The Five Mighty Navies Of Europe

The five navies of Europe that historically maintain and develop a strong naval fleet of very advanced warships.

According to the Office of Naval Research of the United States Navy, “surface combatants (or surface ships or surface vessels) are a subset of naval warships which are designed for warfare on the surface of the water, with their own weapons. They are generally ships built to fight other ships, submarines or aircraft, and can carry out several other missions including counter-narcotics operations and maritime interdiction. Their primary purpose is to engage space, air, surface, and submerged targets with weapons deployed from the ship itself, rather than by manned carried craft.”

The term is primarily used to mean any modern vessel type that is not a submarine; although a “surface ship” may range in size from a small cutter to a large cruiser, the largest surface combatant today in any Navy.

Major warships of current European Navies.

The major surface combatants that include the largest surface combatants, warships including destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. Corvettes have been downgraded to offshore patrol vessels or their equipment is limited (sensors and/or armament), therefore are suitable only for low-intensity conflicts, are excluded from the graph.

This applies for the classes Minerva, Floreal, D’Estienne d’Orves and Descubierta. Non-surface combatants such as the attack and ballistic missile submarines are excluded.

The same stands for the fast attack craft or gunboats. Of course, those types of ships and boats can boost dramatically the capabilities of a naval force or even to discourage absolutely any naval battle if one of the naval opponents have a ballistic missile submarine in its inventory. This may sound unfair for some traditional naval forces such as the Hellenic Navy or the Royal Netherlands Navy.

The Royal Netherlands Navy has in its inventory 13 frigates but without any declared replacement plan for the future, 17 fast attack craft and 11 submarines of which the five (5) are some of the most advanced in Europe. The latter has four (4) very modern anti-aircraft warfare frigates (equipped with 40-cell VLS), four (4) modern submarines but only two general-purpose frigates.

Major warships of European Navies in 2030.

British Royal Navy

United Kingdom’s principal naval warfare force, the Royal Navy, was once without doubt, one of the most powerful navies in the world and for sure the strongest in Europe. However, the last years, its force has declined dramatically.

Today, the major surface combatant fleet consists of six (6) modern Daring class (Type 45) anti-aircraft warfare destroyers, the largest number in any European navy nowadays, and 13 Duke class (Type 23) frigates of which the eight (8) have increased ASW capabilities as they are equipped with the very effective Type 2087 VDS.

In 2015, four of the six Type 45 destroyers received two quadruple Harpoon launchers from the four decommissioned Type 22 Batch 3 frigates. The ships do not have torpedo launchers, so they lack the capability of engaging enemy submarines (or other ships depending on the torpedo they would carry) and they rely only on their embarked helicopter. Thus, the two of the ships have zero capabilities to engage a target in a range further than their main gun’s maximum range which is about 27km with the use of High Explosive Extended Range (HEER) rounds.

Type 45 class AAW destroyers, the most modern
destroyers in any European Navy today

In comparison with similar modern European designs, the Horizon/Orizzonte class or the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan class destroyers and frigates are all equipped with torpedo launchers and surface-to-surface missile (SSM) launchers. The Duke class is currently under an upgrade program that includes among others the replacement of the Sea Wolf missiles with the new Sea Ceptor (or else known as CAMM) anti-aircraft missiles that almost double the range of engagement.

The Duke class frigates that serve today with the Royal Navy were commissioned between 1989-2002 and they are expected to be decommissioned after completing about 33 years of active service. The oldest vessel is due out of service in 2023 while the youngest vessel has an out of service date of 2035 so changes to those dates accepted, the Type 26 will be a long programme and for many years, the Royal Navy will operate with a mixed Type 23 and Type 26/31 fleet. Here, I should point out, that in the graph I have estimated the composition of the fleet till that time.

The Type 23 Capability Sustainment Programme.

