French Rear Adm. Eric Chaperon speaks to the press onboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in Abu Dhabi. (Awad Mustafa / Staff)
ABU DHABI — The French Navy is ready to share with gulf countries their submarine “know-how” if called upon, a senior naval commander said.
Amid recent heightened interest from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) navies regarding submarine acquisition, Rear Adm. Eric Chaperon, commander of French Navy Task Force 473 Strike Group, said, “The French Navy has a lot of expertise from their long history in the matter of submarines.
“This expertise and know-how can of course be shared, but I cannot give you more details about the interactions we have had with other parties in the region,” he added.
Saudi Arabia was reportedly interested in acquiring five German-made Type 209 submarines at a cost of $3.4 billion, according to the German newspaper Bild in November. Last year, UAE Naval Commander Rear Adm. Ibrahim Al Musharrakh said that the UAE Navy is looking to acquire submarines to combat threats in the gulf’s littoral waters.
“There are many different options for combating the threat of submarines in the region, for building the capacity and the capability to acquire submarines is something that is still under process and will take a long time,” Al Musharrakh said at the Gulf Naval Commanders Conference in Abu Dhabi last November.
The French strike group is in the region to secure the strategic maritime sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea as well as enhance cooperation and interoperability with navies in the region, according to Chaperon.
The strike group, which is made up of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, two destroyers, a supply vessel and a nuclear attack submarine, made port calls in Saudi Arabia last month and in Qatar earlier in January before docking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.
“France is ready to assume its responsibilities throughout the world, as she demonstrated in Libya, in Mali and more recently, in Central Africa,” Chaperon said.
“France considers that the stability of the Middle East is one of her priorities; it is a region which is at the heart of her strategic interests and which is affected today by multiple crises such as piracy and terrorism.
“Her commitment to the countries of the region is shown in the will to respond to their needs as a long-term strategic partner; this is at the heart of the defense agreement that was signed by France and the United Arab Emirates in 2009,” he added.
The strike group carried out exercises with the Saudi and Qatari navies and is due to conduct a joint exercise, dubbed Big Fox, with the UAE Armed Forces at the end of January and with the US Navy in February in the Indian Ocean.
Visiting the Charles de Gaulle was UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who was briefed about the strike group and its mission.
On board the carrier were 10 F-3 Rafale fighters, the most advanced fighters to enter service in the French Air Force.
The ship also carries two E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, two EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue.
He added that the visit to Abu Dhabi would provide France the opportunity to further bolster its already strong ties with the UAE, particularly in sharing expertise and ideas and developing better methods of training and operational capabilities. ■