Building warships for export has always been a British specialty. True, Italy also produced vessels for a number of powers before and after World War One and the United States and France also produced a few but historically Britain was the world leader in the field. Today, there is still a market for export warships but Britain no longer maintains her premier position. The United States still produces some, modern Russia has become very active in export warship production and France has become a major player.
When one sees any of the La Fayette Class, one immediately associates it with the Marine Nationale. However, it comes as a surprise that of the frigates built to this design, only one-quarter of them belong to the French Navy. France has five, La Fayette F-710, Surcouf F-711, Courbet F-712, Aconit F-713 and Guépratte F-714. A sixth unit, Ronarc’h F-715 was ordered but canceled in May 1996. However, another fifteen have been built for other countries, six for Taiwan, six for Singapore and three for Saudi Arabia. Those countries did not purchase this design solely because of their appearance but for their effectiveness.
The initial ship of the class was named La Fayette in honor of Le Marquis de La Fayette of the American and French Revolutions. The French La Fayette Class is striking in it’s purity of design and elegant clean lines. It was designed to have all superstructure surfaces slanted to a plus or minus 10 degrees. Designed on basically the same principles as the F-117, the angular planes of the frigate are designed to dissipate radar pulses, rather than reflect them to their source. As a consequence they have a smaller radar signature than other ships their size. In addition to the smooth angular design, special materials were selected than would further reduce radar reflection. The superstructure has layers of resin and balsa to aid in the process. Glass resin composites are used on the decks.
Because the odd protruding parts of a warship design help create a larger radar signature, minimizing parts protruding from the superstructure was essential in the reduction of the radar profile. This requirement is what motivated the stark, clean appearance of La Fayette and her four sisters. Open boat wells would create a sizable radar return just as air intakes in aircraft are a liability to stealthiness. To counter this the La Fayette was designed to have sliding articulated covers over the boat wells. The base of the turret was another source of radar return, so to eliminate that source the turret was built into its own well. Different systems, such as Prairie Masker, are also incorporated to reduce the noise emissions of the vessel.
The La Fayette Class was designed to support French operations around their overseas possessions and also to reinforce the European force in an emergency. It is constructed in modules and the design was clearly meant to attract foreign sales, in which as mentioned above, the design has been very successful. The modular construction allows an easy replacement of weapons systems and even the propulsion system, if required by the purchaser.
The armament includes a 100mm/55 Model 1968 CADAM DP gun with 600 rounds of ammunition, eight Exocet SS missile launchers, a Crotale CN2 SAM system (V5S version in La Fayette) with the more advanced VT-1 missile in the others, two 20mm/90 GIAT AA guns, two 12.7mm mg and a Panther helicopter with plans to equip the class with NH-90 helicopters, mounting Exocet or AS 15 missiles. If you go through the list of these missile systems, you will notice anti-surface and anti-air systems but there is no ASW system. Additionally there is a sizable array of communications and defense systems incorporated into the design.
La FayetteF710, was laid down on December 15, 1990 and launched June 13, 1992. Trials started in September 1993 and she was commissioned into the Marine Nationale on December 19, 1995. As the initial ship, La Fayette took a longer time in construction and trails than the others in the class. The last of the class to be completed, Guépratte was placed into service in November 2001. (History and statistics are from Combat Fleets of the World, 2000-2001)
To see numbers of excellent photographs of all five frigates in the class, please visit NetMarine. This French site, written in French and English, has an outstanding presentation of the modern Marine Nationale.
L’Arsenal La Fayette
With the La Fayette by L’Arsenal you are assured of receiving a replica executed to the greatest fidelity and detail in the scale and produced without defect or error. The hull is cast in a cream colored resin, which hides some of the detail until seen from an angle. Actually more accurately, the detail is engraved so delicately as to be in scale, instead of being oversized as is sometimes found in kits of some manufacturers. Appropriately, for this design, the hull is extremely smoothly finished. This model has a small evidence of the resin pour ridge on the bottom that will need to be sanded flat.
Other than smoothing the bottom the hull had no defects. No air bubbles, voids, breakage or defects of any type could be found on the hull of La Fayette. If you like a lot of deck clutter, look elsewhere, because by design, you won’t find it on La Fayette. Deck fittings and clutter reflect radar emissions and therefore are to be minimized in any design seeking to reduce its footprint. The only area where traditional deck clutter can be found would be in the upper amidships of the superstructure. At this position solid bulkheads would diffuse the radar beam and prevent their reflection by the fittings. The detail in this area of the L’Arsenal kit adds a pleasing contrast to the otherwise ultra-smooth finish of the model.
Because of the clean design, there are a minimal number of smaller resin parts to affix to the hull. The major parts are the foremast mast/tower, rear mast/stack (mack) and the 100mm turret forward. Other parts include the topmast, radar antenna, two flare launchers, two 20mm gun mounts, two Crotale missile clusters, two Exocet missile clusters, Crotale turret, gun radar and various life raft canisters. All of these parts are equally well done. The thinner parts such as the 100mm gun barrel and topmast are remarkably thin and delicate for resin castings. Also very noticeable for thin parts was the lack of any warp. As with the hull no voids, breakage or other defects were found. All of these smaller parts are attached to resin pour sprues, so removal and a small degree of cleanup will be required.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
As well as having a first class photo-etch fret, the L’Arsenal La Fayette also comes with a top drawer decal set. L’Arsenal provides all hull numbers, names and flight deck designations to allow the construction of any one of the five frigates in the class. Other flight deck markings, hangar stripe, and other smaller details are included.