La Fayette class frigate
The La Fayette class units (FL-3000 for "Frégate Légère de 3,000 tonnes", "3,000-tonnes light frigates", or "FLF" or Frégate Légère Furtive", "Light Stealth Frigate") are light multi-mission frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

s built by DCN
DCNS is a naval defence company based in France and is one of Europe's leading shipbuilders....

 and operated by French
Military of France
The French Armed Forces encompass the French Army, the French Navy, the French Air Force and the National Gendarmerie. The President of the Republic heads the armed forces, with the title "chef des armées" . The President is the supreme authority for military matters and is the sole official who...

 Marine Nationale
French Navy
The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale and often called La Royale is the maritime arm of the French military. It includes a full range of fighting vessels, from patrol boats to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, four of which are capable of launching...

. Derivatives of the type are in service in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

 (Royal Saudi Navy
Royal Saudi Navy
The Royal Saudi Navy is the Naval force of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Royal Saudi Navy is sometimes referred to as the RSNF . The Navy has about 15,000 officers and men, including 3,000 Marines. The Naval headquarters is in Riyadh. The Western Fleet is based in the Red Sea with the main base...

), Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

 (Republic of Singapore Navy
Republic of Singapore Navy
The Republic of Singapore Navy is the naval component of the Singapore Armed Forces , responsible for the defence of Singapore against sea-borne threats and protection of its sea lines of communications. Operating within the crowded littoral waters of the Singapore Strait, the RSN is regarded as...

) and Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 (Republic of China Navy
Republic of China Navy
The Republic of China Navy is the maritime branch of the Armed forces of the Republic of China . The ROC Navy's primary mission is to defend ROC territories and the sea lanes that surround Taiwan against a blockade, attack, or possible invasion by forces of the People's Republic of China...


These frigates were referred to as "stealth
Stealth technology
Stealth technology also termed LO technology is a sub-discipline of military tactics and passive electronic countermeasures, which cover a range of techniques used with personnel, aircraft, ships, submarines, and missiles, to make them less visible to radar, infrared, sonar and other detection...

" frigates. Their reduced radar cross section
Radar cross section
Radar cross section is a measure of how detectable an object is with a radar. A larger RCS indicates that an object is more easily detected.An object reflects a limited amount of radar energy...

 is achieved by a very clean superstructure compared to conventional designs, angled sides and radar absorbent material
Radar absorbent material
Radar-absorbent material, or RAM, is a class of materials used in stealth technology to disguise a vehicle or structure from radar detection. A material's absorbency at a given frequency of radar wave depends upon its composition...

, a composite material of wood and glass fiber as hard as steel, light, and resistant to fire. Most modern fighting ships built around the world since the introduction of the La Fayette have followed the same principles of stealth.

All information gathered by the onboard sensors is managed by the Information Processing System, the electronic brain of the operation centre of the ship. It is completed by an electronic command aid system.

The La Fayette has space available for the future installation of the Aster 15
MBDA Aster
Aster is a family of surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Eurosam, a European consortium consisting of MBDA France, MBDA Italy and the Thales Group .-Overview:The Aster family was developed to perform three distinct missions:...

 missile, the state-of-the-art anti-air European weapon, and currently carries the Crotale
Crotale missile
The Crotale EDIR is an all-weather short-range anti-air missile, which can be used to intercept low-flight anti-ship missiles and aircraft...

 short-range defence system, and Exocet
The Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Hundreds were fired in combat during the 1980s.-Etymology:...

 missile, mounted in two quad launchers.

The ships are designed to accommodate a 10 tonne helicopter in the Panther or NH90 range (though they are also capable of operating the Super Frelon and similar heavy helicopters). These helicopters can carry anti-ship AM39 or AS15 missiles, and can be launched during sea state
Sea state
In oceanography, a sea state is the general condition of the free surface on a large body of water—with respect to wind waves and swell—at a certain location and moment. A sea state is characterized by statistics, including the wave height, period, and power spectrum. The sea state varies with...

 5 or 6 due to the Samahé helicopter handling system.

France ordered five ships of the La Fayette class in 1988, the last of which entered service in 2002.


In the late 1980s, the Marine Nationale started the studies for frigates adapted to low-intensity conflicts in the post–Cold War era. The ships were to serve in the large French EEZ, be adapted to humanitarian operations or low-intensity operations in support of land troops, and replace the aging A69 avisos
D'Estienne d'Orves class
The A69 type Avisos are small warships mainly designed for coastal anti-submarine defence, but are also available for high sea escort missions . Built on a simple and robust design, they have an economical and reliable propulsion system which allows them to be used for overseas presence missions...

