La Fayette class frigate

La Fayette class frigate

The "La Fayette class" units ("FL-3000" for "Frégate Légère de 3,000 tonnes", "3,000-tonnes light frigates", or "FLF" or Frégate Légère Furtive", "Light Stealth Frigate") are light multi-mission frigates built by DCN and operated by France ("Marine Nationale"). Derivatives of the type are in service in Saudi Arabia, Singapore ("Republic of Singapore Navy") and Republic of China (Taiwan) ("Republic of China Navy").

These frigates were referred to as "stealth" frigates. Their reduced radar cross section is achieved by a very clean superstructure compared to conventional designs, angled sides and radar absorbent material, a composite material of wood and glass fiber as hard as steel, light, and resistant to fire. Most modern fighting ships built around the world since the introduction of the "La Fayette" have followed the same principles of stealth.

All information gathered by the onboard sensors is managed by the Information Processing System, the electronic brain of the operation centre of the ship. It is completed by an electronic command aid system.

The "La Fayette" has space available for the future installation of the Aster 15 missile, the state-of-the-art anti-air European weapon, and currently carries the Crotale short-range defence system, and Exocet missile, mounted in two quad launchers.

The ships are designed to accommodate a 10 tonne helicopter in the Panther or NH90 range (though they are also capable of operating the Super Frelon and similar heavy helicopters). These helicopters can carry anti-ship AM39 or AS15 missiles, and can be launched during sea state 5 or 6 due to the Samahé helicopter handling system.

France ordered five ships of the "La Fayette" class in 1988, the last of which entered service in 2002.

French version

Context

In the late 1980s, the "Marine Nationale" started the studies for frigates adapted to low-intensity conflicts in the post-Cold War era. The ships were to serve in the large French EEZ, be adapted to humanitarian operations or low-intensity operations in support of land troops, and replace the aging A69 avisos, which tended to prove too focused on naval operations and were ill-suited for joint operations.

Conventional warships used in low-intensity or humanitarian relief operations proved costly, with their heavy equipment and large crew. Hence came the requirement for lightly-armed frigates with economical engines and small crew. In Italy, the same requirements led to the development of the "Cassiopea" and "Minerva" type corvettes, built according to both civilian and military standards. These ships were limited to 1300 tonnes because the limited size and depth of the Mediterranean and the proximity of the homeland. The French Navy, on the other hand, had to be present in oversea territories, bases and EEZ. To be enduring enough, the ships had to reach 3000 tonnes, the size of a missile frigate. The larger displacement allows combining strong firepower (like the "Minerva" class) and a capacity for a medium helicopter (like the "Cassiopea"), along with a good autonomy and seaworthiness.

The first type of ships built on these principles were the "Floréal" class frigates, built on civilian standards, with a limited armament, and carrying a medium helicopter. These ships are enduring units designed to operated in oversea possessions (Caribbean, Polynesia and New Caledonia) and the EEZ, where the likelihood of a naval threat is low. The speed is limited to 20 knots because of the low power engine which emphasises autonomy and reliability. To fight pirates in fast rigid-hulled inflatable boats, the "Floréal"s rely on their onboard helicopter and naval fusilier company.

The niche for more hostile environments is covered by the "La Fayette" type, designed to operate in complex zones like the Indian Ocean or Djibouti. These ships were to be able to secure the EEZ, but also to operate in naval groups or intelligence gathering missions. The intended role for the ships was in fact very varied, because the experience of the C.70 class, with an intended 20 ship cut down to only 9 (the 7 "Georges Leygues" class frigate and 2 "Cassard" class frigates) had taught that project downsizing and reorganisations could lead to badly balanced naval capabilities. The new ships were to benefit from breakthrough on stealth ("furtivité") achieved by the DCN in the 1980s.

It took several years to materialise the concept, and the first ship was enventually launched in 1992, two years after the final design was completed. The weapon system testing took place in 1994, and particularly extensive trials were undertaken to prove the structure of the ship under a wide range of conditions. The "La Fayette" was eventually commissioned in March 1996.

Stealth

At the time of their commissioning, the units of the "La Fayette" class were the state of the art in stealth for warships. The shape of the hull and the superstructures is devised for the optimal reduction of the radar signature, which has been reduced by 60%: a 3000-tonne "La Fayette" unit has the typical radar signature of a 1200 tonne ship. Stealth is achieved with inclined flanks, as few vertical lines as possible, and very clean lines and superstructures: stairs and mooring equipment are internal, and prominent structures are covered by planes. The superstructures are built using radar-absorbent synthetic materials.

The radar cross section is equivalent to that of a large fishing boat, which can make camouflage amidst civilian ships possible; or that of a much less capable corvette, which could lead an enemy to underestimate the capabilities of the ship. In case of a direct attack, the small radar signature helps evade enemy missiles and fire control systems. The "La Fayette" are also equipped with jammers that can generate false radar images, as well as decoy launchers. Further point missile defence will be provided when the ships are equipped with the Aster 15 anti-missile missiles.

The "La Fayette" have a low thermal signature, thanks for the adoption of low-power diesel motors, and a special heat dissipation system. The usual funnel is replaced with a small sets of pipes, aft of the mast, which cool the exit gas before it is released. The ships usually operate in warm areas, which further decreases the thermal contrast with the environment.

