The history of the French Navy is one of being mismanaged by kings and governments who could have known better. In the words of a well-respected scholar, Ernest H. Jenkins "...France has had little just cause to be ashamed of her navy: the navy may have had some just cause to be ashamed of France."
Prevention consists in exerting a watchful presence to collect intelligence on potential crises, to assess the situation and to deal with nascent crises as early as possible. The Navy is thus in a permanent surveillance posture in areas deemed strategic for national interests:
- In the North Atlantic, which is the point of convergence of the French supply routes;
- Off the Western African coasts;
- In the Mediterranean, linking Europe, Africa and the Middle-East;
- In the Indian Ocean, which is a hub for maritime and strategic communications;
- And in general, in the vicinity of French interests, particularly in the overseas departments and territories, as well as in its exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
The permanent prevention organisation is composed of sovereignty ships (surveillance frigates, light transport ships and patrol craft) and maritime surveillance aircraft (Gardian, Nord 262 and Falcon 50) assuming duties related to maritime safeguard and to co-operation agreements with friendly and allied nations and carrying out humanitarian missions or support to the other armed services. It also includes combatant ships (destroyers, frigates and SSNs) and maritime patrol aircraft (Atlantique 2) deployed from mainland France in potential crisis areas. They demonstrate France's intention to contribute to the control of crises, potentially building up to the eventual deployment of projection forces such as a carrier battle group or an amphibious group, if need be.
When preventive actions have not been able to prevent a crisis, direct intervention may become necessary. The Navy's projection capability is usually operated in a joint and international context. Freedom of movement in international waters and flexibility make of maritime forces a prime asset in crises management operations:
- The carrier battle group (the aircraft-carrier, her air group and accompanying ships) deploys its aircraft over sea and land to carry out reconnaissance missions, force demonstration, support or assault missions, using precision stand-off weapons;
- The amphibious group (helicopter-carrying amphibious ships, support and protection ships) are essential to deploy forces on land (troops and vehicles), to evacuate non-combatants or to aid populations in disaster affected areas;
- The mine countermeasures group (mine-hunters and command and support ship) is deployed alongside a naval force if an area of operation is mined;
The maritime action groups (one or two units, frigates or SSNs) carry out missions of embargo enforcement, maritime interdiction or surveillance. Operation Heracles against terrorism in the Northern Indian Ocean or Operation Licorne bringing reinforcement forces in Ivory Coast in late 2002 and in November 2004 are recent examples of power and force projection. Operation BALISTE in Lebanon in 2006 proved once more the capability of the Navy's ships to be swiftly deployed and to assume very diverse missions (non-combatant evacuation, humanitarian and logistic support, maritime control).
With the participation of Mistral, Operation Baliste has demonstrated the operational value of the new projection and command ships (BPC). Mistral and Tonnerre respectively commissioned in 2006 and 2007 provide sizeable lift capabilities for troops, vehicles and helicopters. They can accommodate an operative level joint staff of 200 to conduct multinational naval, air and land operations from the sea.
Maritime safeguard is the overarching framework for operations carried out by the Navy to face any potential threats coming from the sea (terrorism, narcotraffic, activities piracy, illegal transport of migrants...), to defend sovereign rights at sea and control the risks relative to maritime activities (accidents, pollution...). Maritime safeguard includes sea-based defence of the territory as well as sea-based and from-the-sea defence and protection of French interests. It thus comes under both homeland defence and State's action at sea.
According to the 2013 White Paper, Naval forces will contribute to nuclear deterrence using both the nuclear naval air force and the permanence of patrols by ballistic missile submarines. They will be also tailored for high-intensity or major crisis operations thanks to first rate, versatile, combat capabilities, with accurate and powerful fire, and able to be integrated without difficulty into multinational structures, with the ability to take charge.
They will be centered around the aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered attack submarines, powerprojection and command vessels, air defense frigates and multi-mission frigates. These will be supplemented by less powerful combat units, to prevent the premature use of heavy combat forces's potential, and to preserve an adequate number means for at-sea presence.
Naval forces will also consist of light units suitable for the control of maritime spaces, both near our coasts and overseas: surveillance frigates, patrol boats, support vessels. Naval forces will thus consist of 4 ballistic missile submarines, 6 nuclear attack submarines, 1 aircraft carrier, 15 frigates of first order [ fregates de premier rang], 15 or so patrol boats, 6 surveillance frigates [fregates de surveillance, the Floreal class], 3 command and control vessels, maritime patrol aircraft, as well as mine-warfare-capable aircraft adapted to the protection of our approaches and to overseas operation deployment.
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