, which tended to prove too focused on naval operations and were ill-suited for joint operations.

Conventional warships used in low-intensity or humanitarian relief operations proved costly, with their heavy equipment and large crew. Hence came the requirement for lightly armed frigates with economical engines and small crew. In Italy, the same requirements led to the development of the Cassiopea
Cassiopea class patrol vessel
The Cassiopea class is a heavy series of four patrol boats of the Italian Marina Militare.They were built in the late 1980s on civilian standards. They are designed for patrol in safe areas....

 and Minerva
Minerva class corvette
The Minerva class is a series of corvettes of the Italian Marina Militare.They were built in two series of four units in the 1980s and 1990s. The ships have fairly good speed and armament, including a 76mm general-purpose gun, but, due to their emphasis on anti-submarine warfare, they lack...

 type corvettes, built according to both civilian and military standards. These ships were limited to 1300 tonnes because the limited size and depth of the Mediterranean and the proximity of the homeland. The French Navy, on the other hand, had to be present in overseas territories, bases and EEZ. To be enduring enough, the ships had to reach 3000 tonnes, the size of a missile frigate. The larger displacement allows combining strong firepower (like the Minerva class) and a capacity for a medium helicopter (like the Cassiopea), along with a good autonomy and seaworthiness.

The first type of ships built on these principles were the Floréal class frigates
Floréal class frigate
The Floréal class is a type of light "surveillance frigates" designed for the needs of the French Navy after the end of the Cold War, ordered in 1989. They use construction standards of commercial ships...

, built on civilian standards, with a limited armament, and carrying a medium helicopter. These ships are high endurance units designed to be operated in overseas possessions (Caribbean, Polynesia and New Caledonia) and the EEZ, where the likelihood of a naval threat is low. The speed is limited to 20 knots because of the low power engine which emphasises autonomy and reliability. To fight pirates in fast rigid-hulled inflatable boat
Rigid-hulled inflatable boat
A rigid-hulled inflatable boat, or rigid-inflatable boat is a light-weight but high-performance and high-capacity boat constructed with a solid, shaped hull and flexible tubes at the gunwale. The design is stable and seaworthy...

s, the Floréals rely on their onboard helicopter and naval fusilier company.

The niche for more hostile environments is covered by the La Fayette type, designed to operate in complex zones like the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

 or Djibouti
Djibouti , officially the Republic of Djibouti , is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east...

. These ships were to be able to secure the EEZ, but also to operate in naval groups or intelligence gathering missions. The intended role for the ships was in fact very varied, because the experience of the C.70 class, with an intended 20 ship cut down to only 9 (the 7 Georges Leygues class frigate
Georges Leygues class frigate
The Georges Leygues class is a class of anti-submarine frigates of the French Navy. They are polyvalent , due to their Exocet and Crotale missile complement, making them especially suitable for defence of strategic positions, demonstrations, or highseas escorts.The superstructures were built as to...

 and 2 Cassard class frigates
Cassard class frigate
The Cassard class is a class of AA frigates of the French Navy. The class is an air defence variant of the Georges Leygues class. The two classes have a different armament and propulsion system mounted on an identical hull. Their primary role is to provide air cover for a fleet, an aeronaval...

) had taught that project downsizing and reorganisations could lead to badly balanced naval capabilities. The new ships were to benefit from breakthrough on stealth ("furtivité") achieved by the DCN in the 1980s.

It took several years to materialise the concept, and the first ship was eventually launched in 1992, two years after the final design was completed. The weapon system testing took place in 1994, and particularly extensive trials were undertaken to prove the structure of the ship under a wide range of conditions. The La Fayette was eventually commissioned in March 1996.


At the time of their commissioning, the units of the La Fayette class were the state of the art in stealth
Stealth technology
Stealth technology also termed LO technology is a sub-discipline of military tactics and passive electronic countermeasures, which cover a range of techniques used with personnel, aircraft, ships, submarines, and missiles, to make them less visible to radar, infrared, sonar and other detection...

 for warships. The shape of the hull and the superstructures is devised for the optimal reduction of the radar signature, which has been reduced by 60%: a 3000-tonne La Fayette unit has the typical radar signature of a 1200 tonne ship. Stealth is achieved with inclined flanks, as few vertical lines as possible, and very clean lines and superstructures: stairs and mooring equipment are internal, and prominent structures are covered by clear surfaces. The superstructures are built using radar-absorbent synthetic materials.