In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, a replacement program was authorized for the Navy’s current fleet of 13 Type 23 frigates to form the backbone of the Royal Navy. In 2012, BAE Systems Naval Ships was awarded a contract to design the replacement, known as the Type 26 Global Combat Ship (GCS).

It was planned that two variants of the class would be built: five general-purpose frigates and eight anti-submarine warfare frigates. The plan changed five years later to eight (8) Type 26 frigates that will replace the Type 23 frigates with the ASW capabilities and five (5) vessels of a new class of lighter, flexible general-purpose frigate, known as the Type 31 General Purpose Frigate (GPFF) that will replace the rest of the Type 23s. The latest from BAE is that the Type 26 frigate will be a highly capable and versatile multi-mission warship designed to support anti-submarine warfare, air defence and general-purpose operations anywhere on the world’s oceans. The vessels will be 149.9 meters in length, have a maximum beam of 20.8 meters and a displacement of 6,900 tonnes. 

Type 31 General Purpose Frigate

For the first time, after decades, a Royal Navy ship will be armed with a five-inch gun, as recently was decided that the ships of the class will carry the NATO standard BAE 5-inch/62cal Mark 45 Naval Gun System. Moreover, the ships of the class, except the CIWS and the guns, the frigates will carry Sea Ceptor (CAMM) air-defence missiles launched in 48 VLS canisters. An additional 24-cell Mark 41 “strike-length VLS” is positioned forward of the bridge capable of firing missiles such as the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile (TLAM), a future long-range anti-ship missile (LRAM) and ASROC or quad packed Sea Ceptor missiles.

Very little is known about the size, sensors and weaponry of the General Purpose Frigate at this stage; it is expected this will be revealed during the National Shipbuilding Strategy in the 2016 Autumn Statement.  IHS Janes described it as a “credible frigate” that will cover ” maritime security, maritime counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations, escort duties, and naval fire support…sit between the high-end capability delivered by the Type 26 and Type 45, and the constabulary-oriented outputs to be delivered by the five planned River-class Batch 2 OPVs”. Due to an expected lower cost, the government suggested it may allow an eventual increase in the total number of frigates in the Royal Navy.

In July 2016, BAE revealed two general-purpose frigate designs to meet the requirement of the Type 31 frigate; the Avenger class and the Cutlass class. The Cutlass design, a 117m long vessel, is a significantly stretched and enhanced derivation of the Al Shamikh/Khareef-class corvette design and sits at the high end of the cost/capability spectrum. The Avenger design, a 111m long vessel, is a modified Amazonas-class/River-class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessel, similar to the currently in-build OPVs on the Clyde and has been offered to fit the low end of any potential cost and capability options. Recently, a third 117-meter frigate, the Venator 110 was revealed, a design by BMT Defence Services.

French Navy (Marine Nationale)

The French Navy, with a current fleet of one aircraft carrier, three helicopter carriers, ten submarines (of which four are SSBN), and 32 destroyers, frigates and corvettes (although not all the corvettes carry anti-ship missiles but if needed they can receive launchers), is the most powerful navy in Europe today.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared that the French Navy will receive eight (8) Aquitaine class frigates (French FREMM variant) in total and a new generation of frigates: the FTI (Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire or Intermediate Size Frigate) which will start being delivered in 2023 for a total of five vessels. Specifically, six (6) ASW FREMM Frigates will have been in service with the French Navy by the end of 2019. Subsequently, by 2022, two (2) more FREMM frigates will be delivered that will have increased air defense capabilities, the so-called FREDA (FREgate de Défense Aérienne) or previously known as FREMM-ER (for Extend Range). The pair of the AAW frigates, armed with Aster 30 SAM similarly to the Horizon class destroyers, will replace the Cassard class frigates armed with the already obsolete SM-1 missiles.

DCNS of France first announced the Gowind family of corvettes in 2006. Since the initial announcement, DCNS has enlarged the Gowind family to four corvettes with length from 85m to 105m and displacement from 1,000t to 2,500t.

