By Stefan Nitschke, M.Sc., Defence Analyst
The first French HORIZON class vessel “Forbin” has been launched at the DCN shipyard in Lorient on 10 March 2005. Construction of the vessel which will be delivered to the French Navy in late 2006, began in April 2000. With the second vessel “Chevalier Paul” which will be delivered in 2008, the French Navy is about to replace the remaining SUFFREN class air defence ship “Duquesne“. The “Suffren” was already withdrawn from service in 2001.
Two 7,000-tonnes HORIZON class vessels are now being constructed each for the French Navy and the Italian Navy. Construction is being done under a cooperative manner between both these nations, with Horizon SAS having been formed to provide for a frigate-size common new-generation surface combatant with a strong anti-air warfare (AAW) bias. Horizon SAS is a joint venture between the DCN-Thales joint venture company Armaris and the Italian company Orrizzonte Sistimi Navali (which is a Fincantieri/Finmeccanica joint venture).
Originally initiated as the tri-national Horizon/Common New Generation Frigate (CNGF) programme, the project partners were France, Italy, and the UK. However, the UK which has been also a member of the failed NATO Frigate 90 project, decided in 1999 to withdraw from participation in the CNGF project. The main reasons for this were primarily because it has been eventually shown that this collaborative programme would not be fully practicable to harmonise national requirements and timelines between the partner nations. In September 2000, France and Italy signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to confirm follow-on work on the HORIZON class.
Now having at least a commonality of 90 percent mainly in the fields of multifunction radar (MFR) technology, vertical launch air defence weaponry, torpedo weapons and torpedo defence systems, Senit 8-based C2 and associated software elements (developed by the Armaris/Finmeccanica joint venture Eurosysnav), and CODOG/combined diesel or gas propulsion, the cost of the entire construction programme is quoted at €3billion. In addition to the HORIZON class’ navigation systems, its communications suite will have a maximum of commonality to include two LINK 11 and one LINK 16 high-capacity digital information distribution systems. These are being delivered by NICCO Communications SAS which is a joint venture between Thales Communications and Marconi Mobile SpA. The HORIZON’s Electronic Warfare (EW) suite will be delivered by the Sigen Consortium, an industrial team comprising Thales Systèmes Aéroportés SA and Elettronica SpA.
But there are differences in the ship’s softkill arrangement, with the French frigates receiving the New Generation Dagaie System (NGDS) from EADS, while the two Italian vessels will be equipped with the SCLAR-H decoy system from Oto Melara/Alenia Marconi Systems. Other differences will be in the field of shipboard gun systems. While the French Navy opted for two forward-facing gun mounts which are employing an electro-optical targeting suite and are possibly supported by SAGEM’s Vampire MB infrared search and track (IRST) system, the Italian Navy is favouring a third rear-facing, radar-controlled Oto Melara 76mm/62 Super Rapid gun. Two other differences are in the fields of satellite communications (SATCOM), anti-shipping weapons, and shipboard aviation, with the French Horizon vessels carrying NH90 helicopters and the Italian ships being optimised to carry both the NH90 helicopter and the EH101 aircraft.
When functioning in the escort role and defending task forces and merchant shipping against saturation missile attacks, the HORIZON class will heavily benefit from its Principal Anti-Air Warfare System (PAAMS). PAAMS is a tri-national development programme undertaken by France, Italy, and the UK, with the UK receiving the same system for the UK Navy’s upcoming eight Type 45 (DARING class) AAW destroyers. In addition to the 30 kilometres Ast