French Navy’s Radical Move: No More Names on Ships?

The Marine nationale of France is planning a tactical shift in its identification methods for informational . The disclosed last year that it's contemplating the removal of numbers and names from its ships. The goal is to introduce unpredictability, possibly leading to a tactical edge in confrontations.

Should this strategy prove successful, it could see an end to hull numbers being displayed on future Navy vessels. This revolutionary move has raised several questions, particularly concerning the number of first-rate ships the French Navy has in its fleet.

Effectiveness on Specific Ship Types

The new tactic could prove valuable for the eight multi-mission frigates, known as FREMM. However, the two frigates (FDA) and two multi-mission frigates with enhanced air defence capabilities (FREMM-DA) present a challenge. These ships are easily identifiable, leading observers to question the effectiveness of the identification change on these types of vessels. For the strategy to work optimally, the Navy would have to limit its operational communication significantly.

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Observance of International Law

The French Navy has issued assurances that it will continue to follow international law and that its actions will not jeopardize navigation safety. Despite these promises, opinions about the proposed changes vary internationally.

The UK’s Stance

For example, the UK Defence Journal reports that the UK's perspective is somewhat different. James Heappey, UK Minister of , has voiced his insistence that UK warships will continue to adhere to the criteria outlined in Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This article stipulates that a warship is a vessel that serves the armed forces of a state, displays the distinctive exterior marks of ships of its nationality, is commanded by a naval officer in service of that state, features on the officers list or an equivalent document, and has a crew that follows military discipline rules.

Heappey's response could be interpreted to suggest that a flag might suffice to distinguish a military ship. This view, however, is dependent on the extent to which the anonymization deviates from the spirit of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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