Lorient Shipyard Visit and FREMM Frigates Program Update with Vincent
Navy Recognition was recently invited by DCNS to visit their Lorient
(Brittany) based shipyard. The Lorient site specializes in surface vessel.
It was the birthplace of many French Navy vessels such as Aviso type
ships, the La Fayette class of frigates (and its export derivatives)
and even several classes of cruisers before and after World War II.
We also took this rare opportunity to sit down and ask a few questions
to Vincent Martinot-Lagarde, FREMM Programs Manager.
DCNS shipyard in Lorient specializes in surface vessels (picture: DCNS)
Lorient (The Orient in French) was founded in 1666 around a shipyard
to support the French East India Company. The city of Lorient has developped
around the activity generated by this shipyard. Around 1690, the French
Marine Royale establishes some naval construction activities in the
town. In 1770, Lorient becomes a Royal Shipyard and continues to expand
as the main port in South Brittany. Throughout the nineteenth century
Lorient benefits from the industrial revolution that transformed Europe.
The industrial facilities in the shipyard are constantly modernized:
steel replaces wood, motorized vessels prevail over sailing. Lorient
has know-how in the construction of these new vessels. During World
War II, in 1941, the German Navy establish a headquarter for their submarine
fleet in Lorient along with what will become the largest WWII German
submarine base. During the Second World War, the French government had
its military ships designed and built by the Direction des constructions
navales (DCN), later incorporated into the French procurement agency
Délégation générale pour l'armement (DGA).
In 1997, the French government decided to reform its shipbuilding and
procurement system for naval systems. Acquisition was separated from
design and production. DCN retained the industrial part. In 2007 DCN
became DCNS, following the entry of Thales in the group’s capital.
DCNS Lorient shipyard in Numbers
2000 staff on site:
- 1200 of them actively working on FREMM shipbuilding activities
- 600 engineers working on the design and concept
- 100 people in support position
There is also 800 daily contractors contributing to the shipbuilding
110 ships were built inside and launched from the covered dry-dock:
from the LaMotte-Piquet cruiser in March 1924 to the Normandie Frigate
in October 2012.
FREMM Modular Construction in 4 steps
There are 4 main steps in the construction of FREMM Frigates. Step one
(Figure 1) consists in cutting steel sheets with plasma ray, then assembling
or wielding those parts together in order to form small to medium blocs.
These steps take place in a dedicated building. The blocks are then
moved to a different building for step two (Figure 2).
- 8 October 2009: Laser cutter cuts first plate for FREMM frigate Normandie
- Blocks from step one are assembled into rings and large superstructures
second step in the FREMM construction process consists in assembling
the blocks obtained in step one in what is called “rings”
or “superstructures”. During the process, some of the basic
internal components are fitted inside the larger blocks such as wiring,
piping, engines and various equipments…
- A self-propelled modular trailer is used to move large blocks to the
the third step, large blocks from step two are moved to the covered
dry-dock using self-propelled modular trailers (or SPMT, see figure
3). The large structures are then lowered in the dry-dock using an oversized
elevator or large cranes. The DCNS covered dry-dock in Lorient is one
of the largest in Europe. It is so large that it may accept several
Frigates at the same time. For example, when the Normandie Frigate was
launched in October (less than two months before our visit to the Lorient
shipyard), block elements of the Provence Frigate (third vessel of the
Aquitaine class, fourth vessel of the FREMM series) were present behind
the Normandie. This also explains why we found the Provence hull at
such an advanced stage of completion (figure 4 and 5). Before the launch,
the hull is painted with a first coat of anti-corrosion paint.
- We were surprised to see FREMM Provence at such an advanced stage
fourth and last stage consists in launching the FREMM in the water (figure
8) and finish the outside fitting of the vessel (by installing the mast,
radar, weapon systems…) as well as the interior fitting. FREMM
Normandie mast had just been fitted prior to our visit (figure 9) while
the Oto Melara 76mm main gun was getting ready to be installed in the
following days (figure 10). The hull mounted sonar, bulbous bow, propellers
and stabilizer fins are also fitted once the Frigate has been launched.
Once all systems are fitted, the FREMM is ready to start sea trials.