Meanwhile, a renovation program for the Lafayette class stealth frigates will be launched during the period, including among others the fitting of a sonar system (perhaps VDS). With ASW capabilities, the LaFayette frigates will replace the five remaining Georges Leygues class ASW frigates (commissioned between 1979-90) in the anti-submarine role. Nevertheless, all La Fayette frigates will be decommissioned after the FTI program is completed, and thus the French Navy will have three types of front line surface combatants (Horizon, Aquitaine, FTI).

The FTI frigate, developed and built by DCNS, will be a front line warship and will have a displacement of more than 4,000 tons and a length of approximately 130 meters. According to Admiral Bernard Rogel and the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA), the FTI, among others (main gun, Exocet SSM), will have significant anti-air capabilities with an active electronically scanned array (AESA), Aster 15/30 or MICA SAM and strong anti-submarine capabilities with torpedoes, an ASW helicopter and towed array sonar. Therefore the French Navy will have in the future 15 first-class/front line surface combatants in contrast with the current fleet that consists of 17 major surface combatants.

There are some rumours though about the future of the Floréal class corvettes (second class frigates based on the French Navy classification) that they will be replaced by a Gowind corvette variant in the future. The Gowind corvettes will have superior capabilities than the Floreals and perhaps will carry also anti-aircraft missiles except for the anti-ship missiles, while they will be of similar dimensions.

The Egyptian Navy’s Gowind 2500 corvettes, for example, ships of approximately 102 meters and 2,500 tons displacement, will be armed with 8xMM40 Block 3 SSM, 16xMICA VL SAM, 1x76mm gun, 2x20mm guns, MU90 torpedo launchers and hangar to accommodate a medium-size helicopter. Even the lighter version, Gowind 1000, a vessel based on L’Adroit, is superior in terms of weapons, electronics and capabilities in comparisons with the Floreals. However, to this day, the French Navy has not taken any decision in regards to the replacement of the Floréal class vessels.

Italian Navy (Marina Militare)

Italian Navy, a traditional naval power, has today a large surface fleet that includes more than 20 major surface combatants (destroyers, frigates and corvettes) of six different classes. Recently, some months ago, the Italian Navy co-hosted what could be described as a secondhand ship show in Italy as it retires dozens of seasoned vessels and brings new ships into service.

The Navy’s decision to put its ships in the shop window at La Spezia is due to the large number it is phasing out. After investing heavily in fleet renewal in the 1970s, a number of the vessels bought at the time are now due for retirement. Speaking in parliament on April 20, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said that 54 vessels are due out of service by 2025 and replaced by 30 new ships. In the meantime, Italian Navy chief Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi has won approval for a €5.4 billion (US $6.1 billion) funding package, which is being spent on a massive new shipbuilding program.

As of 16 April 2015, the Italian government has approved funding for all ten (10) Bergamini class frigates (Italian FREMM variant) to be delivered to the Italian Navy (4 ASW variants and 6 GP variants). The last pair of GP variants will have AAW and Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile (ATBM) capabilities, A70 VLS for cruise missiles and 16 more Aster 30 long-range SAM and the Selex ES MFRA 4FF, the EMPAR’s evolved version, presumably a KRONOS Grand Naval in a type of integrated mast (UNIMAST).

The FREMM (Fregate Europeen Multi-Missione) project initially started as a national project in France and became a multinational with Italy’s participation in 2002.

By 2030, the Italian Navy will still have in its force for sure the two (2) Orrizonte class air-defence destroyers which were commissioned in 2007-09.

On the other hand, the once-powerful Durand de la Penne class destroyers will lose the long-range air-defence capability as the SM-1 missiles are about to be retired from the Italian inventory (if this hasn’t happened yet) so the ships may be reclassified to frigates and according to the plan the will be retired by 2024-5. The eight (8) Maestrale class frigates will be gradually replaced by FREMM while the remaining Lupo/Soldati class frigates and the Minerva class corvettes will be replaced by seven new, innovative, multifunctional ships, which are known by their Italian acronym PPA (Pattugliatore Polivalente d’Altura, which could be translated as Multipurpose Offshore Patrol Ship).

