The French Navy is looking to expand its presence in far seas and into the most contested regions of the world, including the Indo-Pacific. The service also has plans to buy commercially developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and laser weapons to combat modern military threats.
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A senior military officer stated on September 12 that the French Navy was focusing on commercially available drones and laser weapons to field new capabilities by the end of this decade, Defense News reported.
“We need to go faster to keep up with the threats and to keep up with our competitors. We cannot wait until 2030 for some capabilities,” said Rear Adm. Eric Malbruno, the deputy for planning and programs in the office of the Navy Chief of Staff.
To accomplish this, the service must adopt and deploy disruptive technology, particularly off-the-shelf capabilities, he told reporters during a news conference in Paris. The announcement comes when advanced militaries like the United States, Russia, the UK, and China field drones and laser weapons.
Militaries are fast catching up and exploring the concept of swarm drones to cause maximum damage to the enemy. In addition, Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) are gaining traction rapidly, with the US Navy recently taking delivery of the HELIOS Laser Weapon system to be integrated onboard its Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
Commercial Buying of Drones Is A Work In Progress
According to reports, the French Navy is looking for systems ready for operational testing in many vital technological areas, including unmanned aerial systems (UAS), directed energy, and electromagnetic weapons.
“Unmanned vehicles at large … are one of the domains where we are not at state of the art, but we are recovering some experience on that,” Malbruno said. He cited the service’s recent delivery of a new mini UAS dubbed ‘SMDM,’ built by Airbus subsidiary Survey Copter.
At the end of 2020, the French Armament general directorate (DGA) placed an order for 11 SMDMs with SME Survey Copter, which also covered the purchase of systems and support services. The deliveries have been spaced out up until 2023.
The three initial systems were delivered after the SMDM package was certified on July 28 by the DGA. The certification came after many at-sea trials conducted by the DGA that allowed the Navy and its industry partners to test the system in various operational settings, as previously reported by Naval News.
An SMDM comprises two Aliaca UAVs. The Aliaca is slated to be stationed on surveillance frigates and future offshore patrol ships of the French Navy. The SMDM is a “great illustration of a successful integration of light capability that significantly increases the platform capability,” Malbruno said.
Another recent off-the-shelf drone purchase by the Navy is the Austrian manufacturer Schiebel Group’s Camcopter S-100 UAV, according to Malbruno. The service’s Mistral-class helicopter carrier Dixmude has integrated the rotary-wing vehicle.
In late 2020, it was discovered that Naval Group, on behalf of the French Navy, accepted two CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for operational use with four Unmanned Air Vehicles. They are based on Tonnerre and Mistral, two amphibious helicopter carriers of the Mistral class.
The CAMCOPTER S-100 VTOL UAS can carry several payloads weighing up to 50 kilograms. Its small footprint, dependability, and airworthiness pedigree are perfect for maritime operations worldwide.
Laser Weapons For Modern Day Threats
According to Malbruno, the service is also interested in investigating commercially available directed-energy and electromagnetic weapons. In 2023, the military will conduct its first live-fire test of a laser weapon system against a target from a ship of the French Navy, he revealed, without giving further details.
On July 7, 2021, the DGA and a French Company, CILAS, demonstrated a laser weapon system destroying a drone at DGA’s missile test facility in Southwest France. The new laser weapon system was first tested in October 2020.
The HELMA-P (High Energy Laser for Multiple Applications – Power) laser system, jointly developed by CILAS and Ariane Group, comprises the laser weapon, which has a two-kilowatt power and a two-axis turret with a set of optical sensors. It has a range of up to one kilometer, three to four times greater than rival anti-drone technologies.
Malbruno noted that the French Navy is looking into the potential of electromagnetic weapons in operational applications like tactical and anti-air warfare. He further asserted that the Navy should take more risks and get the proper capacity, not the state-of-the-art one since that would be too late.
Additionally, the service is looking for standalone capabilities that could be immediately trialed on a ship.