Slumming it in the colonies

What an idyllic nautical scene! This image, posted by the Forces Armées de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French garrison in their of New Caledonia, is of the Floréal-class light surveillance frigate Vendémiaire (F734) tied up at her base at Noumea, that South Western Pacific colony’s primary port.

Vendémiaire just left Noumea last week on one of her regular two-month cruises around the West Pac.

The six Floreals, built in the early 1990s just after the end of the Cold War, are interesting 3,000-ton (full load) 306-foot ships that split the difference between a standard frigate and a Coast Guard cutter. Built with a diesel-only suite, rather than CODAG/DOG, they have a maximum speed of just 20 knots but can range over 9,000nm without searching for a tanker and pull into ports that can accommodate a 14-foot draft.

Their hulls were reportedly built to commercial standards, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting in three decades of solid overseas service and still looking good and well-maintained.

Armed with simple weapons pulled from retired platforms– a single 4-inch/55 cal CADAM Modèle 68 main gun, a pair of 20mm GIATs, and accommodation for some Exocets– they can also embark a light helicopter and a platoon of French Marines (who are notorious for being unable to take a joke).

Note her recognition “VN” marks on her helicopter deck, and her twin 20mm GIATs with ready boxes over the hangar. The vacant deck space behind her stack was originally for MM38 Exocets, but could always pick up a more modern AShM, such as the NSM.

Vendémiaire has spent almost her entire 29-year career at Nouméa while her sisterships Floréal and Nivôse are based at Réunion– the French Indian Ocean colony between Mauritius and Madagascar– Prairial at Tahiti (what a horrible duty station!) while Ventôse and Germinal are at Martinique in the Caribbean, with the latter two vessels often supporting U.S. 4th Fleet training, humanitarian, and counter-drug initiatives.

Shorter and slower than the more expensive LCS concept, they also can provide NGFS in the littoral if needed, though arguably are even more prone to air attack. 

MARTINIQUE, FRANCE (June 23, 2021) The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) conducts a bilateral maritime exercise with the French Navy Floréal-class frigate FS Germinal (F735) following a port visit to Martinique, France, June 23, 2021. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marianne Guemo)

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