PARIS — France has ordered six 70-meter-long (230-feet-long) offshore patrol vessels from Socarenam, a shipyard in Boulogne-sur-Mer on the country’s northern coast, to patrol its vast economic exclusive zone.
The announcement was made earlier this week by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Maritime Economy Congress in Montpellier, southern France. These kinds of announcements are usually either made by the minister for the armed forces or by the DGA procurement agency.
Following the president’s announcement, the Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement that the ships had been ordered “in a context of increasing threats to our fishing resources, biodiversity and international maritime rules."
"France intends to fully exercise her sovereignty and responsibilities both in her metropolitan and overseas territories,” the statement continued. France has the largest economic exclusive zone in the world, at about 4,514,000 square miles. By comparison, the United States’s EEZ comes in at about 4,383,000 square miles.
Each vessel’s draft is no more than 3.8 meters, has a maximum speed of at least 22 knots that it can hold for 24 hours but with a normal cruising speed of between 12 to 14 knots, and has a range of 5,500 nautical miles. This enables the ships to stay at sea for a month.
French media reports the ships are likely to carry a 20mm remotely controlled gun and machine guns, but no official weapons specifications have been published. The tender and the technical specifications, issued by the DGA in 2018, called for the ships to be able to deploy a 700-kilogram-class rotor-blade drone, and to be able to keep it under cover. The tender also said the ships should be able to deploy divers and two high-speed intervention boats, as well as keep six prisoners secure.
The ships will be delivered to the French Navy between 2022 and 2025. That time frame is two years ahead of the schedule laid out in the 2019-2025 Military Program Law. The value of the order has not been disclosed.
“I have decided, as is specified in the Military Program Law, to further strengthen the protection of our maritime spaces. The order for six new overseas patrol boats was officially launched last week by the armed forces minister,” Macron said. “With these ships we will acquire a capacity that we have never yet had on the maritime front to protect our spaces and take on this mantle as a balance of power in the maritime sector.”
“We are building a European maritime capacity,” he added, noting that he assumed “responsibility for France taking the leadership.”
The ships, known in France as POM (patrouilleur outre-mer), will be based in France's Pacific Ocean territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and the French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, Réunion. Some of the ships will join the Pacific fleet at the Nouméa naval base in New Caledonia and at Fare Ute Papeete in Tahiti. Others will join the Indian Ocean fleet at Port Réunion.
A naval spokesperson told Defense News that the exact destination for each ship had not yet been officially announced.
The order for these six ships is a continuation of a program to bolster France’s protection of its maritime regions. Three patrol vessels were delivered between 2016 and October 2019 to the Caribbean region and Guyana on South America’s northeastern coast. The three vessels were also built by Socarenam, which has sites in Calais, Dunkirk, Étaples and Saint-Malo.
Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.