Navy, Devonport, Fleet, Ship, Aerial, IPV, OPV, Inshore patrol Vessel, Offshore patrol vessel: Fleet Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres in the Hauraki Gulf, including HMNZS Otago, HMNZS Wellington, HMNZS Pukaki, HMNZS Rotoiti, HMNZS Hawea, HMNZS Taupo and HMNZS Manawanui.

Pooling military equipment acquisitions among multiple EU Member States serves to enhance the interoperability of their armed forces, achieve cost savings through economies of scale, and bolster the defense industry. This collaborative effort, dubbed Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO], has birthed several notable initiatives, among them the European Patrol Corvette [EPC] project. Spearheaded by Italy, this endeavor counts France, Greece, Spain, and Romania among its participating nations.

Initially overseen by the European Defense Agency [EDA] upon its inception in 2019, management of the EPC project has now transitioned to the Joint Organization for Armaments Cooperation [OCCAR]. In October, OCCAR granted an initial design contract for the prospective European corvette to a consortium consisting of Fincantieri, Naval Group, and Navantia. Financed primarily by the European Defense Fund with €60 million, supplemented by contributions from participating states, the contract is valued at €87 million and spans twenty-four months.

France’s engagement in this venture stems from the imperative to replace its aging fleet of six Floréal-class surveillance frigates, integral assets in maritime operations since the early 1990s. The EPC program aims to address this need by introducing a new generation of “modular” vessels characterized by open architecture facilitating easy integration of various systems. These ships, with a displacement capped at 3,000 tons and a length of 110 meters, are slated to debut in three configurations optimized for anti-ship warfare, long-range missions, and high-seas patrolling.

In a March 2022 interview with DefTech magazine, Admiral Pierre Vandier, then Chief of Staff of the French Navy [CEMM], lauded the EPC program for its blend of capability and cost-effectiveness, prompting speculation about its potential as the successor to the Floréal frigates.

The French Military Programming Law [LPM] 2024-30, unveiled in August 2023, outlines the French Navy’s ambition to field five surveillance frigates and one corvette by 2030, with the latter likely sourced independently of the EPC initiative. At the DSA 2024 arms fair in Kuala Lumpur, Stéphane Frémont, head of surface ships at Naval Group, disclosed the French Navy’s contemplation of acquiring six Gowind-class corvettes as part of its future fleet plans.

“We started talks last year with the Directorate General of Armaments [DGA] and the French Navy about replacing the Floréal-class frigates,” he said. “The Gowind Corvette model was picked as a possible option. For these ships, the contract will start in a few years, aiming to build six ships,” he added. 

In pursuit of enhanced naval capabilities surpassing those offered by the current Floréal-class frigates, the French Navy appears to be deliberating the acquisition of the Gowind 2500 corvette, as indicated in Mr. Frémont’s discussions.

The Gowind 2500, with a displacement of 2,600 tons and a length of 102 meters, is tailored for extended operational ranges, boasting a remarkable reach of 3,700 nautical miles. Equipped with the advanced SETIS combat system, a mainstay of multi-role frigates, this vessel integrates the Panoramic Sensors and Intelligence Module [PSIM], featuring an integrated mast housing a suite of surveillance radar, operational command center, and communication facilities.

In terms of armament, the Gowind corvette is formidable, armed with torpedoes, 16 VL MICA surface-to-air missiles, 8 Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missiles, two remotely operated 20mm Nexter Narwhal cannons, and a 76mm Oto-Melara turret. Furthermore, it possesses the flexibility to deploy a hull-mounted sonar, a towed antenna system, and even accommodate helicopter operations, thereby extending its operational versatility.