French Navy Fitting Aster 30 Long Range SAM on its Last Two ASW FREMM Frigates

By Xavier Vavasseur - Editor in Chief
The French Navy (Marine Nationale) last two FREMM Frigates (in anti-submarine warfare variant) Bretagne (D655) and Normandie (D651) have been modified in order to be able to deploy MBDA's Aster 30 long range surface to air missiles. Earlier frigates of the class are limited to the shorter range Aster 15 missiles because of shorter VLS systems.

French Navy Fitting Aster 30 Long Range SAM on its Last Two ASW FREMM Frigates 1The Frigate Normandie (D621), the last of the ASW FREMM at fitting out stage at Naval Group shipyard in Lorient, last week.

The information was first revealed by our colleagues from French online media Mer & Marine, but was then confirmed to us by both a DGA officer and the commanding officer of Normandie, the last the ASW FREMM Frigates.

While the first four FREMM frigates are all fitted with 2x SYLVER A43 vertical launch systems (VLS) limite to Aster 15 SAM, the DGA (French defense procurement agency) and French Navy decided to modify Bretagne and Normandie so they would be able to deploy Aster 30. To do so, the two SYLVER A43 systems have been replaced by the taller SYLVER A50.

Talking to Navy Recognition at the Euronaval 2018 press conference, Laurent Sellier, the head of naval programmes at the DGA explained this was a pragmatic decision, which makes a lot of sense: The modification was fairly easy to conduct and was fairly affordable. The modification is linked to the two Cassard-class Frigate nearing the end of their service life (especially their SM-1 missile which will reach their "use by date" in 2020 as we have reported many times). Thanks to their SYLVER A50 and Aster 30 missiles, the frigates Bretagne and Normandie will be capable air defense surface combatant, able to escort high value units such as the French Navy LHD should the need arises. They are retaining their two SYLVER A70 "Strike length" VLS to deploy naval cruise missiles (but a Naval Group source confirmed that these can not fire SAM and are limited to cruise missiles exclusively). Aquitaine-class FREMM can deploy 16x SAM and 16x land attack cruise missiles thanks to their 32x VLS cells.

When asked if all ASW FREMM would be retrofitted for Aster 30, Laurent Sellier said this is not the plan at the moment. He added that initially, Bretagne and Normandie would receive Aster 15 only (not Aster 30) as it is a precautionary measure for now.

French Navy Fitting Aster 30 Long Range SAM on its Last Two ASW FREMM Frigates 2The three types of SYLVER VLS systems for Aster 15, Aster 15 & 30 and MDCN, respectively. Naval Group image.

During our visit to Naval Group's Lorient shipyard last week (as part of the Euronaval 2018 press trip) we could get aboard the Normandie. Captain (capitaine de vaisseau) Soubrier further explained that while the SYLVER A50 are fitted aboard the frigate, the launch calculators still need a software upgrade. For this reason, the last two FREMM Frigates of the ASW variant will initially still embark Aster 15 missiles.

Naval Group is now constructing two FREDA, air defense variants of the FREMM frigate. They will feature four SYLVER A50 systems for a total of 32 SAM (likely a mix of Aster 15 and 30) as well as a boosted variant of the Herakles multi-function radar to cope with the range of Aster 30 (a feature that will be lacking aboard Bretagne and Normandie) and a fire control radar (which is not present on the ASW FREMMs).

French Navy Fitting Aster 30 Long Range SAM on its Last Two ASW FREMM Frigates 3Launch of an Aster 30 SAM from an Horizon-class DDG. MBDA picture.

About the Aster family of missiles
According to MBDA, Aster missiles are the cornerstone of Europe’s naval and land-based air defence programmes. The Aster missile family comprises Aster 15 for short to medium range and Aster 30 for short to long range. There is extensive commonality between the two variants with both missiles featuring the same terminal dart. Aster’s terminal dart is a lightweight, highly manoeuvring and agile missile equipped with a high-performance active RF seeker. Thanks to the unique combination of aerodynamic control and direct thrust vector control called “PIF-PAF”, the missile is capable of high manoeuvres. Together, these features give Aster an unmatched hit-to-kill capability.

ASTER 15 characteristicS:
Weight Aster 15 : 310 kg
Length Aster 15 : 4.2 m
Diameter Aster 15 : 180 mm
Range Aster 15 : In excess of 30 km
Speed : Maximum speed: Mach 3

ASTER 30 characteristics:
Weight Aster 30 : 430 kg
Lenght Aster 30 : 4.9 m
Diameter Aster 30 : 180 mm
Range Aster 30 : In excess of 100 km