European Navies: Keep the jewels onboard!

At a time when the UK is leaving the UE and the U.S.A threatening to loosen, if not untie, the NATO links on the ground of poor financing by the European members, Defence Chronicles found it appropriate to launch a readers think tank on the identification of the ‘jewels’ to be preserved, sold out or multiplied by the joint European maritime powers [1].


Seamarks or founding principles


At the start of such thinking, better keep in mind some unquestionable strategic key points, not to be undervalued throughout the evaluation process:

  • BREXIT or not, in Defence matters, the UK and the other European nations will remain tightly linked,
  • ‘U.S.A first’ is not only the motto of the present President but never ceased in the past decades to be the thread of the U.S foreign policy, whatever the diplomatic sweeteners,
  • The NATO organization and procedures, enriched by a sixty years’ experience of joint naval training and exercises, still remain appropriate and relevant. There is nothing to replace them technically and tactically. It would make no sense and cost billions to build up a fresh European Defence organization from scratch,
  • If the U.S want to use naval forces of their own, outside the framework of NATO, similarly, the European members of it may have to support with their own forces a foreign policy of their own,
  • As a result, the European Navies may act in a NATO way but not necessarily under NATO control. In that regard, they cannot rely upon the U.S politics and industry for some key armaments and systems.


Where the jewels to be found


Let’s call the jewels of our European nations naval forces those typical equipment, weapons, systems, architectural process and technologies which were and are being developed by European armament firms and shipyards to meet the requirements of their “mother navies”.

Essential, not fancy jewels, they need to be maintained, updated or replaced.

New ones must also be made up, financed and economically produced.

Weapons, Equipment and systems

Class Type Supplier Manufacturer
Naval guns 57mm



Sweden, UK



Saab, BAES



AA systems


Aster Family (15, , 30)



France, Italy, UK




MBDA through European subisidiaries
AS systems EXOCET family

RBS 15

NSM family










AA radars

(associated to

Missile system)



Ship or sub borne


France, NL





Sonar systems  

Heavy (subborne)

Light (shipborne, aircraftborne)

France, UK,



Thales (TUS)









Naval Group




We have limited our review to the main items or sub-systems,part of a combat ship weapon system: the ”jewels”, without ignoring the highly needed communication, navigation IR or optical equipment, existing and excellent in Europe and fitted onboard most of the European warships. Their manufacturing groups also are always and mostly suppliers of other army and civilian customers.

We recognize that,doing so to simplify the subject, we have achieved a disputable exclusion.


Part of Europe still under US umbrella


Coming back to the jewels, it must be clear and regretted that most of them roughly equip no more than half of the combat vessels flying a European flag. In other terms, some European navies, for political or defence reasons, since long have preferred to keep sheltered, technically, operationally and even industrially under the U.S umbrella.

As a result it can be observed in every NATO exercice the operation of systems and missiles integrated and installed onboard ships under the flag of a European nation, even when the platforms have been built in Spain, in Germany, Italy, and others.


Some Navies even were smartly dragged by the US manufacturers, under blessing of the Pentagon, into some sorts of clubs of customers of certain missile systems provided by the US Armament Industry. The Evolved Sea Sparrow missile (ESSM), anti-air, medium range is typical in that regard. Older in design and lower in performances than the ASTER 15, it is also less expensive, which would not have been the case if most of the European navies had joined instead the Aster club.

Obviously it would be highly preferable that combat systems produced in Europe be found onboard NATO vessels of European nations, subject of course they match the available foreign ones, which is the case generally.

As a result, naval products offered by the Defence industry of those European nations would basically be the same on the export naval markets as onboard the mother navies’ ships and would not integrate major armament systems of other sources. This at least to maintain reasonable prices of the complete vessels by sharing the fixed development costs into the greatest number of units.




Beyond the military capacity and value of the ship borne weapon systems lie the crucial issue of integration capability, directly connected to the efficiency in combat conditions of the selected sensors and systems.

Such capability is key to the evaluation of a naval yard and the only credible mark which makes it absolutely original and different from a civilian one. They have very little in common except of course which is related to the Archimedes Principle. Their ability is not only based on conceptual and detailed design capacities. It also includes construction methods, acceptance trials and records of live performances at sea. Experience over decades combined with updated methods and advanced technologies make the core of a naval yard capacity and reliability, the focus being integration.

Since long, typical parameters like compactness, flexible propulsion, maximum speed, damage control architecture and devices made a warship different from a merchant ship.

Since some decades only, the scope of typical know-how incorporated into a warship was dramatically extended. Not only a naval yard has to apply MIL Standards and produce a stealth, silent and resilient surface ship platform operating aircraft and drones, but it must be above all experienced in making work together electro-magnetic sensors and acoustic ones with underwater or anti-missile, anti-air, anti-surface missiles, now also cruise missiles against land targets. Efficiency of the ship must be obtained for every capacity operated together with the others; which is a demanding challenge.

Since the birth of submarines until the sixties, the same naval shipyard would produce them, next to surface combatants. It is not true any longer. Even if Archimedes dictate, even if some shipbuilding principles and a few methods apply to both, architecture, steels, stealth, sensors and weapons differ enough to make a specialisation of sites and design engineering unavoidable.


Naval shipyards for combat ships in the next future


Obviously, a military shipyard today has to be connected with naval research institutes, government or public, in the design phases of a project, with the customer Navy programs office in the design phase of a project and with the Navy operators and maintainers providing for years after commissioning the necessary operational and technical feed-back.

A naval construction yard of combat ships today is a highly experienced integrator of very different systems and cannot separate the platform including propulsion and ship control systems from the “Combat Management system” (CMS) including integration of sensors and weapons.

In a recent time, the electronic sensors and sub-systems houses fiercely tried to take responsibility of the CMS and install the whole weapons systems onboard. Major navies now understood that the building yard must be the only one responsible for the CMS and the combat system installation.


…Following articles will look at the position of the European shipyards in this regard.

[1] Throughout this article, European is to be understood geographically, not as a  UE member.

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