Procurement: European Innovation To The Rescue

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December 30, 2021: European nations have formed another multi-nation partnership to design a new warship class that all partners need. This latest effort is a corvette, called the MMPC (Modular Multirole Patrol Corvette). These will be 3,000- ton ships about 105 meters in length costing $280 million to $340 million each depending on the final design. Currently the partners plan to buy at least thirty MMPCs. So far Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, and Greece have joined to share MMPC design and development costs. About 40 different European firms are involved as suppliers as well as some major ship builders who will handle construction. It is already agreed that the MMPC will exist as one of two sub-types; one a combat version and another optimized for long-range patrol. Each nation can customize the ships they pay for, and this often means using more items made locally or simply something different or just from another supplier. The first MMPC is expected to enter service in 2027. This is much faster than any recent American project but similar to the speed the Chinese have achieved and the United States used to have.

This sort of cooperative warship design has been common in Europe since the Cold War, when the U.S. Navy dominated the seas and all European nations found their post-World War II naval needs were now quite different. These joint efforts were one reason the EU (European Union) was formed in 1993 and the EU helped promote these joint ventures. Some of these became permanent, like AirBus, which was a joint effort to compete with American aircraft builders. AirBus was a success as were the many cooperative efforts to build new warships.

Some of these cooperative ship designs have been adopted by the United States, the latest one being the FREMM type frigates. Italy recently won the competition to build two FREMMs for the U.S. Navy, with an option for eight more, to replace the failed American LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) design. If the first ten American FREMMs perform well the U.S. Navy will buy more. At least twenty of these will be built in the United States as the 7,200-ton Constellation-class FFG (guided missile frigate), which is optimized for ASW (anti-submarine warfare). The first FFG is to enter service in 2026. Each will cost about $800 million, which is what each of the less capable and reliable LCS vessels ended up costing. That was twice what the LCS was supposed to cost, before all the problems appeared and cost a lot of money to deal with. The new frigate was also a major win for the French-Italian FREMM concept of an easily adaptable basic design able to appeal to many foreign navies with each having slightly different needs. In general, this concept has long been used by European naval shipyards who found that just building ships for their own navy was not enough to make those ships affordable. Export customers were needed and the best way to do that was design ships with adaptability in mind. Britain did it with OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels) and Germany with submarines and, to a lesser extent, a surface warship design similar to FREMM.

FREMM is a joint French-Italian frigate designed to be flexible in types of weapons, equipment and even size. The ability to easily incorporate a wide variety of equipment and weapon systems meant that from the beginning it was possible to offer General Purpose (multi-mission), ASW or Air Defense versions and anything in between. The most popular of these has been the General Purpose and ASW configurations. This has made it easier to attract export customers and satisfy the needs of the French and Italian navies which were the first customers. So far Italy is in the lead with ten built for the Italian Navy and all but two of the export sales.

The first FREMM (Frégate Européen Multi-Mission) frigate, the Aquitaine was built by France. As a joint France-Italy project, both nations built their own for themselves and the export customers they attracted.

The Aquitaine was a 6,000-ton FREMM that was 142 meters (440 feet) long. Top speed is 50 kilometers an hour and range is 11,000 kilometers. The ships are highly automated, with a crew of only 108 sailors. Equipment and weapons vary a bit as each nation prefers to arm the vessels with locally produced stuff. But typical armament is half a dozen Mu-90 torpedoes, eight Otomat Mk2A anti-ship missiles and Aster anti-aircraft missiles. There is one 76mm gun, two 25mm autocannon and two EH101 helicopters. The Italian FREMMs are equipped with towed sonar so they can specialize in anti-submarine operations. France built two FREMM optimized for air defense and this version cost about a billion dollars each and are the only air-defense FREMMs built so far.

The first FREMM entered service in 2012 and 47 are currently in service or on order for five nations. Indonesia was the seventh nation to order FREMM. The United States was the sixth nation to purchase FREMM and if all goes well may be the largest user of FREMM, building over twenty of them.

Although FREMM was created by a Franco-Italian consortium, Italy made the American sale and will oversee construction of the American FREMMs at an Italian-owned shipyard in the United States. Normally the U.S. Navy does not buy foreign ships or ship designs. In this case the navy wanted something that was a proven design and met the requirements for its Constellation class. FREMM did this best and was selected because it was the quickest way to get past the LCS disaster and fill a gap in fleet capabilities.

 


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