Admiral Vandier discussed the French Navy’s cooperation with the United States Navy and other allies and outlined his visions and plans for the future growth and renewal of the French Navy in the coming years.
Admiral Pierre Vandier visited with the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Gilday on Monday, January 31, 2022 and also talked LIVE for an hour at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), fielding questions from the host and the viewing audience.
Naval News has submitted questions to CSIS before the presentation and also when the conversation was broadcasted LIVE.
Status of the French Navy and the Global Maritime Situation
Admiral Pierre started with a briefing outlining the status of the French Navy:
“Since the end of the Cold War, the French Navy, much like other Western fleets, suffered from budget cuts until five years ago. Since the downsizing, the French Navy has constantly been under stress which is good training for times of war. It has managed to retain a full spectrum of capabilities but some of them have been reduced to a very small scale. Decision to renew some aircrafts and submarines have been postponed too far in the future and we will now lack some naval assets in the coming new years.”
— Chief of the French Navy (Marine Nationale) Admiral Pierre Vandier
Admiral Vandier believes that sea, space, and cyberspace are linked (via satellites and data cables) and that the adversaries will use violence to control these domains. The Admiral likes to think of naval warfare vertically from seabed to space whereas it used to be horizontal thinking from the sea to the shore. The French Navy is also seeing a proliferation of surface, submarine, and naval weapons across the globe due to global competition, and this he believes provides the greatest risk of miscalculation (mistaken “order-to-shoot” decisions) that might inadvertently utilize these weapons.
Due to global demands and strategic threats to French national interests, the French Navy is deployed in significantly more places than it was designed for in the last Defense White Paper written in 2013. “Despite these budget cuts, we never lost our status as a global navy or our ability to act anywhere and anytime thanks to our permanent commitment to at sea deterrence and the benefits of a high seas Readiness Carrier Strike Group Charles de Gaulle,” Admiral Vandier said, indicating that the French Navy has participated in every major Western conflict in the last 30 years.
Admiral Vandier said that the French Navy sends a warship four to five times a year into the Black Sea to show France’s commitment to NATO enforcement in that region.
Regarding “Gray Zone activities and enforcement,” the Admiral said that the French Navy knows of drugs and weapons around the Western part of the Indian Ocean and around the Eastern part of Africa. Thus, the French Navy checks these regions, tracks it, and puts pressure on it to stop these activities from starting something else.
When the CSIS host asked how big a concern is unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to the French Navy, the Admiral replied that it depends on if the UAS is encountered in coastal or open ocean operations because if coastal, chances are that the UAS will be smaller than a drone that can travel to open ocean. One can jam, dazzle the UAS’s sensors, or use lasers to destroy the drone, and it’s a financial war to not use a warship’s expensive Anti-air missile to shoot down such a small and cheap drone, said the Admiral, who mentioned that the French Navy is working on such counter-drone systems.
The CSIS host then asked how can unmanned systems aid the French Navy to which Admiral Vandier replied that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can help maintain the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) nighttime situational awareness bubble around the aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) that shrinks at nighttime when the carrier pilots have to sleep and rest. UAVs will help expand this protective CSG bubble outwards again at night with airborne ISR at long distances. Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) can monitor the seabed for amphibious invasions.
The French Navy in the Indo-Pacific Region
The French Navy has huge interests in Indo-Pacific because the French inherited huge territories in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and France holds the second maritime domain in the world at 11 million square kilometers and sixty percent of it is in Indo-Pacific, said Admiral Vandier. There are 1.6 million French people living on islands from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and to the Pacific islands, and the French Navy is committed to protecting its citizens overseas and is structured around this mission. The French Navy has seen the rise of other navies, such as the Chinese Navy, and the French Navy is committed to the Rim of the Pacific Asian nations (RIMPAC) region because the French are neighbors with RIMPAC.
The French Navy is a mix of coast guard and naval vessels where the missions are combined so that means a French frigate can perform drug smuggling interdictions and track and report illegal fishing whereas other navies separate these duties into lethal military navy gray ships and lesser-armed white-hulled coast guard vessels for maritime law enforcement. This combination of lethal navy and maritime law enforcement missions gives the French Navy a wide spectrum of missions and also dictates the French Navy’s makeup of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to armed frigates to smaller and lesser-armed offshore patrol vessels to protect the island territories in the Pacific Ocean. The Admiral added that the French Navy is addressing illegal fishing by using satellites and allowing its vessels to track and record illegal fishing.
Regarding joint cooperation with the U.S. Navy and its allies, the U.S. Navy and the French Navy cooperated a lot in the Persian Gulf. In 2021, the French Navy sent a nuclear-powered submarine to Guam and ran exercises with the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific area. The U.S. Navy and the French Navy recently inked a Strategic Interoperability Framework on 17 December 2021.
The French Navy in the Future
The Admiral said that President Macron has boosted the French Defense budget with increases in multi-year funding, but the results to forces will not occur before 2024 and that the military gaps will not be filled before 2029.
“Within the next 20 years, we will renew new capabilities such as maritime components for nuclear deterrence, maritime aircraft, fast attack submarines, offshore patrol vessels, control mine warfare assets, and support ships.”— Chief of the French Navy (Marine Nationale) Admiral Pierre Vandier
Admiral Vandier was very interested in the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Gilday’s NAV PLAN in 2021 before Admiral Vandier released his strategic plan called “Mercator 2021 Acceleration” and discovered that many of the issues are similar to the U.S. Navy CNO’s.
A new class of patrol boats for overseas territories is under construction and the first of six boats has been put to sea in 2022, with the first boat going to New Caledonia. New ALBATROS Falcon 2000 aircraft will arrive in 2025 and there will be new satellites for naval operations.
Naval News asked Admiral Vandier: What future large capital acquisitions (new ships, submarines, warplanes) do you envision for the French Navy? The Admiral replied that the next carrier will be at sea around 2037 and will be 80,000 tons displacement with EMALS catapults and two nuclear reactors. New submarines will be acquired by 2037, so by the mid-2030s, the French Navy will be completely renewed. Going forward, Admiral Vandier foresees that the French Navy will have more drones and a wider and better assortment of weapons to choose from. Also, naval communications will be better, improved, and more linked with newer satellites and communication capabilities.