March 25, 2013
There are some analysts who believe the day of the ocean-going warship has passed and that smaller vessels, designed to counter littoral threats such as terrorism, smuggling and piracy, are the future of surface combatants.
“Wrong,” says Stephane Fremont, deputy director of surface ships and naval systems at DCNS, France's naval systems giant. “It's not only major countries that need to have the naval means to protect their trade interests,” he explains, but smaller ones whose location at strategic points around the world make the ability to deploy oceangoing vessels a must.
“Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are surrounded by straits through which sail more than half the world's trade,” he says. “They are fully aware that a few mines or a threatening submarine in these waters could cause chaos to global trade and local economies. They need oceangoing vessels to maintain open seas.”
The South China Sea, for example, is near the coastal waters of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. Each of these countries has an interest in being able to counter threats that emerge in this area, which means their fleets must be capable of operating in this environment. “The South China Sea,” Fremont says, “is deep and has violent storms. A littoral patrol vessel is not designed for this sea and its weather conditions, much less for antisubmarine and countermine missions.”
Vice Adm. (ret.) Olivier Saint Martin of the French navy agrees. “A surface warship is a major, unavoidable item for an oceangoing navy because it is robust and rapidly reconfigurable according to the mission: surveillance, force projection or action, and to the weapons used by an adversary.”
Saint Martin says that the design of surface ships must include accommodation, launch and recovery support for modern weapons, such as helicopters and unmanned vehicles.
Adm. (ret.) Jose Manuel Sanjurjo Jul of the Spanish navy, a military adviser to Spain's naval systems group Navantia, believes frigates should carry at least four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which he finds preferable to helicopters since they require fewer personnel to operate. This point is also made by Saint Martin, explaining that in the French navy, personnel must multitask; it is often the supply officer who doubles as flight officer for UAVs.