La frigate Normandywhich accompanied the carrier battle group formed around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in recent months in the Mediterranean in a context of very strong tensions with Russia, was not equipped with anti-missile jammers. The story is hard to believe: for lack of budget, these essential elements for the defense of the ship had been dismantled in order to be installed on the last French multi-mission frigate (FREMM), the Lorrainewhich should be delivered at the end of 2022. “This active electronic warfare device constitutes one of the building’s self-protection systems and one of its ultimate lines of defense”, details the specialized site Mer et Marine, which unveiled the information once the Clemenceau 22 mission is completed.
The jammers, installed on either side of the ship at the base of the mast (see photo opposite, in the red circles added by us), are used to neutralize enemy missile seekers and therefore to protect against strikes from ships, aircraft and coastal defenses. They are also capable of blinding coastal radars. These massive blocks can be dismantled and reassembled, through a relatively heavy operation that it is not possible to carry out before or after each deployment. However, the French Navy was only able to order seven pairs for the eight multi-mission frigates it has.
“An anomaly”, recognizes the navy
On April 10, the Normandy returned to Brest, its home port, after a three-month deployment in the Mediterranean, the first since its admission to active service in 2020. Brand new, this first-class frigate is intended for missions that are more Atlantic than Mediterranean, generally less in contact with international tensions. This is probably what prompted the naval staff to withdraw its jammers and install them on the Lorrainewhich must carry out its sea trials preferably with all its equipment, then which will operate from Toulon.
“The fact that the Normandy not having jammers is an anomaly in the FREMM park”, recognizes Captain Thibault Lavernhe, spokesman for the Commander-in-Chief for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. “The situation in the eastern Mediterranean means that we can quite afford to send a FREMM which remains equipped with substantial self-defense, even in the absence of jammers”, he specifies, assuring that despite ” a logic of mutual affirmation of presence”, there “was no moment of friction with the Russians”.
Twenty Russian warships in the Mediterranean
This decision to withdraw the jammers is a constrained budgetary choice, a legacy of the years of scarcity for the armies between the end of the Cold War and the rise in power launched in 2017. Their absence could prove difficult to maintain with the worsening of tensions international. Devoid of one of its tusks, the Normandy found herself in a key position within the carrier battle group deployed in the Mediterranean when Russia invaded Ukraine. Suddenly, the twenty or so Russian warships cruising in these waters became more threatening units. “We observe a doubling, even a tripling of the Russian presence, with the presence of cruisers and destroyers, which is not usual in the Mediterranean”, specifies besides the captain Lavernhe.
During her mission, the Normandy conducted maneuvers with the Lebanese Navy and therefore probably operated in close proximity to the two major Russian bases in Syria: Tartous and Latakia. The French sailors would not have had all the tools necessary to fight if it had proved necessary, and were in any case at an unfavorable situation to maintain a solid posture in the face of possible Russian intimidation, for example laser illuminations (prior to a firing procedure), like the frigate Courbet suffered from the Turkish Navy in 2020. Interviewed by Pointthe French Navy confirms past “financial arbitrations” and specifies that a “request for the purchase of jammers intended to equip the Normandy was expressed”. In the meantime, this lack of jammers is more akin to saving bits of frigates than bits of candles…