Story by Martin Manaranche with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
For record, in 2017, the DGA (French Defense Procurement Agency) awarded the contract to upgrade three of the five La Fayette-class stealth frigates (FLF) operated by the French Navy. The FLF renovation program is not only due to increase the life-time of the frigates while waiting for the new FDI, this modernization aims to improve the combat capabilities of the class, particularly toward new threats.
The frigate ‘Courbet’ started its refit on October 5. 2021 and taken out of the drydock in mid-april. Her first sea trials began on June 14. and should be back in operational service at the end of 2021.
“The sea trials that will allow to check the good functioning of all the installations will end on July 23, then the crew will enter in its operational cycle with a training course to get back in operational condition after the summer and once that passed, the ship will be able to fulfill the missions which will be entrusted to her.Commanding Officer of the Frigate ‘Courbet’, Florian El-Ahdab.
This ship is the first out of three to receive her mid-life upgrade. The timelapse dedicated to the refit has been negotiated at length between the company in charge of the modernization – Naval Group – and the armament procurement agency (DGA). Indeed, Naval Group wanted 12 months to conduct the refit and the DGA wanted 6 in order to get the ship back in operational service as soon as possible. Both parties finally agreed on 9 months per ship.
The specificity of the work done aboard the ship is that the “mid life refit” was conducted in parallel to the regularly scheduled general overhaul which included restorative work on the ship’s structure, propulsion machinery, and auxiliary systems.
Chantiers de l’Atlantique was in charge of this maintenance alongside Naval Group but it is this latter that coordinates both of the maintenance and refit programs.
Naval News asked about the role of each parties in the modernization of the frigate.
“The role of Naval Group is to insure the mid-life upgrade in modernizing some systems such as the combat and the platform system and some others. We are also general contractor. Indeed, in parallel to the refit program, there were also maintenace works conducted by our partner Chantier de l’Atlantique but also by us and we had to coordinate all of those to be on time.”Jean-Michel Coquelle, Naval Group Program’s director for the modernization of La Fayette-class frigates
DGA has been involved in this project from start to finish, since the Navy expressed its need in 2015, and will be present until the ship is delivered to the French Navy at the end of 2021. Most of DGA’s technical expertise centers have been called upon for this program to provide their studies and expertise along the industrials on the structure of the ship as well as the combat, navigation and data systems.DGA Program Director of the FLF modernization program
The crew took part in the work to bring its knowledge of the ship to the industrial participants to help the control of risks on the construction site. It also takes part in the trials and finally, its role will be to evaluate the new operational capacities of this ship to know what we can do with it in the future.Commanding Officer of the Frigate ‘Courbet’, Florian El-Ahdab
Among the main modernizations added to the ship, there are new anti-submarine warfare capabilities with a new hull sonar and the upgrade of the combat system. The frigate received also new optronic systems, new data link for networked operations, as well as new anti-missiles system, SADRAL.
About SADRAL system:
The obsolete CROTALE anti-air warfare system was replaced by two reconditioned MBDA Sadral sextuple launchers taken from decommissioned Georges Leygues-class ASW frigates. They are refurbished in order to operate the new MISTRAL 3 missile. If the Mistral 3 missile doesn’t have the range and payload of the Crotale, it is adapted to counter new asymmetrical threats as well as sea skimming anti-ship missiles. Alongside its anti-aircraft and anti-missile ability, the Mistral 3 can destroy fast surface vessel, including USVs and fast attack boats.
“The system SADRAL will bring an update to the anti-missile capability because the CROTALE was hard to maintain in a high standard of performance due to its age. The two SADRALs systems placed on each flank of the ship will allow to counter simultaneously two different threats.”Commanding Officer of the Frigate ‘Courbet’, Florian El-Ahdab
The end of combat systems sea trials including SADRAL firing missiles are scheduled to be over by July 23.
The ‘Courbet’ has also now two Sea Eagle FCRO (Fire Control Radar Optical) sensors supplied by Chess Dynamics.
About new ASW capability
For the first time in the French Navy, the Lafayette frigates will have some underwater combat capacities.The ‘Courbet’ received a KingKlip Mk2 hull-mounted medium-frequency sonar from Thales. It is the same model selected for the FDI frigates.
The sonar was added but there are not yet anti-submarine effectors. The ‘Courbet’ won’t have them for now, but Naval Group’s Canto torpedo countermeasures system is expected to be fitted in due course.
For effectors, the Commanding Officer said the FLF has the capability to tamporarily host an NH90 NFH with MU90 torpedoes but not for a long duration because there is nowhere to safely store the torpedoes aboard.
This ASW capability will require six additionnal sailors specialized who will reinforce the crew of each FLF.
About the upgraded CIC
“The CIC was entirely dismantled and remodeled to replace the old combat system by a new one derivated those found aboard FREMMs and the aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” and to add new consoles dedicated to the new sonar.”Commanding Officer of the Frigate ‘Courbet’, Florian El-Ahdab.
In order to increase the size of the cramped CIC, they changed its layout. They got rid of a “corridor” and pushed back on the wall. This was done to accomodate the new combat mangement system (CMS) and to add new consoles dedicated to anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sonar and to MBDA MM40 Block 3C Exocet anti-ship missile.
The original Thales TAVITAC CMS has been replaced by a new SENIT FLF system (a scaled version of the upgraded SENIT 8 CMS fitted to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle).
SENIT FLF features new dual-screen operator consoles, and introduces a large touchscreen tactical table for situation assessment and mission planning.
The next frigate to be upgraded like her sistership is the ‘La Fayette’. Her modernization will start in October 2021 for the same duration as the ‘Courbet’. It will be the first ship to receive the Canto acoustic countermeasures.
Naval News understands that Aconit will be the third and final La Fayette-class frigate to receive the FLF upgrade.
The FLF upgrade program is intended to provide a transition before the commissioning of the new FDI frigates.The three modernised units will stay in service until around 2030, when the last of the five FDI ships is due to be accepted in active duty.