Correction: This story has been updated to correctly attribute the announcement about the budget set aside for the FTI program to France's defense minister.
PARIS — France signed a contract April 20 for a program to build five intermediate frigates, or FTI, for the French Navy, the defense procurement office announced April 21.
"The contract was awarded to DCNS and Thales (for the radar related activities) by the Direction Générale de l'Armement 20 April 2017," the DGA said on its website. "The first delivery is set for 2023."
A budget of €3.8 billion (U.S. $4.1 billion) has been set aside for the FTI program, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the Euronaval trade show in October.
That contract grants DCNS and Thales the status of joint prime contractors on the warship, sharing the responsibility respectively between the naval shipbuilder and electronics specialist.
The French Ministry of Defence separately announced April 21 that the minister had launched the program and also attributed to the warship a product name adopted by DCNS specifically to target the export market.
That ministerial announcement came just a couple of days before the April 23 first round of voting in the presidential election, as expected. The contract ties France to the naval program no matter which candidate wins in the polls.
"In line with the decision taken by the minister mid-March in the ministerial investment committee, Jean-Yves Le Drian launched today (sic) the production of five intermediate frigates of the 'Belharra' class," the Defence Ministry said in an April 21 statement.
DCNS announced at Euronaval the Belharra name for its export version of the FTI project. The French Navy and DGA refer to the planned warship as FTI.
"The future frigate is positioned in the market segment of ships of medium tonnage, for which there is strong export demand," the ministry said.
The warship "is indispensable to conduct the operations guaranteeing the security of operations and the French maritime approaches in the face of threats, particularly from submarines, which have rapidly grown," Le Drian said. The frigate is due to enter service in 2025, he said.
Building a Belharra will require two million work hours for DCNS, of which 300,000 will be for the design office, the company said in a statement.
Belharra refers to a giant wave on the coast of the Basque region, southwest France.
Work on the new warship, which will include a high level of digital technology, "also allows us to develop a frigate that addresses the expectations of a dynamic international market," DCNS Chairman and CEO Hervé Guillou said in a statement.
Thales will supply the Sea Fire multifunction radar, Captas-4 compact towed sonar array, Aquilon naval communications and Sentinel electronic warfare system, the company said in a statement.
The FTI is designed to conduct anti-submarine warfare, air defense and anti-ship missions, as well as carry special forces units. The ship will carry a helicopter or flying drone, and it will be armed with MBDA Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles.
DCNS has previously estimated a world market of at least 40 of the intermediate frigate.