The French Navy Patrouilleurs Océaniques (PO) programme is taking-off

Luca Peruzzi

During her introduction speech at Euronaval 2020 Online event, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly has confirmed the launch of the ‘eagerly awaited’ programme for the new class of 10 Patrouilleurs Océaniques (PO) or ocean-going patrol vessels which will “considerably increase capabilities (of the French Navy ‘metropolitan’ patrol component) compared to the current situation.”

The new POs will replace the current fleet of aging A69 type PHM (formerly Aviso/light frigates and then reclassed as patrol vessels) based in Brest and Toulon, visible in the opening picture, and Public Service Patrol-boats (PSP) or Flamant-class (OPV 54 class) based in Cherbourg. The new platforms are going to fulfil a range of missions including the assurance of sovereignty in the French waters around the nation, presence and protection of national interests, escort and intervention in the framework of State action at sea.

According to Mrs. Parly, “the first two (PO platforms) will be delivered by the end of the LPM,” while the remaining will follow by 2029.

The new PO platform will have a displacement of around 2,000 tonnes and a length of around 90 meters, and will be able to achieve a maximum speed of 22 knots with an endurance of 5,500 nm or 40 days of sea operations, the head officer of French Navy’s Protection and Safeguarding Office, Future Naval programmes, said at the recent IQPC’s OPV International 2020 conference.

Among the main features of the new platform, the French Navy’s representative indicated a flight deck and maintenance facilities for one medium-size helicopter as well as an unmanned air vehicle.

No details were provided about these capabilities, but EDR On-Line understood the new patrol vessels will be able to accommodate a helicopter of the class of the new Airbus Helicopters H160M naval aircraft as well as SDAM and smaller unmanned air systems. The new PO will also have a retention room and the capability to carry and operate three RHIBs for civil traffic control, rescue and intervention, in addition to embark a single standard container for multi-purpose operations.

The French Navy’s representative also said that the new vessels design is still in progress, but to be unveiled very soon. Although no images of the new platform were released, a notional vessel silhouette appeared in the presentation showing a large and capable platform with bulbous bow, conventional shafts and rudders, a single main mast superstructure and a stern flight deck with a hangar facility. The new platform lifetime is indicated in 35 years with a requested availability of 140 days at sea per year (aiming at 220) and a total availability of 300 days per year.

Although no details were provided about the project development and time schedule by the French Navy’s representative, during the Euronaval Online 2020 event, the French DGA General Delegate for Armaments Joël Barre, said in his introduction speech that the programme will see the participation of Pirou and CMN shipyards. EDR On-Line understood these shipyards and Socarenam could be involved in the construction of the PO platforms, while Naval Group could lead the industrial team as ship and combat system designer and supplier, but no official confirmation was given so far. Should the participation of different shipyards in the same programme be confirmed, this would mean a shift from the previous national patrol and support vessel programmes, which were tendered among French shipyards, highlighting a strong support to the national naval shipbuilding ecosystem in a period of difficulties caused by the pandemic and the high competition in the specific platform segment at worldwide level.

The new Patrouilleur Océanique will feature a combat system centred on a robust combat management system and a sensor suite including surface-air and navigation radars, IFF, EO/IR and a hull-mounted sonar system to ensure the underwater surveillance in French waters. The latter equipment is unusual on a patrol vessel but the underwater threat is increasing and the new vessels will be able to provide support and protection to the French ballistic missile ​nuclear submarines component while leaving and returning from deterrence patrol operations, in addition to dual-use missions. Although the French Navy hasn’t elaborated, a potential candidate is the Thales BlueWatcher, already under test on the larger Surcouf  La Fayette-class frigate.

The platform armament has been identified by the French Navy’s representative in his presentation’s slide as the new Thales/Nexter RapidFire gun, marking the first time the Marine Nationale acknowledges the selection of the system for the defence of her ships. The naval version of the RapidFire 40 mm gun is self-contained and features a fire control system on the gun mount armed with the same cannon capable of firing the 40CTA ‘cased telescoped’ ammunition used by French and British ground forces, in addition to the new A3B anti-air rounds, to protect vessels against both conventional and asymmetric air and surface threats up to 4,000 meters. The French Navy’s representative hasn’t elaborated, but EDR On-Line understood the weapon system has been chosen to satisfy the requirement for a new self-defence weapon system to equip different classes of vessels including the BRF (Batiments Ravitailleur de Forces), POs, other types of ships and the future European Patrol Corvette (EPC) platforms.

Photo © Giorgio Arra