the French minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, visit to Greece to attend the 200 years celebrations of Greek Independence (which are held today), the ministry issued an official statement mentioning the frigate package:
[Minister Parly] will discuss the wish of the Greek authorities to renew part of their fleet and will detail the French offer in this context, which includes: the supply of four new generation Belharra frigates, the renovation of four Greek Hydra class frigates and the supply of an interim capacity.
In the same context, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Vandier, spent two days in Greece last week. According to the statement by the French embassy in Athens, the visit was “particularly warm and reaffirmed the friendly and historical relationship which unites the French and Hellenic navies”.
In addition, for the celebrations of Greece’s independence, French Navy FREMM frigate Languedoc was in Greece, in Piraeaus near Athens:
To get an “outside” opinion on the possible transfer of Jean Bart and Latouche-Tréville to Greece, we contacted Hugo Decis, Research Analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and expert in naval affairs and maritime secutiry topics.
Naval News – Despite their age, would these two vessels be a good stop-gap solution for the Hellenic Navy?
Hugo Decis – It would be foolish to deny that both Jean Bart and Latouche-Tréville are aging platforms; they were both commissioned around 1990 and have since been through extensive service within the Marine Nationale (MN). However, and as demonstrated by recent participations to both Irini and Agénor, both are still potent, valuable assets capable to handle prolonged missions and therefore valuable for Greece who is interested in maintaining presence at sea in the face of recurrent intrusions in its EEZ. To have both vessels transferred to the Hellenic Navy (HN) would certainly not change Greece’s priority, which is to procure modern, well-armed, cost-effective naval platforms; but it would help Athens secure key capacities and skills, increase the MN and HN’s interoperability and would have the added benefit of allowing Greek officers and sailors to familiarize themselves with French made vessels and pieces of equipment.
Naval News – Should the Greek authorities accept the offer, would this “gift” be a win-win situation for both the French Navy and the Hellenic Navy?
Hugo Decis – France’s interests in securing that specific deal are well-known: from an industrial perspective, exporting FDIs to Greece would be a significant success for Naval Group and could help secure more export markets in the future; making the FDI programme more viable on the long run; for France itself, it would create new synergies between both countries’ armed forces, already brought together by shared interests in the Eastern Mediterranean – and as France is already prepared for both ships departure from active service, it wouldn’t be too great a sacrifice if it meant bringing closer both countries in return. The Hellenic Navy, on the other hand, would certainly benefit from operating two additional vessels; theoretically, it would increase the navy’s readiness, develop the HN’s knowledge of French vessels and systems, as well as send a clear message concerning Greece’s stand in its prolonged dispute with Turkey.
Jean Bart was launched in March 1988 and commissioned in September 1991. Latouche-Treville was launched in March 1988 as well and commissioned in July 1990. While Jean Bart is an air defense frigate, one issue is that its SM-1 surface-to-air missiles are now passed their “use by date”: The U.S. Navy announced at the International STANDARD Missile Users Group (ISMUG) meeting in 2012 that support for SM-1 would end in 2020, urging all SM-1 users to plan on replacing SM-1 (and associated launching systems) aboard the ships with SM-2 Block IIIA missiles. The French Navy never took this option however as both Cassard-class ships are getting replaced with the FREMM DA. The first of them, Alsace, is set to be commissioned in April.
According to one of our French Navy sources however, the above doesn’t mean that the SM-1 missiles can’t be safely launched for the next two or three years. “These kinds of “use by” dates can easily be pushed back by a few years if missile storage and maintenance were carried out adequately” the source explained. What is more: The launching system (known as Tartar) from first ship-in-class Cassard will probably be part of the deal too, and can be used as spare parts for Jean Bart. Cassard was decommissioned in March 2019 and is today stripped from most of its equipment. Jean Bart was fitted a few years ago with a Thales SMART-S Mk2 radar which is relatively modern.
For the record, France and Greece were involved in exclusive negotiations for a while, for two FDI type frigates. However, despite the signing of an LOI in October 2019, Greece decided to keep its options open and is now considering several designs. The designs being considered today are:
- Lockheed Martin with the MMSC
- Naval Group with the FDI/Belharra
- Damen Sigma 11515
- TKMS with the MEKO A200NG (or MEKO A300)
- Babcock with the Type 31/Arrowhead
- Navantia (allegedly with the F-110)
- Fincantieri (allegedly with the FREMM)
The procurement process doesn’t seem to be a “classic open tender” but rather government to government (G to G) discussions with each party.