I already made a couple of blogs about the candidates for the Philippine Navy’s New Frigate Acquisition Project, and I actually didn’t want to write another one. I figured that by this time the winner of the bidding would have been announced already and thus I would be writing about that instead. However, that has not happened, so here I am again writing about a “prospect” for our new Frigates.
In 2014, a Frigate of the French Navy, the Prarial, visited the country and its Commander Frederic Daumas confirmed that STX’s candidate for the bidding was an updated version of the Floreal Frigate. I subsequently blogged about it, but at that time I did not have clear information on the exact details of the upgraded ship that was being offered. However, in May of 2015 STX finally released an official brochure for the upgraded Floreal, so using that as main reference it is now time to make a “reboot” of my previous blog.
The Floreal is a class of ships of the French Navy classified as “Light Surveillance Frigates”. These ships are relatively lightly armed compared to other ships of the same size and weight because they are optimized for long range, long duration patrols at sea. In my opinion, these ships could also be classified as “Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)”. They were made by the Chantiers de l’Atlantique which is a business unit of STX France and first entered service with the French Navy in 1992. A total of eight ships were built for the class, six for France and two for Morocco.
The upgraded version of the Floreal is called the New Generation Floreal Frigate, or NG2F for short. With a length of 101 m and a Breadth (or Width) of 15.5 m, it is longer by 8 m and wider by 1.5 m than the Floreal Frigate. Its displacement was not given, but its larger size means it will likely be heavier than the Floreal, probably above 3,000 tons as the Floreal only weighs between 2,600 to 3,000 tons. The NG2F has a Crew of 80 and a further allowance of 45 Special Personnel for a total of 125 people, which is an improvement to the total of 100 that the Floreal carries.
The biggest and most obvious difference between the Floreal and the NG2F is their appearance. While the Floreal had a rather plain and ordinary looking exterior (probably the reason for its limited success in the export market despite having a low price and excellent performance), the NG2F has a full “Stealth” profile which ironically was pioneered by another ship of the French Navy in the late 1990s, the La Fayette class Frigates.
This means that the NG2F has a very “clean” superstructure, it is enclosed as much as possible with the open spaces minimized and with lots of flat surfaces and angled sides. The number of protruding elements were also minimized, and a Wood and Glass Fiber composite material were also probably used wherever possible. All these features help reduce the ship’s Radar Cross Section (RCS) significantly, making it much harder to detect by radar compared to a conventional, non-stealthy ship of the same size and weight.
As a bonus these Stealth features also make the ship look sleeker and more modern, resulting in a much more aesthetically pleasing ship. This Stealth profile was actually not required by our Navy, but I think STX put it there in the hopes of attracting other buyers also for the ship.
The Stealth profile works only against Radar and not other sensors like ones that use Infra-Red (IR) for detection, for example, or against Sonar (Acoustic/Sound) sensors. Other countermeasures will have to be used against those, like cooling systems on the ship’s superstructures and funnel against IR sensors, or dampening systems for the ship’s engines and generators to reduce the vibration and sound that Sonar sensors could detect.
Not sure if those other countermeasure systems will be in place on the NG2F, no mention from STX about them, but I don’t think they will be as those will add complexity to the ship and thus will increase costs also, something that is not compatible with our limited budget. They are not part of the required specifications for the ship, anyway.
Another distinct feature of this ship is how its forward end, or “bow” is straight up or perpendicular to the waterline as opposed to the angled or “Raked” bow found on most of the ships in the world today. This vertical bow is called a “Plumb Bow”, and what it does is it reduces drag and improves the efficiency of the hull, maximizing its speed potential.
So for the same size and weight a ship with a Plumb Bow will be able to travel faster. Conversely, for a given speed, a ship with a Plumb Bow will require less effort and fuel to move and thus improving the ship’s range. This is why this feature is more commonly found in racing boats or ships.
But aside from speed, it seems that this Plumb Bow design also has benefits in reducing the RCS of a ship as STX and some other manufacturers are favoring it also for their latest stealth ship designs, like North Sea Boats with their Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Trimaran, or CMN with their Ocean Eagle 43. Some designs have even gone out to use not just a Plumb Bow, but Inverted Bows or bows that rake inwards towards the ship, like CMN’s C Sword 90, for example, or Bath Iron Works with the USS Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer.
The disadvantages of having a Plumb Bow is that it is a little less stable and it is a little less safe. In terms of safety, it doesn’t have a “Crumple Zone” before the submerged portion is hit during front-on collisions, unlike ships with the more conventional outwardly raked bows. However, STX and the other manufacturers probably decided that these are acceptable compromises in favor of more speed and stealth.
’Weapon and Decoy Systems’
A striking aspect of the NG2F is just how close its specifications are in terms of equipment, weapons and performance to our Navy’s requirements. It’s almost as if STX copied and then pasted our Frigate specifications into their brochure, strengthening the claim that this indeed is STX’s bet for our bidding. First let’s take a look at the NG2F’s listed Weapons and Decoy systems:
– Two twin Ship to Ship Missile (SSM) Launchers;
– Two twin Surface to Air Missile (SAM) Launchers;
– Two triple Lightweight Torpedo (LWT) Launchers;
– One 76 mm Main Gun;
– One 35 mm and one 25 mm Minor caliber Cannons;
– Four .50 caliber Machine Guns;
– Two twin ten round Decoy Launchers
Almost all of these are EXACTLY as per the requirements, except for first, the Decoy Launchers which the requirement is for only two twin triple launchers, but the illustration on the NG2F brochure shows one ten-round launcher on each side, exceeding the specs by a large margin.
