|The French navy, like the royal navy, has seen a diminution of its number of hulls since a few years and the end of the cold war. On the same time, our navy is becoming our most important and most used force, far more useful than ground forces or even air force.
France has 11.035.000 km² of exclusive maritime zone to monitor, that is the second most important maritime space, just behind the united states (11.351.000 km²) and more than twice the UK (with roughly 4 M km²).
Currently, the French navy is overstretched especially with it’s main surface ship Charles de Gaulle undergoing a full revision.
In the two main French harbors (Toulon and Brest) there aren’t a lot of ships docked. With a few exceptions, every ship is at sea.
- In Indian ocean, Var (command and support ship) is the main vessel of the Indian French navy, and sistership Marne is the admiral ship of international Task Force 150, commanded by Admiral Kerignard. Frigate Surcouf, Guepratte, and destroyer Jean Bart are also engaged. Aviso Commandant Bouan (1100 t) just participated in the hostage crisis, with helicopter carrier/ school ship Jeanne d’Arc and ASW frigate Georges Leygue. “La Jeanne” (13200t) will be replaced by TCD Sirocco (12000t). Floreal and Bougainville are also operating in the Indian ocean (Réunion).
- In the Mediterranean sea, Frigate Montcalm have just replaced Frigate Courbet in UNIFIL task force.
- Aconit is deployed in south America and will participate in an exercise with the Spanish navy. AAW destroyer Cassard is deployed in northern atlantic (USA and Canada) and will later reinforce frigate Ventose in antidrugs operations from Fort de France.
- Meuse (support ship), Tourville and Latouche Treville, are deployed in northern atlantic off French coast, as a protective force for our SSBNs. Tourville participated in a rescue operation last week (cargo Advance).
- BPC Tonnerre (21000t) is off Africa coast monitoring traffic and will soon be replaced by some frigates.
- BPC mistral (21000t) is currently in Japan and will soon deployed in China. Since it’s first deployment during Lebanon war 2006, Mistral has been deployed nonstop and the two BPC have emerged as major assets for our navy.
- Frigate Vendemiaire and Jacques Cartier are participating in the Southern Cross exercise in oceania, and frigate Prairial is undergoing a full revision, so there isn’t any major surface ship to monitor French Polynesia these days.
- French mine hunters are deployed in Adriatic sea, as French expertise in mine hunting is useful in this zone and welcome by local countries.
Our submarines (SSBN and SSN) are also overstretched as we do have only 6 SSN and 3 SSBN at sea (our 4 SSBN Le Terrible is not operational yet).
Overall, we have 42 surface units of more than 1000 t. 22 are at sea. 2 are coming back from mission. 11 boats are under revision and 5 boats have their crew on permission. There are only two boats which are free to be deployed immediately from Brest or Toulon.
I think that we should put the credits on the navy rather than in ground forces. Navy is a major priority for the French, as we have territories all over the world and a huge 11M km² to monitor, with far less ships than the US. Furthermore we can see that modern conflicts are more and more dependent on naval assets and France is not in danger of invasion by anyone (especially with our nuke force). Our Air force is also important but we should put the emphasis on aircraft carriers (we BADLY NEED the second carrier) with full rafale squadrons.
Two carriers with rafale, along with 2x 21000t and 2x12000t LPD with dauphin NH90 and tigers helicopters, nuclear submarines and AAW+ASW frigates + support ships are sufficient to face any crisis France is likely to meet in the next decades. More serious threat would likely engage nuclear forces or an integration of France in a full coalition along with the united states.
But we need more general purpose frigates (FREMM or Lafayette) to deploy in our overseas territories. Illegal immigration, drug smuggling, piracy, rescue operations, illegal fishing monitoring… the missions of our navy are endless and I would gladly scrap some of our leclerc MBTs (for example) to have a few more frigates at sea. After all, Leclerc may be a good tank but we never used it or really needed 400. China and India have understand the importance of navy nowadays. We must do the same. And that's a good advice for Royal navy too.
A very interesting article from “mer et marine” (French) :