La Fayette became operational again with the French Navy on 24 November 2022. Aconit will be the next frigate to be upgraded, in 2023.
La Fayette carried out a series of sea trials and training which first enabled the DGA (defense procurement agency) to validate the acceptance of the new or upgraded systems on September 15, 2022. This was followed by an operational training course of about fifteen days. This course enabled the crew to be qualified for the future missions that will be entrusted to them.
“The work carried out has made it possible to modernize the frigate and equip it with new capabilities while extending its service life beyond 2030. This contributes to maintaining the format at 15 combat frigates while awaiting the arrival of all the Defense and intervention frigates (FDI).”
French MoD statement
Based in Toulon, La Fayette is 126 meters long, 15 meters wide and has a displacement of 3,600 tons. Five vessels of this type are in service in the French Navy, all based in Toulon.
La Fayette-class Frigate Upgrade
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.
The French Navy’s first upgraded La Fayette-class frigate, ‘Courbet’, was handed over to the French defense procurement agency (DGA) on 13 September 2021 following sea trials. The upgrade work consists in three main area: Air Defense, Anti-submarine warfare and the Combat Information Center (CIC).
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.
For the first time in the French Navy, the La Fayette-class frigates sport 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. This ASW capability will require six additional sailors specialized who will reinforce the crew of each frigate.
The layout of the (cramped) CIC was changed in order to increase its size. This was done to accomodate the new combat management 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 cooperative mission planning.
Other upgrades include new EO/IR systems by Chess Dynamics, improvements to the overall structures of the ship as well as its stability. In addition, La Fayette is the first frigate to be fitted with Naval Group’s new torpedo decoy launchers.