On June 16, the French Senate submitted its report about the update to the current military planning law, which allocates the defense budget for six years. One major naval program is set to be affected by the re-allocation of budget: SLAMF.
According to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, the scope of the 2021 update represents 1 billion euros corresponding, at a constant budget, to accelerations of certain programs. The effort is therefore financed by savings and postponements in other programs.
At least one naval program planned to replace ageing ships and equipment will be delayed, while others will be subject to increased costs due to support to the French naval industry. The report outlined three major programs, initially planned in the current military planning law (Loi de Programmation Militaire – LPM), that will be partly deferred, probably to the next LPM covering the 2026-2032 period.
Among those programms, is SLAMF (Système de lutte anti-mines futur) Future Mine Warfare System Program that will replace all current mine warfare means (Tripartite-class mine hunters, sonar towing vessels, diver support vessels) of the French Navy.
For record, the SLAMF program includes:
- 8x Unmanned systems (details below) including 4 to be delivered by 2024
- 6x motherships for UAV/USV/UUV known as “bâtiments de guerre des mines” (BGDM)
- 5x EOD divers support vessels known as “bâtiments base plongeurs démineurs nouvelle generation” (BBPD NG)
- 1x Mine Warfare Data Operating System (SEDGM)
Each of the “unmanned systems” mentioned above represents a mine warfare module consisting of:
- 1x Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), to identify and neutralize sea mines.
- 3x Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV),
- 2x Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), to detect, classify and locate (DCL functions) the mines.
The current LPM planned to acquire two BGDM and three BBPD NG ships but following the review, only one of each is still in effect.
In addition, the replacement of hydrographic vessels will be undoubtedly postponed to the next LPM. The only one planned has been cancel for now.
But the after-effects of the pandemic crisis don’t stop at delays. Indeed, in order to help the naval industry, the government decided to accelerate the FDI program. The two 4,000 tons frigates – the second and third in a series of five – will both be delivered in 2025, whereas the original plan was to deliver them every 18 months. This will result in additional costs of approximately €750 million (which is more than the cost of a 6,000 tons FREMM frigate). Industry sources also argue that this acceleration in deliveries is linked to the potential Frigate deal with Greece.
Another extra cost to think about is the repair of the fire-damaged attack submarine SSN ‘Perle’ which happened last year. The bill is estimated to €60 million. The submarine is set to get back in active service in 2023.
Admiral Pierre Vandier – Chief of Staff of the French Navy – was auditioned on June 16, in front of the Defense Commission of the Parliament and a report is still expected. When published, his comments and those of the MPs will shed more light on the matter.