Upgrade work on La Fayette is set to be completed in the Summer of 2022. The final upgraded frigate, Aconit, is set to be delivered in 2023. Three of the French Navy’s five La Fayette-class frigate (local designation: FLF for light stealth frigate) are concerned by the upgrade work: the Courbet, the La Fayette and the Aconit. The nine-month long upgrade work provides them with new capabilities, while extending their service life beyond 2030. The three frigates will sailing alongside the future FDI frigates. They will even help “fill the gap” caused by the small delay in deliveries caused the procurement of FDI frigates by the Hellenic Navy.
Worth around 400 million euros, the upgrade consists in the addition of a KingKlip Mk2 hull-mounted medium-frequency sonar from Thales to provide the three frigates with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. The combat system and electro-optic surveillance capabilities are also upgraded while the frigate’s structural strength and stability are improved.
The obsolete CROTALE anti-air warfare system is replaced by two MBDA Sadral sextuple launchers taken from decommissioned Georges Leygues-class ASW frigates. They are refurbished in order to operate the new MISTRAL 3 missile. While the 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 DGA acts as project authority, while Naval Group is in charge of the industrial project. Maintenance work is being carried out simultaneously by Chantiers de l’Atlantique under the supervision of the Fleet Support Service (SSF) of the French Navy, in the form of a collaborative work platform involving all partners at the Toulon naval base.
According to the DGA, the project is on schedule despite the pandemic. The upgrade work on Courbet ended with a sea trials phase. These tests demonstrated:
- the ship’s maneuverability capabilities despite the increase in its displacement (over 80 tons)
- confirmed that acoustic discretion levels (one of the strength of the La Fayette-class) remained low
- achieved the maximum speed objectives
- validated the integration of a the new combat management system (The original Thales TAVITAC CMS has been replaced by a new SENIT FLF system which is a scaled version of the upgraded SENIT 8 CMS fitted to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle).
Finally, the technical feat is the physical and functional integration of the underwater detection capability: a sonar dome measuring 1.5 m wide by 5 m long and 1.8 m high. The performance of this sonar, the KingKlip Mk 2, has proven to be very satisfactory.