(This blog has since been “rebooted” in January 24, 2016 after the manufacturer published the brochure of the upgraded Floreal. You can access the rebooted blog here: New Frigate Bidding Candidate: New Generation Floreal Frigate)
We got a rare glimpse of what is being offered in the bidding for the Philippine Navy’s (PN) new Frigates when the French ship Prarial made a five-day stopover in Manila. The Captain of the ship, Frederic Daumas, revealed that one of the missions for the visit was to demonstrate the Prarial to Philippine officials as it turns out that an updated version of it is being offered as one of the candidates for the bidding.1
Spain’s Navantia and South Korea’s Daewoo actually also stated the ships they wanted to enter into the bidding earlier,2 3 but they released their statements before the actual bidding itself and before they knew what the technical specifications for the ships were going to be. France is the first country to publicly declare the design of the ship they are offering after the start of the bidding, and is being represented in the bidding by STX France.4
‘The Floreal-class Frigate’
The Prarial is a ship of the Floreal-class, and is made by the French company “Chantiers de l’Atlantique”, which is a business unit of STX France. It is described as a “Light Surveillance Frigate” and first entered service with the French Navy in 1992. A total of eight ships were built for this class, six for France and two for Morocco. Here are some of the physical characteristics of the ship:5
Displacement: 2,950 tons
Length: 93.5 m
Beam: 14.1 m
Draft: 4.3 m
The Floreal Frigates are generally LOW COST ships designed mainly for LONG RANGE and LONG ENDURANCE. To save on costs, the ship was designed using COMMERCIAL rather than military specifications. The main difference between commercial and military construction methods is that less equipment and weapons can be packed for a given space and weight on commercial ships as compared to military ships.6
It has excellent range at 16,200 km at 15 knots, and also excellent endurance at 50 days or more than one and a half months. In order to get such a range and endurance performance, a good part of the ship’s space and weight are allocated for fuel, food, habitability, etc. Add this to the fact that it was built using commercial specs means even less allocation for weapons and equipment.
Overall, the Floreal is really an “Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV)” due to its stress on range and endurance and relatively light weapons, although France chooses to use different terms for it like “Light Surveillance Frigate”, or “Patrol Frigate”.
‘As Is Systems’
As it is right now, the Floreal-class ships seems to have a couple of features that would meet the current bid requirements already,7 and these are:
- Helipad Capacity and Enclosed Hangar Space – The Floreal class ships usually carry only a medium-sized AS565 Panther Helicopters, but it does have the capability to carry heavier helicopters like the NH90 or AS332 Super Puma Helicopters, both of which are in the ten-ton range as required in the bidding. It doesn’t look like the enclosed hangar space will be a problem as the minimum space requirement is 136 m^2, but the existing hangar space on the Floreal is already more than twice that at 300 m^2.
Softkill System – The ship has a pretty sophisticated “Softkill” or decoy system whose latest version, the Next Generation Dagaie System (NGDS),8 can use various types of decoys against both missiles and torpedoes.
Main Gun System – The manufacturer can choose to stay with its 100 mm gun as it fulfills the bidding requirement of a minimum of 76 mm caliber, although I think a 76 mm caliber gun would be more desirable for us because five of our ships in service (three Jacinto-class and two Del Pilar-class) are already using it, hence it would be easier in terms of logistics for the Navy. Switching to a 76 mm gun won’t be a problem as the Floreal ships made for the Moroccan Navy were armed with 76 mm guns.
As a note, though: The bid requirement does not specify a low Radar Cross Section (RCS) or “stealth” profile hence STX France could altogether just skip on this feature to lower costs, but if other competitors like Navantia or Daewoo offer this feature on their candidate ships then the upgraded Floreal-class ship would be in a bit of a disadvantage.
A number of modifications will have to be made on the Floreal in order for it to fit into the MINIMUM requirements of the bidding, and among the major ones would probably be as follows:
- Air Search Radar – The bid requirement is for an Air Search Radar (ASR) range of 144 km, but it doesn’t specify the size of the target to detect, hence the Floreal’s DRBV-21C Mars ASR should qualify as it can detect a target that far if it is large enough. I don’t think the Mars is still in production, though, hence a replacement will likely be used, something newer and probably French, and with likely similar performance. The Mars radar’s range performance isn’t really that great for a ship, only estimated at 63 km for a 5 m^2 target,9 better than an FA-50’s ELM-2032 Radar, but not as good as a JAS-39C Gripen’s PS-05A Radar (99 km for a 5 m^2 target), for example. Then again, since it doesn’t have SAMs that can reach that far, no need for such a long-ranged ASR anyway.
- Surface to Air Missiles – Its Mistral10 missiles on two Simbad Launchers (each is a twin launcher) fits the quadruple missile and 6 km minimum range requirements, but its configuration will have to be upgraded to a Remote Weapons System (RWS) like either two Mistral RC or 1 Mistral Tetral system as the requirement calls for a system that can be integrated with the ASR and the ship’s main Fire Control System (FCS).