Fincantieri will build two PPA vessels in “Light” configuration, three in “Light Plus” configuration and two in “Full” configuration, with prices including ten years of logistic support ranging from about €430 million for the Light versions to €530 million for the Full versions. Three more units (one of each configuration) are still an option for exercise within 2021. The delivery of the first vessel is expected in 2021. The delivery of the following vessels is planned for 2022, 2023, 2024 (two units), 2025 and 2026.

The PPAs are expected to have a length of approximately 143 meters and a full displacement between 4,000-5,000tons. All PPAs will feature Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s 127mm and 76mm naval guns as well as 25mm and 12.7mm guns. To house the rear-facing 76mm guns on top of a hangar, the Italian group has developed a lighter version of its standard model, known as the Sovraponte, a non-deck penetrating CIWS turret containing its own ammunition.

The ship comes with two Sylver A50 modules giving 16 cells for Aster 15 and 30 missiles. The Full variant should come with space reservation for 16 more cells and the possibility of installing the A70 launchers in place of the A50, enabling the use of cruise missiles. The missiles will be carried by the Full and Light+, while the Light will be fitted for but not with. All ships will be able to accept eight (8) Teseo anti-ship missiles.

The Light vessels will offer an X-band AESA radar, which uses four flat panels, giving a 360-degree view housed above the bridge. The Light Plus vessels will use a C-band radar, while the Full version will offer both C- and X-band radars, requiring eight panels to produce a single integrated radar image. Much has been made of the unusual bridge on the PPA vessels, which was designed with help from naval aviators to resemble an aircraft’s cockpit.

German Navy (Deutsche Marine)

The German Navy fleet nowadays has in its inventory ten (10) frigates and five (5) corvettes. The air-defence of the fleets is provided by the Sachsen class (F124), Germany’s latest class of highly advanced air-defense frigates, quite new ships that were commissioned between 2003-06. The general purpose/multi-mission frigates are of two types, the four (4) Brandenburg class (F123) and the three (3) Bremen class (F122) frigates. The Brandenburg frigates were commissioned between 1994-96 and it is presumed that they will have been retired by 2030. Of the total eight Bremen class frigates (commissioned 1982-1990), only three are active today which until 2019 all will have been decommissioned after in an average of 30.5 years in service (some of them reaching even 33yrs).

Baden-Württemberg (F222)

The Bremen class ships will be replaced in a 1:2 ratio gradually by the Baden-Württemberg class of the German Navy, also known as F125 class. The first frigate, Baden-Württemberg (F222)was laid down on November 2, 2011, launched on March 31, 2014 and she is planned to enter service on November 30 of this year. The second ship and third ship in the class, Nordrhein-Westfalen (F223) and Sachsen-Anhalt (F224) were launched in April of 2015 and March of 2016 respectively. The second ship is planned to enter in service in October of 2017 while the third one during the first months of 2019.

The fourth ship in the class, Rheinland-Pfalz (F225), has not been launched yet but she is expected to be delivered by 2019. The ships of the class have a displacement of approximately 7,200tons at full load making them the biggest class of frigate worldwide (!) while the crew is just 120 (!), half the permanent crew compared with classic multi-purpose frigates, thanks to a high level of automation.

The Braunschweig class (known also as K130; Korvette 130) is Germany’s newest class of ocean-going corvettes, ships with quite heavy armament for their size (about 89 meters length and full displacement less than 2,000tons), almost comparable to the F125s’. They supplement the remaining Gepard-class fast attack missile craft (FACM) that are currently in service and they are about to be withdrawn from service before the end of this year.

The Gepards will be the last FACM in service with the German Navy. Meanwhile, Germany will buy an additional five K130 type corvettes in 2017 to offset delays to the MKS 180 Multi-Role Combat Ships (MRCSs) programme, the German coalition government announced on 14 October.

