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French Navy FTI Frigate: From 57mm to 127mm, Naval Gun System Choice Still Open
 
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 3 The FTI (Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire or mid-size frigate) was undoubtly the "star of the show" at Euronaval this year. A scale model representative of its design by unveiled by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on October 18th. Five new generation FTI frigates are expected to supplement eight FREMM frigates and two Horizon air defense destroyers by 2030 for a total of fifteen "first rank" surface combatants. While the model unveiled on the French MoD booth shows several specific systems fitted aboard, Navy Recognition learned that this model is not yet representative of the final configuration yet...
 
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EURONAVAL 2016 Online Show Daily - FTI Naval Gun System
 
 
 
French Navy FTI Frigate: From 57mm to 127mm, Naval Gun System Choice Still Open
 
The FTI (Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire or mid-size frigate) was undoubtly the "star of the show" at Euronaval this year. A scale model representative of its design was unveiled by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on October 18th. (You can see our video coverage of the event as well as a focus on the FTI in our Euronaval Day 2 video at this link).

Five new generation FTI frigates are expected to supplement eight FREMM frigates and two Horizon air defense destroyers by 2030 for a total of fifteen "first rank" surface combatants. While the model unveiled on the French MoD booth shows several specific systems fitted aboard, Navy Recognition learned that this model is not yet representative of the final configuration yet as the critical design review hasn't been reached yet.
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 1DCNS CEO Hervé Guillou at the unveiling of the FTI scale model during Euronaval 2016
     
The Euronaval FTI scale model is representative of the FTI design being currently proposed by the French defense procurement agency (DGA) to the French Navy (Marine Nationale) but Navy Recognition learned from a number of sources that several systems are still being debated, one of these systems being the main naval guns.
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 2Close up view of the FTI's bow on the French MoD stand. Note the 76mm main gun, 16x VLS and the Narwhal 20mm RWS (right next to the bridge).
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 3Close up view of the Belh@arra frigate's bow on DCNS stand. Note the 127mm main gun, 16x VLS and the Narwhal 20mm RWS (right next to the bridge).
     
The FTI model at Euronaval featured a 76mm by Leonardo (formerly known as Oto Melara). This solution makes perfect sense since this gun type is already fitted on the two Horizon destroyers and the Aquitaine-class FREMM frigates. However, as we've reported before, some sailors in the French Navy have been (and are still) advocating a larger gun system able to provide longer range and increased lethality. This need could be answered by a 127mm main gun. Two companies have such a gun in their portfolio: The 127/64 by Leonardo-Finmeccanica's Defence Systems Division of Italy and the Mark 45 Mod 4 by BAE Systems Inc. from the United States.
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 4Admiral Prazuck, Chief of Staff of the French Navy visiting BAE Systems stand during Euronaval 2016. Mark 45 Mod 4 naval gun system model on the foreground, HVP on the left & SGP on the right.
     
While the FTI scale model was unveiled on Tuesday 18 October at Euronaval (with the 76mm), the Chief of Staff of the French Navy visited the BAE System booth on Thursday 20 October to get briefed on both the Mark 45 Mod 4 and the Bofors 57mm gun. To us, this shows that the choice for the FTI main gun is still very much open.

The FTI was designed to accommodate the 127mm gun (from both companies): At the show, DCNS was showcasing a scale model of the export variant of the FTI, the Belh@rra, with a 127mm gun. Both the 127/54 and the Mark 45 Mod 4 can deploy smart, precision munitions (the Vulcano ammunition for the Italian gun, and the Hyper Velocity Projectile and Standard Guided Projectile for the American gun) which is of interest to the French Navy as well.

A key factor will be the whole life cost of the system. We learned at the show that this is the reason why the Bofors 57mm Mk 3 has recently started to be considered as well. In addition to being more affordable than a 127mm or 76mm gun, the 57mm offers other advantages: While this gun doesn't offer the range and lethality of the 127mm guns, some of its performances are comparable to the 76mm. This is particularly true when you take factors such as the rate of fire and the amount of explosive per shell into account (the Bofors gun achieves a higher amount of "explosive fired per second" compared to the 76mm. This is explained in more details in this video). In addition, the 57mm shells being smaller, a greater number may be stored aboard the ship. Finally, we believe that a smaller main gun (such as the 57mm) because of its lighter weight could allow the installation of larger remote weapon stations (than the 20mm Narwhal). This is pure speculation on our end, but an FTI fitted with a 57mm main gun at the bow and two Thales RAPIDSeaGuardian 40mm CIWS on top of the helicopter hangar at the stern (for a 360° coverage) could make sense. The gun comes with smart ammunition as well: The 3P all-target programmable ammunition and the ORKA "one shot one kill" round currently under development.
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 5The FTI mid-size frigate scale model on the French MoD stand at Euronaval 2016
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 6The Belh@rra frigate scale model on DCNS stand at Euronaval 2016. In this confifuration, it features a 76mm main gun but 32x VLS. Note the Raytheon RAM launcher on top of the helicopter hangar.
     
Until the programme reaches critical design review, many things may still evolve and the FTI scale model we will see at Euronaval 2018 may look slightly different compared to the one unveiled last week as the design gets fine tuned. This is normal however: Our frequent readers may remember that we used to spot the design changes between the original Type 26 scale model and its later iterations.

The area around the bridge of the FTI may still evolve. Our understanding is that it looks the way it is right now mainly because of a requirement to fit a Narwhal remote weapon station just forward of the bridge (with another one on top of the helicopter hangar for 360° coverage).

We also learned that space provisions have already been set on and in the foredeck for future growth. While the French Navy FTI is shown with 16x A50 VLS (for MBDA Aster 30 SAM), there is a requirement to increase this number to a total of 32x VLS "if the need arises some time in the future". We could not learn the reason behind this requirement, however our wild guess is that it could have something to do with the Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) (known as Future Missile Antinavire/Future Missile de Croisière in France). It is intended to replace the Exocet anti-ship missile in the far future (as well as the air launched SCALP/Storm Shadow) and it may well be vertically launched from surface vessels.
     
FTI Mid Size Frigate French Navy Marine Nationale naval gun 7Image courtesy of DGA
     
The time line for the FTI programme is very tight: The first ship of the class is set to be delivered to the French Navy in 2023. Because of this tight schedule, the DGA has set up a collaborative work group. This work group brings together experts from the DGA, French Navy, DCNS and Thales with the most modern engineering tools at their disposal.

The FTI will have a displacement of about 4200 tonnes with a crew of 125 sailors. It will be capable of anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare as well as the support of special forces missions.

The prime contractor is DCNS while Thales is set to supply a number of brand new, next-gen systems:
- The CAPTAS-4 Compact sonar
- The SEA FIRE radar
- Aquilon integrated naval communication system
- The SENTINEL electronic warfare system