The radar cross section is equivalent to that of a large fishing boat, which can make camouflage amidst civilian ships possible; or that of a much less capable corvette, which could lead an enemy to underestimate the capabilities of the ship. In case of a direct attack, the small radar signature helps evade enemy missiles and fire control systems. The La Fayette are also equipped with jammers that can generate false radar images, as well as decoy launchers. Further point missile defence will be provided when the ships are equipped with the Aster 15
MBDA Aster
Aster is a family of surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Eurosam, a European consortium consisting of MBDA France, MBDA Italy and the Thales Group .-Overview:The Aster family was developed to perform three distinct missions:...

 anti-missile missiles.

Thanks to the adoption of low-power diesel motors and a special heat dissipation system, the La Fayette ships have a low thermal signature. The usual funnel is replaced with a small sets of pipes, aft of the mast, which cool the exit gas before it is released. The ships usually operate in warm areas, which further decreases the thermal contrast with the environment.

The magnetic signature is reduced by the presence of a demagnetisation
Degaussing is the process of decreasing or eliminating an unwanted magnetic field. It is named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, an early researcher in the field of magnetism...


The acoustic signature is minimized by mounting the engines on elastic supports, as to transmit as little vibrations to the hull as possible, and by rubber coating on the propellers. The La Fayette are equipped with the Prairie Masker active acoustic camouflage system, which generate small bubbles from underneath the hull to confuse sonars.


The superstructure is made of light alloy and glass-reinforced plastic, which allow a reduction in top weight. This provides adequate but sub-optimal resistance to fire. Vital zones are armoured in Kevlar
Kevlar is the registered trademark for a para-aramid synthetic fiber, related to other aramids such as Nomex and Technora. Developed at DuPont in 1965, this high strength material was first commercially used in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tires...

, and important systems are redundant. The crew is protected against biological, chemical and nuclear environments.

The ships were built with a modular
Modular design
Modular design, or "modularity in design" is an approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts that can be independently created and then used in different systems to drive multiple functionalities...

 inner structure from 11 prefabricated modules which were completed at the factory, delivered to the shipyard and assembled there. This technique results in a construction time of less than 2 years.

The hull has a pronounced angle at the stem
Stem (ship)
The stem is the very most forward part of a boat or ship's bow and is an extension of the keel itself and curves up to the wale of the boat. The stem is more often found on wooden boats or ships, but not exclusively...

, with a short forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

 that integrates directly into the superstructure. The ship's sides have a negative inclination of 10 degrees. The single anchor is located exactly on the stem, into which it is completely recessed. The deck where the seamanship equipment and capstans are installed is internal in order to hide it from radar.

The superstructure is built in one piece and directly integrates into the hull, with only a change in inclination. A platform is located between the main gun and the bridge. The superstructure runs continuously down to the helicopter hangar, on top of which short-range anti-air Crotale missile
Crotale missile
The Crotale EDIR is an all-weather short-range anti-air missile, which can be used to intercept low-flight anti-ship missiles and aircraft...

s are installed.

The ships feature two masts. The main mast has a pyramidal structure which integrates funnels and supports the antenna of the Syracuse military communications satellite system, while the second supports the main radar.

Al Riyadh class: Saudi Arabia

The three Al Riyadh class ships are an expanded anti-air version of the French La Fayette class, displacing about 4,700 tonnes.

The ships combat systems are produced by Armaris (a DCN/Thales
Thales Group
The Thales Group is a French electronics company delivering information systems and services for the aerospace, defense, transportation and security markets...

 joint venture) and are armed with the Aster 15 missile. The Aster missiles use the DCN SYLVER launcher
SYLVER launcher
The Sylver is a vertical missile launcher designed by DCNS. The launcher comes in several variants, each distinguished by their height...

. As with the La Fayette class the primary offensive weapon is the anti-surface Exocet. There are also four 533mm aft torpedo tubes. The ship is armed with the DCNS F17 heavyweight anti-submarine torpedo.

Maximum speed is 24.5 knots with a maximum range of 4,000 nm.

Formidable class: Singapore

The Republic of Singapore Navy
Republic of Singapore Navy
The Republic of Singapore Navy is the naval component of the Singapore Armed Forces , responsible for the defence of Singapore against sea-borne threats and protection of its sea lines of communications. Operating within the crowded littoral waters of the Singapore Strait, the RSN is regarded as...

