Drones, hybridization, mission modules…: the design of military surface ships at the dawn of a profound upheaval

It is well known that military navies, both Western and global, are strongly imbued with tradition, and even a certain conservatism, even, perhaps especially, in terms of the design of military ships. To be convinced of this, it is enough to observe the composition of the military fleets today, and to compare it with what they were, forty years ago, in the mid-80s, to understand this. convince.

Thus, the French Navy in the 80s fielded fifteen high-seas escorts (2 Suffren, 3 T-67s, one C-69, 9 T-70s), therefore 4 anti-aircraft destroyers and 11 anti-submarine frigates, i.e. the exact theoretical composition of the fleet of French first-rate frigates in 2030 (2 Horizon, 6 FREMM Aquitaine, 2 Fremm Alsace and 5 FDI), fifty years later.

The same goes for amphibious capabilities, with 2 TCDs and the Jeanne d'Arc helicopter carrier, compared to 3 LHD Mistrals today; or the fleet of second-rate escorts, even if the 26 avisos and avisos escorts of the Estienne d'Orves and Commandant Rivière classes, have only been replaced by 5 FLF, 6 Floréal and 7 ocean patrol boats to come, but supplemented by 6 Overseas Patrollers. Finally, in the logistics area, the four Durance class refueling tankers are being replaced by 4 Jacques Chevalier class BRFs.

In fact, apart from the second aircraft carrier, and only 6 large mine warfare vessels, against 10 Tripartite Eridan class mine hunters, and unlike the air or land forces, which have undergone radical reductions, the fleet of French surface of the 2030s, will be very similar, in its organization and in its architecture, to that of the 80s.

The world's navies innovate a lot technologically, but little in other areas

The same is true in most of the world's major navies. Obviously, modern ships have greatly expanded capabilities compared to the vessels that were sailing in 1985. However, this is, most of the time, only a horizontal evolution of means, linked to progress made in the field of sensors, propulsion or weapons systems. The composition of the fleet, and the missions of the ships, remain almost identical.

frigate georges leygues National Navy
Surprisingly, the format of the surface fleet of the French Navy will have changed little between 1985 and 2030, apart from the removal of the second aircraft carrier, and 4 of the 10 mine hunters.

Even more surprising, since the end of the Second World War, very few innovations have resulted in certain developments concerning the very missions of ships. In fact, there have only been three in more than 80 years: the arrival of nuclear propulsion, much more sensitive, moreover, for the submarine fleet than the surface fleet; the arrival of missiles, without them having profoundly disrupted the structure and specialization of the units; And the appearance, in the 70s, of LHDs.

Combining the capabilities of aircraft carriers or helicopter carriers with that of Transport de Landing Barge (TCD or LPD) type assault ships, the LHD made it possible, in fact, to carry out amphibious operations under the cover of the horizon, by dissociating the amphibious flow intended for the transport of vehicles, from the air flow, for men, munitions and health.

Apart from this new category of ships, the destroyers, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers, minehunters and other replenishment tankers, which form the backbone of military fleets today, remain very similar, in their specialization and their doctrines. of use, to what they were in the 50s. But this could well change in the two or three decades to come…

Artificial intelligence and robotization at the heart of future developments in the design of military surface ships

Indeed, in recent years, under the combined effect of progress made in automation, robotization and artificial intelligence, new ships, with capacities radically different from those of existing buildings, have begun to be presented in the form of concepts or models at major naval arms shows, or even to be tested, for the most advanced programs.

These radical developments are based on certain technological advances, but above all respond to the new constraints faced by modern navies, whether in terms of equipment costs, recruitment difficulties, as well as progress made in detection systems. and communication.

OH Perry class frigate US navy
In 1975, an Oh Perry class frigate cost the US Navy a little over $100 million, compared to more than $10 billion (x235) for a Constellation class frigate today. In the meantime, the Pentagon's budget increased from $880 to $3,7 billion (xXNUMX).

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