- The Normandie FREMM Frigate, second ship of Aquitaine class is launched
at DCNS shipyard in Lorient on October 18, 2012. (Picture: DCNS)
- The mast is installed on FREMM Normandie (Picture: DCNS)
- The Oto Melara 76mm main gun was taken out of storage during our visit
in order to be fitted on FREMM Normandie in the following days.
The FREMM program is conducted within OCCAR in bipartisan cooperation
with Italy. The target of this program for France is 11 FREMM frigates
including nine in anti-submarine version (ASW) and two in air-defense
The order of the first eight vessels was signed in 2005 as part of the
2003-2008 French Defense bill. The order of the last three FREMM occurred
in 2009. Italy has ordered its first two frigates in 2006 and the next
four in 2008. Main contracting is carried by a group formed by DCNS
and Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (Finmeccanica-Fincantieri).
In total, the program is expected to cost € 8.6 billion in 2012.
The average price of a frigate stands at € 592 million in 2012
(excluding development costs) for eleven frigates, with a delivery rate
of one frigate per year for France.
The first French FREMM frigate, Aquitaine, began sea trials in April
2011 and was delivered to the Navy in August 2012. The second French
frigate, Normandie, was launched in October 2012. The last FREMM is
expected to enter service in 2022.
During the Normandie launch ceremony, French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves
Le Drian said, that the FREMM program would be funded until completion.
Five FREMM frigates are currently under construction at the Group’s
» second-of-type Mohammed VI for the Royal Moroccan Navy is undergoing
» third-of-type Normandie is undergoing outfitting
» the fourth-of-type Provence is under construction in the dry-dock
» pre-outfitting of hull blocks for the fifth-of-type Languedoc
began in September 2011
» plate cutting and machining for the sixth-of-type Auvergne began
in August 2012.
FREMM Programs Manager with the Royal Moroccan Navy FREMM Mohamed VI
in the background (Picture: DCNS)
with Vincent Martinot-Lagarde, FREMM Programs Manager
Navy Recognition (NR): Does DCNS uses the same tools
and techniques in the construction of FREMM Frigates and GOWIND Corvettes? Vincent Martinot-Lagard (VML): Some of the tools would
be similar, the construction site may be different depending on the
type of GOWIND Corvette. A Gowind
Combat type corvette would be assembled in the covered dry-dock
if such a vessel would be built in Lorient. The
Adroit OPV (ed. Note: GOWIND OPV) was assembled in a separate
building and launched using a different method. (ed. Note: Once completed
the vessel was installed on a barge and the barge was then lowered in
NR: What would be the impact on the FREMM program
if a foreign customer ordered one or several GOWIND Combat Corvettes? VML: There would be no impact since we are capable
to conduct FREMM and GOWIND construction in parallel for up to three
ships per year. The fact there is a single covered dry-dock may be a
bottle neck, however the dry-dock is so large that several ships may
be placed inside it. The DCNS shipyard in Lorient has the industrial
facilities to complete two FREMM Frigates and one GOWIND Corvette in
one year. Currently the site has 5 FREMMS in production at various stages
of completion. It is possible for DCNS to deliver one FREMM every 7
NR: Is there any US content onboard the FREMM Frigates? VML: A few sub-systems components are subject to ITAR
regulations but there are no American suppliers as far as main systems
are concerned. However if a customer requires, DCNS is able to integrate
US systems onboard FREMM Frigates: For example for its FREMM (ed. note:
Mohamed VI), Morocco requested part of the communication system to be
supplied by Harris Corporation to retain commonality with other vessels
in the Royal Moroccan Navy fleet.
NR: Is the current crew of 108 sailors a temporary
“minimum” crew? VML: This is an important issue for the French Navy
and the “optimized crew” of 108 is its own requirement.
Following the first trials and anti-submarine exercises, this crew number
has been validated by the French Navy. The maintenance tasks load onboard
FREMM are significantly reduced. The other focus was the automatization
of various systems such as the CMS (combat management system), surveillance
systems or command systems.