Increased Maximum Speed – Its maximum speed will have to be increased by 25% from 20 knots to meet the 25-knot requirement of the bidding. This probably means changing at least two of its Diesel engines to more powerful but heavier engines. The new engines will have higher fuel consumptions, and with the fuel capacity remaining the same, this means the tradeoff will have to come from the ship’s range. The minimum range requirement for the bidding is only 8,100 km at 15 knots, and with the Floreal’s range already twice of that, there is a lot of range to trade off with and it won’t likely be a problem.
Close In Weapons System (CIWS) Upgrade – The Floreal uses two manually-fired 20 mm F2 Cannons on a stabilized mount, but this will have to be upgraded as the bid requirement is for a RWS type that should also be integrated into the ship’s main FCS, perhaps something like the MSI Lightweight Seahawk mount.11 Since the caliber for the CIWS requirement is not specified, the 20 mm caliber will likely be retained.
Additional Anti-Ship Missiles – The Floreal only carries two MM38 Exocet Anti-Ship Missiles (AshM) on launchers placed just behind the mast area, but the requirement is for at least four AShMs, hence this capacity will have to be at least doubled. Here is a video of a Floreal-class ship test-firing its Exocet missile:
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Capability – The Floreal currently has NO ASW capability, hence this capability will have to be added in the form of at least a bow/hull-mounted or dipping sonar system as sensor, and at least two triple Torpedo launchers as weapons.
‘Commercial Spec Issue?’
As can be seen above, quite a number of weapons and equipment will have to be upgraded or incorporated into the Floreal in order for it to meet the required bidding specs. I wonder, though, if it will be possible to do this on the existing hull configuration given that a commercial spec vessel will be less equipment/weapons “dense” than a mil-spec vessel, and assuming that the current Floreal-class ships are already near their maximum growth potential.
If not, the manufacturer may consider “stretching” the hull a bit to fit in all of the required equipment and weapons. But even if they can eventually fit all of these equipment in, given the limitations of commercial spec vessels, there may be little room for future growth potential of the ship. But then again there doesn’t seem to be any requirement for future growth potential for these new Frigates, hence this might not be considered much.
So this is the type of ship that could replace the Maestrale-class Frigates the Navy was planning to buy before. In terms of capability, it is not much of a match, the Maestrales are WAY superior. This fact hasn’t hit me until now when we finally got an idea of a possible candidate ship. The Maestrales have MORE missiles that have LONGER range, more CIWS at two with bigger caliber cannons, can carry more helicopters at two and have better sonar system with its Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) system. They even have a Prairie Masker System that makes them harder to detect via Sonar by enemy Ships or Submarines.12
However, the Maestrales are OLD ships, and not only are they old, they are also COMPLEX ships requiring a lot of manpower (over 200) to run efficiently. The combination of age and complexity could mean a more difficult ship to maintain at or near 100% efficiency, especially for our navy which do NOT have any experience running a ship as sophisticated and capable as the Maestrales. A less complex ship like an upgraded Floreal might have less capability, but will be easier to maintain since it is at least new, and could prove to be a good “transitional” ship for our navy (assuming we will get better ships in the future). At any rate, these upgraded Floreals (if they win) will be the most capable ships in our inventory, to which standards our Del Pilar-class ships SHOULD be upgraded to.
You have to give credit for the French for an excellent sales presentation. So far they are the only country included in the bidding that I know of that sent a ship for the evaluators to look around with. I wouldn’t be surprised if the officials of the Navy Technical Working Group and their Private Consultants were given a tour of the ship to see how STX France’s offer will look like.
An upgraded Floreal-class ship is not really bad, it is a decent ship. However, of course since this is a bidding one hopes to see a more capable ship with better arms and equipment if we can get them. Personally, I would be satisfied with an upgraded Floreal if it will instead have the following:
– Longer ranged SAMs like the Aspide 2000 for example, instead of just the Mistrals. The Aspide 2000 have heavier warheads (40 kg versus 3 kg) and longer range (25 km versus 6 km) than the Mistrals.13
– A VDS system as its main sonar system and a Hull/Bow sonar as secondary system. This will improve its submarine hunting capability.
– Improved ASR with at least 50% more range than the current DRBV-21C.
– Better CIWS with full autonomous operation like the MSI Seahawk Sigma14 gun/missile combination, for example.
If these items are met, I think we will have a much more survivable ship capable of matching up to China’s modern naval combatants. The Navy and the other manufacturers have been pretty mum on what the other candidate ships that are on offer, at worst they ALL would be pretty similar to this upgraded Floreal, with minor variations here and there.
Try us, says visiting French Navy commander,
Navantia ha presentado a Filipinas el sofisticado patrullero Avante 1800 para optar al concurso que convocará a final de año,
South Korea Offers Incheon-Class-Frigate to Philippines,
DND admits Indian, French shipbuilders to frigate program,
Floréal Class Frigate, France,
Differences between Military and Commercial Shipbuilding – Rand Corp.,
Philippine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project Technical Specifications,
Sagem Next Generation Dagaie System,
Smarter (and Simpler) Radar in Harpoon,
20 mm Seahawk Lightweight (LW),
Maestrale Class Frigates, Italy,
MSI Seahawk Sigma Mount,