The magnetic signature is reduced by the presence of a demagnetization belt.

The acoustic signature is minimized by mounting the engines on elastic supports, as to transmit as little vibrations to the hull as possible, and by rubber coating on the propellers. The "La Fayette" are equipped with the Prairie Masker active acoustic camouflage system, which generate small bubbles from underneath the hull to confuse sonars.

Construction

, and important systems are redundant. The crew is protected against biological, chemical and nuclear environments.

The ships were built with a modular inner structure from 11 prefabricated modules which were completed at the factory, delivered to the shipyard and assembled there. This technique results in a construction time of less than 2 years.

The hull has a pronounced angle at the stem, with a short forecastle that integrates directly into the superstructure. The ship's sides have a negative inclination of 10 degrees. The single anchor is located exactly on the stem, into which it is completely recessed. The deck where the seamanship equipment and capstans are installed is internal in order to hide it from radar.

The superstructure is built in one piece and directly integrates into the hull, with only a change in inclination. A plateform is located between the main gun and the bridge. The superstructure runs continuously down to the helicopter hangar, on top of which short-range anti-air Crotale missiles are installed.

The ships feature two masts. The main mast has a pyramidal structure which integrates funnels and supports the antenna of the Syracuse satellite system, while the second supports the main radar.

Export

"Al Riyadh" class: Saudi Arabia

The three "Al Riyadh" class ships are an expanded anti-air version of the French "La Fayette" class, displacing about 4,700 tonnes. [http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/al_riyadh/]

The ships combat systems are produced by Armaris (a DCN/Thales joint venture) and are armed with the Aster 15 missile. The Aster missiles use the DCN SYLVER launcher. As with the "La Fayette" class the primary offensive weapon is the anti-surface Exocet.

Maximum speed is 24.5 knots with a maximum range of 4,000 nm.

"Formidable" class: Singapore

The Republic of Singapore Navy's six "Formidable" class frigates are of comparable size to the "La Fayette" class but differs from that class and the Saudi "Al Riyadh" class in the armament carried. In place of the Exocet is the Boeing Harpoon. The main gun is it a stealth cupola equipt Oto Melara 76 mm gun replacing the 100 mm TR automatic gun. The "Formidable" class also uses the SYLVER launcher/Aster missile combination.

The first ship, RSS "Formidable", was built by DCN, while the remaining ships were constructed by Singapore Technologies Marine.

Maximum speed is convert|27|kn|km/h|0 with a maximum range of 4,200 nm, making it the fastest and most mobile variant.

"Kang Ding" class: Republic of China (Taiwan)

As the Republic of China (Taiwan)'s defensive stance is aimed towards the Taiwan Strait the Republic of China Navy is constantly seeking to upgrade its anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The agreement with France in the late 1980s is an example of the operation of this procurement strategy; the six ships are configured for both ASW and surface attack. The Exocet is replaced by a Taiwanese surface attack missile and the AAW weapon is the Chaparral. Some problems in the integration of Taiwanese and French systems have been reported.

The antiquated Chaparral SAM system is considered totally inadequate for defence against aircraft and anti-ship missiles. According to Jane's there are plans to upgrade its air-defence capabilities with the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, though no timetable for this has been confirmed.

The class' maximum speed is convert|25|kn|km/h|0 with a maximum range of 4,000 nm.

Taiwan frigates scandal

The Taiwan frigate deal has led to a large political scandal, both in Taiwan and France. A former French foreign minister has claimed that up to $500,000 was paid by Thomson-CSF (now Thales), the prime contractor, as a "sweetener" as the ships did not strictly meet Taiwan's requirements. Eight people involved in the contract have died in unusual and possibly suspicious circumstances. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3244148.stm] Six ROC naval officers have been indicted on corruption charges relating to the affair.

In 2003 Taiwan's Navy sued Thomson-CSF (Thales) to recover alleged $590 million USD in kickbacks, paid to French and (Mainland) Chinese officials to grease the 1991 La Fayette deal. [http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2003/11/07/2003074910] The kickback money was deposited in Swiss banks, and under the corruption investigation, Swiss authorities froze approx. $730 million USD in over 60 accounts. In June 2007 the Swiss authority returned $34 million from frozen accounts to Taiwan, with additional funds pending. [http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2007/06/15/2003365270]

In film

* The lead ship, "La Fayette" (F710) was featured in the 17th James Bond film GoldenEye in 1995 as the site for the unveiling of the Eurocopter Tiger, which is subsequently stolen in the film. A game of film for the Nintendo 64 includes expanded rescue mission inside "La Fayette".

External links

* [http://www.defense.gouv.fr/sites/dga/enjeux/les_programmes_d_armement/systemes_des_forces/la_maitrise_du_milieu_aero-maritime/fregate_lafayette/fregate__la_fayette Frégate "La Fayette"] on the site of the Ministry of Defence
* [http://www.netmarine.net/bat/flf/lafayet/index.htm NetMarine.net]
* [http://www.alabordache.com/marine/espacemarine/marine/fregate_rang_2/index.php Alabordache.com] French Frigate "La Fayette" on Alabordache.com


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