French Navy outlook: July 2022

By Pierre Tran

Paris – The U.S. Navy is seeking closer operational ties with the French Navy, with the French service being asked to plug sensors and data into the American Project Overmatch for an extensive information network, a French naval officer said on July 11.

Offering greater interoperability was one of the priorities of a visit to the United States by French naval chief of staff Admiral Pierre Vandier, who was there June 18-25, the officer said.

It was Vandier’s third and longest visit to the United States, marking a reset of relations after ties were strained by the announcement of the AUKUS partnership on September 16, with Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States seeking to provide the Australian Navy with a fleet of nuclear weapons. motorized attack submarines.

The AUKUS plan sabotaged a project by French shipbuilder Naval Group (NG) to build 12 Shortfin Barracuda diesel-electric submarines in Adelaide, southern Australia, under a one-year deal. value estimated at 30 billion euros (30 billion US dollars).

Vandier flew to the United States a week after Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on June 11 that Canberra would pay NG 555 million euros for the cancellation of the Barracuda project, and stressed the need to rebuild close ties with France.

The financial and political deal renewed relations, with French President Emmanuel Macron giving Albanese a warm welcome when the Australian leader came to the Elysee office on July 1 for their first meeting.

Australia has also changed its naval chief of staff, the officer said, and French exercises are planned with the Australian service.

Vice Admiral Mark Hammond assumed the post of chief of the Australian Navy on July 6, with Vice Admiral Michael Noonan stepping down after four years in the post.

There has also been a change at the top in the UK, with Admiral Ben Key promoted to First Sea Lord, with his predecessor Admiral Tony Radakin taking over as Chief of the Defense Staff. .

Vandier spoke with then-French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly ahead of her visit to the United States last month, such was the perceived importance of the trip, and the minister spoke with her counterpart American.

The French navy chief met Kurt Campbell when he flew to the United States in January, the officer said. Campbell, who is believed to have played a key role in bringing about the AUKUS submarine deal, is coordinator for the Indo-Pacific at the United States National Security Council.

Overmatch is the U.S. Navy’s project, with the Air Force and Army, to establish a Network for Joint All Domains Command and Control (JADC2), with the Navy’s Overmatch budget right after Columbia’s ballistic missile submarine program, National Defense Monthly magazine reported it.

Project Overmatch includes the power of cloud computing, with the US Navy partnering with Amazon Web Services to store the vast amount of data and relying on artificial intelligence as a tool to sift through the aggregated information. A US warship would effectively have two computers on board, one to conduct warfare, the other to store data, the officer said.

A French team is due to travel to the United States in September for further Overmatch discussions, the officer said. It’s still early days, but it’s important to get a head start rather than being left behind and falling behind.

The French Navy sets up its Polaris project, in the naval base of Toulon, in the south of France, forming a training and study center for high-level naval doctrine, based on systems for managing high-performing fighters, the officer said. Overmatch calls for an exchange of information.

The U.S. Navy briefed Vandier on its strategy in the Pacific during its visit to the West Coast, which included the Naval Information Warfare Center in San Diego, and traveled to San Francisco to visit centers of high technology in Silicon Valley. The scope and production of software in the United States is impressive, the officer said. The French Navy is unlikely to strike a deal with Amazon.

On the east coast, Vandier visited Naval Base Norfolk and Washington, where he met his U.S. Navy counterpart.

Vandier’s latest visit follows the signing by the French and US Navy in December of the Strategic Interoperability Framework Agreement, aimed at strengthening operational cooperation between the two services.

What is envisaged is the right level of cooperation and “synchronization” with the United States, with the possibility of a twin carrier operation in 2025, sailing west of Singapore, with fighters of fourth generation such as the Rafale fighter flying with the fifth generation F-. 35, the officer said.

In general, priorities have to be established because the French navy lacks the resources to take on all missions at the same level of urgency – “If everything is important, nothing is important”, the officer said. The main theaters of operations are the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indo-Pacific.

This calls for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a strategic view, the officer said. We perceive an average yield from the French contribution to NATO, the strategic yield of the operation in the Indian Ocean making the latter somewhat the center of gravity of the French Navy.

The annual Jeanne d’Arc naval training mission crossed the Indo-Pacific this year, and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will sail the Indo-Pacific later this year, the officer said. On September 16, the day the AUKUS partners announced the Australian submarine project, the European Union published its report on the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific.

In India, where the navy is holding a competition for ship-borne fighters, France has offered to provide two to four French Navy Rafales, if the fighter is chosen, the officer said. If India retained this option, it would lead to a 10% reduction in the French air fleet, which consists of 42 Rafales.

India did not request this option, which was offered by the French authorities.

The United States launched the F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet.

The French presence in the Indian Ocean is seen as a relief to the American Pacific Command, which is facing the rise of the Chinese navy.

The US Navy fears that at the rate China is building warships, the People’s Liberation Army Navy will be 2.5 times larger than the US Navy by 2030, the officer said. The US Navy may be modernizing its fleet, but warships and submarines are simply being replaced instead of being increased in number.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Norwegian Navy is concerned about the potential reach of the Chinese Navy in the region, the officer said.

This sense of US urgency over the perceived growing threat from China and Australia’s need as a powerful ally has led to a ‘strategic shift’, with Canberra sinking the Barracuda project last year. and researching nuclear-powered boats.

Talks are ongoing, the officer said, and one option is for the United States to send the two Virginia-class attack boats built each year to the Australian Navy.

That would mean the US Navy would wait four years to receive its submarine, while Australia seeks to sail eight nuclear-powered boats.

Given the training, infrastructure and need to build an industrial base, it is difficult to see an Australian vessel sailing under an Australian flag before 2040, the officer said. This calls for a “political decision”.

The Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, released its memo, The Interpreter, on July 14 which explores three options for the Labor government, which is set to breach the non-nuclear proliferation regime with the AUKUS submarine project. . Both the UK and US use highly enriched uranium to power their ships, so weapons-grade equipment had to be sent to the Australian Navy.

Options include returning Australia to a fleet of conventional submarines, asking the United States to provide boats powered by low-enriched uranium (LEU) – which is not suitable for nuclear weapons, or asking France to provide submarines powered by LEU, because French ships use this form of Atomic Power.

There would be “political, bureaucratic, legal and financial” hurdles to the latter option, but such a deal would allow Albanese to avoid the proliferation of weapons-grade uranium and equip the Australian Navy, and possibly create “AUKUS+1”, says the note. .

Feature Photo: An MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), lands aboard the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91).



Photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck

11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

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