NR: Will the French Navy possibly increase the requirement
in SYLVER (VLS) cells for its future FREDA (Air-defense FREMM) from
32 cells to 40 or 48 cells? VML: I am not aware of anything new regarding this
topic. Today, the FREDA is compatible with SYLVER A50 (ed. note: VLS
system), compatible with ASTER 15 and 30 (ed. note: Surface to air missile)
NR: Currently, could a third VLS row be fitted on
Aquitaine class Frigates? VML: It is something DCNS could study, however today
we mostly study four SYLVER silos configurations, therefore 32 missiles.
On the FREMMs offered to Greece, the customer had a requirement for
MICA VL so we studied a design with VLS cells located on the side of
the helicopter hangar. There is always a way to adapt a design to accommodate
more missiles, physically we can do many things with a surface vessel,
however you have to consider the price the customer is ready to pay
for such adaptations. The economic balance is to have an adaptable base
and this base right now consists in a four SYLVER silos architecture
and a CMS capable to accommodate several types of missiles and to adapt
to future missiles.
NR: Was the FREMM-ER
concept with SF500 radar designed by the DCNS R&D office
to answer the French Navy FREDA requirement specifically? VML: It is a solution to answer the improvement requirements
of the French Navy, but also the requirements of foreign navies. The
year 2013 will be decisive for this concept.
NR: Why are the 20mm Narwhal remote controlled guns
not installed on FREMM Aquitaine yet? VML: The Narwhal system was ordered when first of class
Aquitaine was too close to completion and not compatible anymore. The
first FREMM to be fitted with the Narwhal will be the Normandie because
of the time taken by the gun’s manufacturing process. First of
class Aquitaine will get its two Narwhal systems during the first major
refit of the Frigate, expected in 2017. Ultimately, all FREMMs will
have a Narwhal 20mm gun capability. The guns are set to be fitted at
the top of the helicopter hangar, on the port and starboard sides.
NR: Regarding the jammers fitted on each side of the
FREMM, can they be compared to some CIWS in their use by the French
Navy, and may they be used to jam not only incoming missile but also
enemy vessels or land based targets in an offensive mode. VML: Anything related to electronic warfare is much
classified. There are several jamming modes that are being tested onboard
FREMM. The electronic warfare suite is largely inspired from the one
present onboard the Horizon class frigates but it is slightly different.
Our philosophy is to have both hard kill and soft kill capabilities:
Hard kill with Aster 15 and Soft kill with a combination of the jammers
that can offensively jam the seekers of the missiles, the NGDS multiple
decoy launchers combined and the low radar signature of the FREMM. One
has to consider the system as a whole, the vessel is very stealthy and
the CMS analyses the threats and decides on the use of appropriate weapons,
jammers or decoys depending on the type of threats.
NR: Following the Libyan campaign (during which the
French Navy conducted several coastal fire support missions with its
100mm and 76mm guns) rumors emerged in the press about a new interest
among the French Navy for 127mm gun and possibly fitting such guns on
a few FREMM frigates. Is there any new developments? VML: Indeed in Libya there were a lot of land attack
missions from vessels which increased the French Navy interest for such
capabilities. Aquitaine class FREMM is compatible with 127mm main guns,
we already conducted adaptation studies. However there is no request
or order from the French Navy at this time. The French Navy knows it
can fit this gun on the FREMM if it has the necessary budget.
Does a FREMM conduct its first sea trials with all of its systems onboard
or not? VML: DCNS objective is to have 100% equipped ships
before their first sea trials. First of class Aquitaine was physically
100% equipped, even though some post sea trials modification were conducted
because it was a prototype, but globally the ship was completed. As
we progress in the FREMM series we try to complete each Frigate at a
faster rate: Normandie FREMM was 80% completed when it was launched
in the water, the objective for Provence FREMM is 90%, then there is
a physical limit because you can not fit the mast when the vessel is
inside the covered dry-dock and some of the equipment can only be fitted
once the ship is launched. A couple months after Normandie was launched,
some of the systems are already powered and dockside harbour testing
has already started.
Pictures of YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missile, fitted on a Chinese
Navy (PLAN) Xian H-6G bomber have recently emerged on the Chinese internet
meaning this new generation missile may have entered operational service.