Growing in popularity amongst the top rival naval powers of the world are multi-role frigates outfitted with a variety of weapons to counter most any ocean-going threat. Historically, frigates have been granted various dimensions and roles within a given navy though often the requirement of mobility and speed on the high seas has been consistent. The modern navy, therefore, charges its frigates with protection of other fleet surface ships while also holding aircraft-launch facilities as well as anti-submarine warfare measures. As such, frigates can operate as part of a main fleet or independently as required. Many present navy frigates have been evolved into "guided missile frigates" for their largely missile-minded armament, doing away with the once-dominant gun- and torpedo-only approach so common in World War 2 and prior.
The French Navy adopted the four-strong Horizon-class as an "air-defense" frigate to replace its outgoing Suffren-class frigates. The Horizon-class was initially to comprise some eight total ships though four were ultimately cancelled. The first vessel was commissioned in 2007 and all four maintain and active status as of this writing (2013). It is noteworthy that only two of the Horizon-class are actually vessels in service with the French Navy for the remaining two operate under Italian Navy command. As such, the "FS Horizon" does not represent the lead ship of the class with is a typical naval practice. All told, the class is represented by the FS Forbin (D620) and the FS Chevalier Paul (D621) for France and the Andrea Doria (D553) and Caio Duilio (D554) for Italy.
The FS Forbin and her class were originally born out of a triple nation agreement signed between France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The agreement for a new, all-modern missile frigate was officially formed in 1992 with the primary contractors becoming DCN of France, Orizzonte of Italy and GEC-Marconi of the United Kingdom. Development issues soon arose in which requirements across the three parties delayed official finalized specifications. The British were more aligned with American naval doctrine, weapons support and deep water at-sea capabilities while the French and Italians were mostly in agreement between themselves for shorter-ranged vessels utilizing proven European systems. This ultimately led to the withdrawal of British interest from the program in 1999 and the Royal Navy eventually adoption of the indigenously-developed Type 45 destroyer class. Undeterred, the French and Italians continued and each nation eventually commissioned for two Horizon-class vessels.
The FS Forbin was ordered on October 27th, 2000 and laid down by DCN Lorient on April 4th, 2002, launched on March 10th, 2005 and formally commissioned in December of 2008. She makes her homeport out of Toulon in the southeast of France with access to the vital Mediterranean Sea. All told, she displaces at 7,770 tons and features a running length of 501 feet, a beam of 66 feet, 7 inches and a draught of 17 feet, 9 inches. The Forbin is outfitted with a COmbined Diesel And Gas (CODAG) propulsion system that arranges 2 x GE LM2500 series gas turbines developing 31,280 horsepower with 2 x SEMT Pielstick 12 PA6 STC diesel engines of 5,875 horsepower through use of reduction gear boxes. This configuration drives 2 x four-bladed propellers at the stern (as well as additional single propeller at the beam) and allows modern surface ships better efficiency than traditional gas or diesel offerings. The FS Forbin capable of maximum straight-line speeds of approximately 30 knots while cruising solely on diesels allows 18 knot speeds. Operational range is approximately 13,000 kilometers. The Forbin is crewed by 174 personnel including officers and enlisted.
As a missile frigate, the Forbin is outfitted with a primarily missile-minded weapons suite. 1 x PAAMS (Principle Anti-Air Missile System) is fitted as a vertical-launching block of missiles embedded into the surface deck. This system is capable of firing 48 x Aster 15/30 anti-air missiles at incoming aerial targets such as aircraft and cruise missiles. 1 x Sadral launcher (6 x Mistral anti-aircraft missiles) is fitted over the helicopter hangar door facing the stern. To counter surface warships, the Forbin is granted 8 x Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missiles. Submarines are threatened by the Forbin's 2 x MU90 torpedo tubes and close-in defense is handled by 2 x 76mm OTO-Breda autocannon deck guns as well as 2 x 20mm Modele F2 cannons.
The Forbin's profile consists of a well-shaped forecastle leading to the superstructure. A pair of deck guns are fitted at turrets to either front side of the superstructure. The bridge (identified by its large observation windows) is seated above the gun turrets. An enclosed mast is set aft of the bridge and is home to the available processing, tracking, communications and sensor systems. A large radome caps the enclosure. A main mast is set at amidships. There are two enclosed, low-profile smoke funnels, one next to the main mast and the other just aft of amidships. There is a full-service hangar completing the superstructure as well as side-fitted boat launches for fast-craft interception. A flight deck is fitted at the stern and supports the launching and retrieval of up to a medium-lift helicopter type aircraft, typically the NHIndustries NH90 series transport helicopter. Sensors, tracking and processing systems include the S-1850 LRR 3-dimensional sentry radar system, an ABF TUS 4110 CL hull sonar array, a towed linear antenna, the PAAMS EMPAR multi-function G-Band radar suite and the NGDS countermeasures suite.
In accordance with other modern "stealth" initiatives regarding naval craft, the Forbin makes little use of hand rails and crevices so common to shipbuilding in decades past. Instead, many faceted surfaces are instituted to provide a smaller radar signature. Additionally, all vertical structures are enclosed and the smoke funnels are compact. The only noticeable railing is at the helo deck at the stern. All exhaust ports are also grated with special covers.
After some trials delays, the Forbin officially undertook her first cruise in 2009 which saw her visit international partners at ports in North American and North Africa before returning to France. She then took part in coalition operations centered on "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan before planning her second return home. Setting sail once more, she supported the French fleet - led by the carrier Charles de Gaulle - in October of 2010 operating in and around the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf regions. She partook in active anti-piracy operations near Somalia and, once again, supported Afghanistan-related military operations.
The FS Forbin maintains an active service status in the French fleet as of August 2013.