The L'Adroit towers over the surrounding ships and exhibit hall at NavDex in Abu Dhabi. (Chris Cavas / Defense News)
ABU DHABI — The warships gathered here at NavDex, the naval component of the IDEX defense trade show, are an interesting collection of corvette and patrol-size small combatants, and while the ships’ overall size won’t dominate most working harbors, one high-rising, conical shape clearly stands out from the rest.
The prototype Gowind offshore patrol vessel (OPV) L’Adroit presents a striking profile — long and low fore and aft, a high, faceted superstructure amidships dominated by a conical tower mast. French shipbuilder DCNS, which funded construction of the OPV, hopes potential customers notice more than the profile and see in the L’Adroit and its associated Gowind family of designs an adaptable, affordable concept suitable for a variety of conditions.
The ship, still technically owned by DCNS, was transferred to the French Navy in October 2011 for three years of testing, evaluation and demonstration, and left Toulon in January for a six-month cruise to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf operating areas.
Manned by two rotating crews, dubbed A and B, the idea, said Cmdr. Sacha Bailly, commanding officer of the L’Adroit’s B crew, is to see if the ship can operate underway for 300 days a year, and whether the small 32-person core crew can maintain two months of continuous, deployed operations.
“We’ve already operated 200 days at sea with the ship, and we’re pushing to 300,” Bailly said Feb. 18 during an interview onboard the OPV.
For the deployment, he said, “we wanted to see how the ship operates in the anti-piracy mission. I’m quite confident we can do more or as much in that role as a larger ship.”
The L’Adroit already has operated with a coalition task force in the Red Sea and off the Horn of Africa, and, after a visit to Muscat, Oman, will join up with the European Union’s Operation Atalanta anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden. A crew swap is scheduled for late April at the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and the ship is to return to Toulon in July.
The 1,000-ton, 87-meter-long ship is designed to be manned by a crew of 32 sailors although, for the deployment, seven additional sailors have been added to handle increased watch standing needs. The OPV is carrying six Marines for use in maritime inspection boarding parties, along with a four-person aviation detachment to tend to the small Schiebel S-100 Camcopter UAV.
Although on display on the flight deck for NavDex visitors, the tiny UAV was barely noticeable.
“It’s perfect for us,” said Lt. Cmdr. Charles-Eric Canonne, the ship’s executive officer. “It’s small and light, and easy to handle.”
Bailly, while expressing confidence in the ship’s ability to carry out constabulary missions and operate on the high seas, acknowledged his chief concern is crew fatigue, should operations prove too intense.
“If we’re boarding one ship a day, it’s no problem,” he said. “But if we’re doing three a day, for several days, that could become an issue.
“But we’ll see. It’s experimental; that’s why we’re here.”
The L’Adroit’s Gowind design provides a very high command view from the bridge level, four decks above the main weather deck. Large windows provide a 360-degree panoramic view, and a walkway circles the entire pilothouse.
The ship’s combat information center is located behind the bridge, and behind that, to starboard, is the flight control center overlooking the flight deck. Small-boat launch-and-recovery operations from the twin stern ramps also are visible from the bridge.
A large space directly below the bridge is used as a demonstration center for various systems, and the crew, Canonne said, is increasingly using the space for communications and to set up laptop computers.
The hangar can accommodate a small, 5-ton helicopter, Canonne said, while the flight deck can take a 10-ton helo.
The side-by-side launch ramps in the stern are not covered over, but DCNS points out the Gowind is the only current design able to simultaneously launch and recover two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).
Unlike other recovery systems where a RHIB charges up the ramp and crew members secure a rope around a hook, the L’Adroit trails a rope which the RHIB crew picks up in the water and attaches to their craft, which is hauled up the ramp by a winch.
The ramps normally are configured to operate 9.35-meter and 7.8-meter RHIBs, but, Canonne said, boats up to 11 meters long can be accommodated.
Dedicated spaces just forward of the ramps and below the flight deck allow special operations forces to gather and stow weapons and gear close to the boats, and a special changing room is provided.
The L’Adroit is fitted with 59 berths, and, unusual in a modern naval ship, the hull is pierced with five portholes a side, most in the mess spaces.
“I like them,” Bailly proudly declared. “It’s good. We’re not exactly a warship,” he noted.
A number of commercial-standard design features, rather than heavier and more expensive naval fittings, are evident. The relatively light hatches aren’t spring-loaded, meaning some fitted at an angle need more muscle power to open or will slam shut if one isn’t careful, and steep naval ladders are replaced by more conventional stairwells.
“You make compromises, that’s clear,” Canonne said.
A Gowind Success
DCNS has yet to find a paying customer for the Gowind OPV represented by the L’Adroit. But a larger, 2,000-ton “Gowind Combat Corvette” version was chosen in late 2011 by Malaysia for that country’s littoral combat ship program.
A source at the NavDex show said contract negotiations between DCNS and the Malaysian Navy to build six of the ships were in the “final stages,” with agreement expected soon.