The Gepards will be replaced by six advanced “corvettes” of a new class, the Multi-role Combat Ship 180 (Mehrzweckkampfschiff – MKS 180) in the 2020s (first delivery is expected by 2023). The ships will be large, about 5,000tons, thus for sure are not corvettes, that’s the reason why recent sources speak about the F126 class of multi-purpose frigates. They will be smaller in size than the F125s, but with similar capabilities and role. Their armament will be superior to F125s and will include VLS for ESSM SAM and VDS for ASW operations.

The MKS180 basically is intended to provide in numbers what the F125 is too pricey for. The two classes together would make up a 10-ship flotilla which, combined with an identical rotation factor of 2.5, will essentially take over the so-called Dauereinsatzaufgaben (DEA), the “permanent missions”. These missions are currently and for the next 20 years intended to be: fleet ASW (in SNMG), anti-piracy MIO missions (e.g. Atalanta), SIGINT sea surveillance (e.g. OAE), mixed surveillance/MIO (e.g. UNIFIL).

Spanish Navy (Armada Espanola)

The major surface combatant fleet of the Spanish Navy today, consists of eleven (11) frigates of two types, the Álvaro de Bazán class AEGIS/SCOMBA air-defence frigates and the Santa Maria class general purpose/air defence frigates. The five (5) Álvaro de Bazán (F-100) class entered service the period 2002-2012.

They are among the most powerful and advanced ships in Europe equipped among others with six 8-cell Mk41 VLS modules giving to the ship the capability to carry up to 192 (!) medium-range RIM-162 ESSM or 48 long range SM-2MR Block IIIA SAM. Their usual load though is 32 SM-2 and 64 ESSM. With these capabilities, should be considered as destroyers by US Navy standards.

The Santa María (F-80) class of frigates is the Spanish Navy’s designation for six (6) locally built warships based on the United States Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. The Spanish ships have a slightly bigger beam and were built with a greater weight reserve for future improvements. Other changes from the basic model include Meroka CIWS replacing Phalanx and a RAN-12L air search radar to provide low horizon coverage against sea skimmers cueing the Meroka mount.

The Nettunel EW suite (based on the Italian Nettuno built in Spain) replaced the SLQ-32 system fitted aboard US ships. The class is currently receiving a mid-life update (MLU), including a new EW suite, improved combat-data system, an upgrade of the Mk92 FCS, new electrical generators, the removal of the SQR-19 TACTASS towed array and habitability improvements. However all the ships, despite the modernization, will have been retired before 2030 and will be replaced by a new class of high-tech frigates, the F-110 class.

It should be noticed that the Spanish frigates were never upgraded with a VLS for ESSM (2×8-cell modules = 32 missiles in total) fitted in front of the Mk.13 SM-1 launchers, as it took place on the Gabya class of the Turkish Navy and the Adelaide-class frigates of the Royal Australian Navy. We may presume that after their retirement, the Merokas will be installed atop the hangar of the Álvaro de Bazán class frigates as the latter are “fitted for but not with” the system.

The F-110 frigates will replace the six aged Santa María-class frigates from 2022 until 2030. This will be the major Spanish Navy military program in the next decade together with the construction of the S-80 class attack submarines.

The new F-110 frigates will operate in high-threat scenarios forming battle groups at sea or may act alone in areas near the coast. Each ship, with a displacement of approximately 5,000 tons,  will be large enough to be equipped with a 24-cell Mk 41 vertical launching system for Standard or ESSM missiles, eight (8) Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a 5-inch/62 calibre Mk 45 gun and one CIWS of unknown type. This new generation of Spanish frigates will be equipped with the SCOMBA combat system, developed by Navantia after the technology transfer agreements with Lockheed Martin (manufacturer of AEGIS combat system) during the former Álvaro de Bazán-class frigates program.

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