The La Fayette-class is a series of surface warships employed by the navies of France, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Taiwan - numbering some twenty total vessels in the group. The vessels are classified as "multi-mission" frigates able to undertake a variety of ocean-going operations as required - either independently or as part of a larger fighting force. In modern day usage, frigates tackle anti-submarine operations as well as add defense capabilities to other ships of the fleet during task force-type participation.
The La Fayette-class as operated by the French Navy includes Surcouf (F711), a warship laid down on July 6th, 1992 at the Lorient Naval Dockyard and launched on July 3rd, 1993. She was formally commissioned on February 7th, 1997 and named after French privateer Robert Surcouf (1773-1827). Displacing nearly 4,000 tons under full load, the vessel is outfitted with all-modern, fast-processing, digitally-assisted suites that provide the crew with the best reaction possible to whatever scenario befalls the ship. She carries an advanced air-surface search radar, radio and radar interception equipment, a digital Fire Control System (FCS), and navigation radar. Twin Dagaie Mk 2 chaff launchers protect against incoming missile threats and a "Prairie-Masker" component serves in the noise-reduction role. Additional equipment helps to make the Surcouf a harder to define target against hunting submarines. Her typical crew complement is 140 including twelve officers.
Due to her multi-mission minded design approach, Surcouf is outfitted with a variety of weapons to suite the battlefield need. This begins with 8 x Exocet (MM40 Block II) anti-ship missile launchers to target surface threats. The primary turreted deck gun is a 100mm TR autocannon with unobstructed views over the bow - suitable for engaging surface threats at range or contributing to an offshore bombing effort during amphibious assaults. 2 x 20mm Modele F2 conventional guns are carried for medium-to-short-ranged defense. A Crotale CN2 launcher is fitted as an aircraft/missile counter with access to eight ready-to-fire missiles in addition to sixteen reloads waiting.
Outwardly, engineers of the Surcouf and her class have opted for an all-modern warship appearance, doing away with the lines of railing common to warships for centuries prior. Instead, a slab-sided approach had been adopted by navies of the world in which protruding structural details are kept at a minimum and, in turn, help minimize the ship's radar signature - revealing a very clean design form. The main mast then becomes an enclosed skyward-reaching structure and the smoke funnels are obscured from view. The forecastle manages the sole 100mm deck gun with the bridge attached to the main superstructure. Boat launches are fitted along the sides of the vessel to support quick-reaction strike and intercept forces as well as special operations initiatives. Over the stern is a helicopter launch and retrieval deck with attached service hangar - the hanger can serve a single medium-lift helicopter or similar aircraft. Helicopters can be transport types or anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)/Anti-Ship types to further broaden the tactical usefulness of the Surcouf.
Power to the vessel is through 4 x SEMT Pielstick 12PA6V280 conventional diesel engines developing 21,000 horsepower. This provides the ship with speeds of 25 knots and a range of 7,000 nautical miles.
Beginning service prior to the end of the last century, Surcouf has produced an active resume of naval service including support of several U.N.-related actions such as that in Kosovo during the Balkan Wars. The ship has been used on several occasions to come to the aid of persons aboard damaged or sinking vessels, saving lives in the process. Surcouf has also been released by the French government to take part in joint multinational initiatives to promote better responses to emerging threats - this work has included both British and American naval forces. During late 2012, she was deployed near Somalia to curtail the piracy threat, even taking on a British naval Lynx helicopter and British personnel as part of the mission in a move to bring the two world military powers closer together amidst growing world threats and shrinking defense budgets.
There are five vessels in the La Fayette-class which includes La Fayette (F710), Surcouf (F711), Courbet (F712), Aconit (F713), and Guepratte (F714). The French Navy ocean-going submarine of World War 2 - FS Surcouf NN3 - has also carried the Surcouf name into battle.