Second, the SAM requirement is for a single quadruple launcher instead of two twin launchers, so it doesn’t meet the specifications, but I don’t think this is a serious issue and should be easily addressed by the manufacturer. Third, the requirement is only for one Stabilized minor caliber cannon as Close In Weapons System (CIWS), but they seem to be providing two and thus comfortably exceeding the specs.
A stealth ship needs a stealth gun, so the NG2F will likely be using the Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR) which has a “Stealth Cupola” giving it a lower RCS than the older model Oto Melara 76/62 Compact cannons that our Jacinto and Del Pilar class ships are using. Other improvements that the SR has over the previous Compact model is a higher rate of fire (120 versus 80 rounds per minute) and a Muzzle Velocity Radar giving it better accuracy by inputting the actual velocity of the rounds as they leave the muzzle when computing for ballistic trajectory.
Next would be the NG2F’s performance:
– Maximum Speed is 25 knots;
– Maximum Range at 15 knots is 8,334 km
Again these specifications are exactly the same as per our requirement. But just a note on the ship’s range: The older Floreal Frigate actually had an exceptional range of 16,200 km at 15 knots, which is TWICE that of the NG2F. In this case, I think STX decided to just meet our minimum specs as a cost-saving measure rather than exceed it on their own, which is not a bad thing, of course. What we are looking for anyway is that it at least meets the specifications.
While the Floreal only had a maximum speed of 20 knots, the NG2F can run as fast as 25 knots, meeting the required specifications. This could be part of the reason for the NG2F’s larger size as the faster speed requirement needed the installation of bigger and more powerful engines.
As for the main Sensors of the NG2F:
– One 3D Air Search Radar (ASR) with Identity Friend or Foe (IFF) capability
– One X-band Surface Search Radar (SSR)
– One S-band SSR
– One Hull Mounted Sonar (HMS)
– One Towed Array Sonar (TAS)
Here STX seems to have been a bit more generous and decided to exceed the specifications for the Sensors. The specs called for just a 2D ASR (meaning can provide only Range and Bearing/Direction), but they decided to provide a 3D ASR (meaning can provide Range, Bearing/Direction AND Altitude) instead, which is more capable.
Aside from the Radar, the Sonar sensors also exceeds the requirement. The required is only for a HMS, but they decided to provide a TAS also, which is a big boost to the ship’s Submarine detection capabilities as a TAS is more effective than just an HMS, which is why it has now become a standard equipment for most of the new ships of the navies around the world today.
The two other features of the NG2F that fits our specifications are for:
– One ten-ton Helicopter
– Two 7m long Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB)
The RHIB requirement was for one that can hold ten passengers, and most RHIBs in the market now that are 7m long are able to hold at least that many passengers, so the NG2F meets this specification.
The original Floreal vessel was made using Commercial specifications as opposed to Military specifications as a cost-cutting measure, and although it has not been stated by STX, this will likely be also the case for this ship as, after all, it is the New Generation Floreal Frigate. This will help STX meet our limited budget and also so it can compete with other shipbuilders with lower labor cost from countries like India or South Korea.
Ships made to Commercial specifications are made to conform to less standards, and the standards that they do need to conform to are less exacting that Military standards. As a result, they can be designed and made faster and easier, and that is how they are able to save on costs.
One disadvantage of Commercial spec ships though is that they have less room for future growth since they are not designed to be as “dense” in terms of equipment and weapons as Miltary spec ships. For example, it may not be possible to add larger SAMs later should we decide to do so. But then again, space for future growth was not among the specifications for our new Frigates.
I am particularly happy with the TAS, it will be a major leap in our Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability, I don’t think our Navy has ever had this kind of equipment before. Now match this with a good ASW Helicopter which is being bought along with these Frigates and you have a ship that has a pretty decent ASW capability, and thus it can be considered as an ASW Frigate.
Let’s face it, the requirement for Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS)-type SAMs means they will mainly be used for Self-Defence and will have very limited capability (if any) to defend other ships also, so no way it is an Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) ship; Its four SSMs are less than the standard load of eight for most Corvette and up sized vessels, and thus will be mainly used for defensive purposes only also rather than for offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW). So ASW is this ship’s strongest suit, and because of that I would classify it mainly as an ASW Frigate.
It’s a pity that STX did not specify exactly which models of equipment and weapons will be used and instead just gave general descriptions of them. Had they done so, this blog would have been a bit longer. But then again who knows, if they win and more details will be provided later then that means another blog for the Floreal, it will be the third for me.
In terms of looks alone, previously my favorite in this bidding was Navantia’s Avante 2200, but with this new revelation by STX then it definitely now is my personal favorite. It represents some of the latest trends in ship design, a step ahead of the original stealth profile pioneered by the La Fayette class Frigates a decade and a half ago.
If STX wins, we will have one of the most modern looking ships in all of the South East Asian navies. So good luck to them, I hope they can provide this ship at a low price and win the bidding. And I also hope that the Navy will finally announce the winner soon as the bidding is already two years and three months or 27 months old as of this writing …
^ Try us, says visiting French Navy commander,
^ New Frigate Bidding Candidate: Upgraded Floreal-class,
^ New Generation Floreal Frigate brochure,
^ Floréal Class Frigate, France,
^ C Sword 90 – The Stealthy Corvette by CMN,
^ DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class Page on Jeffhead,
^ Types of Bow Designs Used For Ships,
^ Philippine Navy Frigate Bidding Technical Requirements,
^ Differences between Military and Commercial Shipbuilding – Rand Corp., https://web.archive.org/web/20160721031244/http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG236.pdf