's six Formidable class frigates
Formidable class frigate
The Formidable class multi-role stealth frigates are the latest surface platforms to enter into service with the Republic of Singapore Navy, and are multi-mission derivatives of the French Navy’s La Fayette class frigate. The frigates are key information nodes and fighting units, and are described...

 are of comparable size to the La Fayette class but differs from that class and the Saudi Al Riyadh class in the armament carried. In place of the Exocet is the Boeing Harpoon. The main gun is a stealth cupola equipped with an Oto Melara 76 mm gun replacing the 100 mm TR automatic gun. The Formidable class also uses the SYLVER launcher/Aster missile combination.

The first ship, RSS Formidable, was built by DCN, while the remaining ships were constructed by Singapore Technologies Marine.

Anti-Submarine capability includes S-70B helicopters.

Maximum speed is 27 knots (53 km/h) with a maximum range of 4,200 nm, making it the fastest and most mobile variant.

Kang Ding class: ROC (Taiwan)

As the ROC (Taiwan)'s defensive stance is aimed towards the Taiwan Strait
Taiwan Strait
The Taiwan Strait or Formosa Strait, formerly known as the Black Ditch, is a 180-km-wide strait separating Mainland China and Taiwan. The strait is part of the South China Sea and connects to East China Sea to the northeast...

, the ROC Navy is constantly seeking to upgrade its anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The agreement with France in the late 1980s was an example of this procurement strategy: the six ships are configured for both ASW and surface attack. The Exocet was replaced by Taiwan-developed Hsiung Feng II
Hsiung Feng II
The Hsiung Feng II is an anti-ship missile system developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology in Taiwan. The HF-2 is designed to be deployed aboard ships or at land-based facilities, an airborne version has also been developed which can be carried by the ROC Air Force's F-CK...

 anti-ship missile and the AAW weapon was the Chaparral. Some problems in the integration of Taiwanese and French systems had been reported. The frigate carries a single Sikorsky S-70C(M)-1/2 ASW helicopter.

The antiquated Chaparral SAM system is considered inadequate for defense against aircraft and anti-ship missiles. According to Jane's there are plans to upgrade its air-defense capabilities with the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile
RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile
The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile is a small, lightweight, infrared homing surface-to-air missile in use by the American, German, South Korean, Greek, Turkish, Saudi and Egyptian navies. It was intended originally and used primarily as a point-defense weapon against anti-ship cruise missiles...

, though no timetable for this has been confirmed.

The class's maximum speed is 25 knots (49 km/h) with a maximum range of 4,000 nm.

The six ships of the class are named Kang Ding (康定, FFG-1202), Si Ning (西寧, FFG-1203), Kun Ming (昆明, FFG-1205), Di Hua (迪化, FFG-1206), Wu Chang (武昌, FFG-1207), and Chen De (承德, FFG-1208) respectively, after provincial capitals in mainland China under ROC's pre-1949 political division.

Taiwan frigates scandal

The Taiwan frigate deal has led to a large political scandal, both in Taiwan and France. A former French foreign minister has claimed that up to $500,000 was paid by Thomson-CSF
Thomson-CSF was a major electronics and defence contractor. In December 2000 it was renamed Thales Group.-History:In 1879 Elihu Thomson and Edwin Houston formed the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in the United States....

 (now Thales), the prime contractor, as a "sweetener" as the ships did not strictly meet Taiwan's requirements. Eight people involved in the contract have died in unusual and possibly suspicious circumstances. Six ROC naval officers have been indicted on corruption charges relating to the affair.

In 2003 Taiwan's Navy sued Thomson-CSF (Thales) to recover alleged $590 million USD in kickbacks, paid to French and Taiwanese officials to grease the 1991 La Fayette deal. The kickback money was deposited in Swiss banks, and under the corruption investigation, Swiss authorities froze approx. $730 million USD in over 60 accounts. In June 2007 the Swiss authority returned $34 million from frozen accounts to Taiwan, with additional funds pending.

In film

The lead ship, La Fayette (F710) was featured in the 17th James Bond
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 film GoldenEye
GoldenEye is the seventeenth spy film in the James Bond series, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. The film was directed by Martin Campbell and is the first film in the series not to take story elements from the works of novelist Ian Fleming...

in 1995 as the site for the unveiling of the Eurocopter Tiger
Eurocopter Tiger
The Eurocopter Tiger is an attack helicopter manufactured by Eurocopter. In Germany it is known as the Tiger; in France and Spain it is called the Tigre.-Origins:...

, which is subsequently stolen in the film. The video game based on the film for the Nintendo 64 includes expanded rescue mission inside La Fayette.

External links

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