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A Real Pirate Buster!

November 18, 2009
tags: ,

Light frigate Floreal, of the French Navy. Author-Jean-Michel Roche via Wikimedia Commons.

Here is some info on the French warship which foiled the designs of 12 Somali pirates, as New Wars detailed last week. According to Wikipedia, Floréal and her sisters are officially titled “light surveillance frigates”, of which 6 have been built for the French Navy, and 2 for the Royal Moroccan Navy:

After the end of the Cold War, it was felt that the risks of a large-scale military confrontation had all but disappeared. The Marine Nationale had to face new missions, while its escort avisos from the 80s were aging, and also badly adapted to low-risk zones.

The concept of “sentry frigate” emerged from the will of the French government to protect its Exclusive Economic Zone (12 million km²), as defined in the Montego Bay treaties. Another need was to address matters of humanitarian aid, diplomacy, or naval law enforcement. To address these missions, an onboard helicopter is clearly the optimal solution, provide versatile, swift and long-range capabilities to deliver support, ferry or rescue.

These constraints defined the need for a ship which would be small; extremely stable to allow use of a heavy helicopter in all weather; small crew, while retaining capacities to accommodate navy commandos; light armament; economic and long-range propulsion system.

Built with economy in mind, the vessel seems so much more, and just as relevant to the conflicts we faced today than more costly than harder to build high tech cruisers, destroyers, and frigates.

To make the ship more economical, civilian construction methods were used at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint Nazaire. The ships use the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations, which require the hull to have eleven watertight compartments. The rules of the classification society Det Norske Veritas are used for energy production and safety. The ships were built in series, each with six pre-fabricated parts weighing up to 570 tonnes that were assembled and welded in a dry dock. (The construction method was later used for the La Fayette class). The first trials at sea were carried out in 1991 with an entirely civilian crew, while the Marine Nationale was only present as an observer.

Very good, and here are the specifications:

  • Displacement: 2,600 tons standard,
  • Length: 93.5 metres (307 ft),
  • Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h),
  • Range: 13000 nautical miles (24,000 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h),
  • Complement: 88 (total),
  • Armament: 2 Exocet MM38 missiles
    1 x 100 mm CADAM turret with Najir fire control system
    2 x 20 mm modèle F2 guns
    Aircraft carried: 1 Panther helicopter

A small warship, without the frills and no advanced modular construction or high speeds needed to contend with pirates or smugglers. Though not a corvette which we favor to build up ship numbers, she is very practical and sensible.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    November 20, 2009 8:20 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Which is the purpose of our discussion, to offer the government, which seem to be sailing clueless, alternatives that are cheaper, smaller, more numerous, and equally effective.”

    Cheaper : OK
    More Numerous : OK
    Effective : OK

    But why smaller ?

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 20, 2009 5:32 am

    ” $126 million”

    Not bad, and it appears a versatile ship! If LCS came near its original specified price, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Yeah, she’s a little big and along with the US Perry’s and UK Iron Duke’s I count this one of the indispensable warships which navies are having trouble replacing. They too often give us ships which are larger, costly, fewer, and not necessarily any more effective than the vessel it replaces.

    Which is the purpose of our discussion, to offer the government, which seem to be sailing clueless, alternatives that are cheaper, smaller, more numerous, and equally effective.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    November 19, 2009 6:07 pm

    Al L. said : “You would do well if you did a little more home work and actually quoted the cost. $165 million avg. or about $250 million in 2009 dollars.”

    This $165 million avg. cost figure (that you’ll admittedly find in such reputable sources as Forecast International) is NOT correct.

    The average cost per Floreal was 490 million French Francs per unit, off which 60 million were funded by the Ministry of Industry.

    As for the $250 million in 2009 dollars, I’ll simply point out that the Spanish BAMs, which are more or less in the same league as the Floreals, cost about €85 million based on the contract placed in May 2006, i.e. about $126 million per unit at current conversion.

  4. leesea permalink
    November 19, 2009 4:34 pm

    Ahh lets correct the Wiki waggles folks. This ship as others were built to civilian construction standards (not the same a “methods” – a weld is a weld is weld). There are several members of IACS the Intl Assn of Classification Societies which have published specific rules regarding what neophytes would consider warships. For instance, the JHSV was built to ABS High Speed Naval Craft rules. ABS also has a set of rules for auxiliaries use for instance on the T-AKEs.

    The ABS civilian construction standards surplant the old US Navy rules like NSTM and now NVR. The principal difference that we need to mention is many civspec rules allow for damaged stability of one compartment only vice two or more for that in warships. There are many other detail differences but to me that is the main one.

    It is not that one is better or worse than the other just different.

  5. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 19, 2009 3:39 pm

    $250 million is practically a bargain these days. Our newest Coast Guard cutters cost almost as much as the Least Competent Ship. All the price and half the utility…without much utility to begin with!

  6. Aaron permalink
    November 18, 2009 10:35 pm

    looks neat. needs a stern boat deploy chute.

  7. Al L. permalink
    November 18, 2009 10:20 pm

    Mike B.
    Interesting that you quote a ship virtually the same displacement as LCS as a real pirate buster. You would do well if you did a little more home work and actually quoted the cost. $165 million avg. or about $250 million in 2009 dollars. To get to that price it accepts some significant compromises: speed, survivability(strictly commercial construction), boat handling, aviation capacity, etc.
    Still a good example of your affordable mantra. Not a good example for your 1000-1500ton corvette mantra.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 18, 2009 9:14 pm

    Tarl, thank you. I will check it out. Polmar actually posted in the comments once!

  9. Tarl permalink
    November 18, 2009 8:04 pm

    Very off topic, but Mike, you should definitely read Polmar’s column in the latest issue of Proceedings if you haven’t yet. It is an anti-big carrier rant that you should find congenial.

  10. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 18, 2009 7:32 pm

    The Floreal is essentially a Coast Guard Cutter, at least it would be if the French had a Coast Guard, very much in the same class as the US Bear Class, though I admit I like the French ship better.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 18, 2009 6:27 pm


    Yes, there has been some wide-ranging news coverage during the day regarding this second attempt on MV Maersk Alabama. A pirate on shore back in Somalia has stated that one of the pirates was wounded in the attack. This incident has also been discussed on EagleSpeak and Information Dissemination.

    Also, the captain of the MV Theresa VIII has died of wounds inflicted by Somali pirates. The Theresa VIII is a tanker manned by 28 North Koreans and was taken on the 16th northwest of the Seychelles Islands.

  12. Hudson permalink
    November 18, 2009 6:18 pm

    World Focus News is reporting (6PM EST) that Maersk Alabama was attacked again this morning by Somali pirates in familiar waters. This time, the pirates were foiled by gunfire from armed men aboard the freighter and what the news anchor described as a “high decibel sound device.”

  13. November 18, 2009 5:34 pm

    And of course most of my wants are addressed by the French’s own La Fayettes.

  14. November 18, 2009 5:29 pm

    Looking at the wiki pics I noticed her stem is flattened (I am going to check my books for the correct term) the Mistral’s hull has that feature too. Must be something the French do…….

  15. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 18, 2009 5:27 pm

    This is slightly O-T, but it’s in a similar vein. We’ve already discussed the expected Israeli acquisition of two MEKO corvettes or frigates from Germany. Well, there’s more news that a deal is in the works. These projected ships might be of a similar displacement to the French Floreal class, but would be far more heavily armed.

    Israel, Germany to discuss missile ships

    A German defense delegation will arrive in Israel next month for high-level talks to focus on an Israeli request to purchase two Meko-class missile ships.

    The delegation will be led by senior officials from the German Defense Ministry and the German Navy. Talks on the Israeli side will be led by Defense Ministry director-general Pinhas Buchris and Navy commander Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom.

  16. Byron permalink
    November 18, 2009 5:07 pm

    Mike, it was clearly stated in the article that this vessel was built in modules (or sections). Virtually every vessel since WW2 has been built by the module method.

  17. November 18, 2009 4:49 pm

    “I will. Lets say about a day’s continuous chase, wonder which vessel breaks down first, the pirate skiff or the frigate?”

    I know. It was tongue in cheek. But it is nice to see you concede that bigger hulls have better sea keeping and better endurance. ;)

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 18, 2009 4:43 pm

    Mr x said “Modern container ships do 25kts and the pirates can catch ‘em.

    Yet our little French frigate only does 20kts. You do the maths”

    I will. Lets say about a day’s continuous chase, wonder which vessel breaks down first, the pirate skiff or the frigate?

    And it does have a helo so, what chase?

    B. Walthrop-Very good, and true! They are pretty much on their own out there. The fleets there but not enough of them.

  19. November 18, 2009 4:18 pm

    I meant to say trawler not frigate…… :)

  20. November 18, 2009 4:12 pm

    You have hit on something there.

    Modern container ships do 25kts and the pirates can catch ’em.

    Yet our little French frigate only does 20kts. You do the maths…..

    The British trialled a hydrofoil in the fisheries protection squadron. Now it was the speed of the trawler she was racing but the speed that the frigate could pull her nets in. On foils she did slightly over 40kts. By the time she appeared on the horizon it was all over.

    Perhaps there may be something in high speed after all.

    (Goes off to have a think.)

  21. B. Walthrop permalink
    November 18, 2009 3:34 pm

    It looks to me like this is also a real pirate buster:


  22. November 18, 2009 3:17 pm

    “no frills” ?

    I am sure when she was launched she was fitted with every modern convenience!

    Yes this is about as basic as it gets. I would prefer a few hundred tons more purely for bunkers and stores. And a knot or three wouldn’t go amiss wouldn’t go amiss on the economical cruising speed.

    A few hundred tons more would allow a bigger flight deck. In the UK we had Castle class OPVs who’s original purpose was to guard North Sea oil installations. Their flight deck could cope with Sea Kings; this size of aircraft is common in the oil fields. The River Class came sans flight deck. Modern helicopters are bigger.

  23. Hudson permalink
    November 18, 2009 2:57 pm

    Perfect for the task at hand. The latest I have heard from a U.S. naval officer about what the Navy needs to stop pirates off The Horn of Africa: “Give me a boat with a helicopter and a gun.” There you have it! I mean, the French have it.

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