The French La Fayette Class is striking in it’s purity of design and elegant clean lines. It was designed to have all superstructure surfaces slanted to a plus or minus 10 degrees. Designed on basically the same principles as the F-117, the angular planes of the frigate are designed to dissipate radar pulses, rather than reflect them to their source. As a consequence they have a smaller radar signature than other ships their size. In addition to the smooth angular design, special materials were selected than would further reduce radar reflection. The superstructure has layers of resin and balsa to aid in the process. Glass resin composites are used on the decks.
Because the odd protruding parts of a warship design help create a larger radar signature, minimizing parts protruding from the superstructure was essential in the reduction of the radar profile. This requirement is what motivated the stark, clean appearance of La Fayette and her four sisters. Open boat wells would create a sizable radar return just as air intakes in aircraft are a liability to stealthiness. To counter this the La Fayette was designed to have sliding articulated covers over the boat wells. The base of the turret was another source of radar return, so to eliminate that source the turret was built into its own well. Different systems, such as Prairie Masker, are also incorporated to reduce the noise emissions of the vessel.
The La Fayette Class was designed to support French operations around their overseas possessions and also to reinforce the European force in an emergency. It is constructed in modules and the design was clearly meant to attract foreign sales. The modular construction allows an easy replacement of weapons systems and even the propulsion system, if required by the purchaser. So far Taiwan and Saudi Arabia have ordered their own versions of the design.
The armament includes a 100mm/55 Model 1968 CADAM DP gun with 600 rounds of ammunition, eight Exocet SS missile launchers, a Crotale CN2 SAM system (V5S version in La Fayette) with the more advanced VT-1 missile in the others, two 20mm/90 GIAT AA guns, two 12.7mm mg and a Panther helicopter with plans to equip the class with NH-90 helicopters, mounting Exocet or AS 15 missiles. If you go through the list of these missile systems, you will notice anti-surface and anti-air systems but there is no ASW system. Additionally there is a sizable array of communications and defense systems incorporated into the design.
La Fayette F710, was laid down on December 15, 1990 and launched June 13, 1992. Trials started in September 1993 and she was commissioned into the Marine Nationale on December 19, 1995. As the initial ship, La Fayette took a longer time in construction and trails than the others in the class. The other members of the class are Surcouf F711, Courbet F712, Anconit (Ex-Jaureguiberry) F713, and Guepratte F714. (History and statistics are from Combat Fleets of the World, 1998-1999)
Last year Jacques Druel of L’Arsenal decided that he would produce the La Fayette in kit form. He selected three scales in which to model the ship, 1:700, 1:400 and 1:350. Then at the end of the year Heller announced that they were going to produce the La Fayette as an injection molded kit with a release date in May 2003. As you can see from these photographs, Heller hit its goal exactly. The Heller La Fayette should be available at hobby shops or distributors now or in the very near future. The quick release of the 1:400 Heller La Fayette has had an impact on the plans of L’Arsenal. Jacques will no longer be producing the 1:400 version, since the Heller kit has made a resin kit in the same scale financially impractical. However, the 1:700 scale waterline model of La Fayette from L’Arsenal is almost ready. To look at the hull/superstructure production casting of the 1:700 L’Arsenal La Fayette, see the May Mystery Model #1 (click for photographs of the hull casting of the 1:700 L’Arsenal La Fayette). Jacques is just adding all of the extra details for which L’Arsenal is famous before going into full release. The 1:400 scale version was aimed at the French and European market, where this scale is the standard because of Heller’s long time support. However, 1:350 scale is the generally preferred larger scale in the United States and L’Arsenal still has plans to produce a La Fayette in this scale for the US market and for those who wish to build this unique design in the larger size.
The Heller La Fayette comes in two large sprues. Because of the exceptionally clean lines of the prototype, the model appears readily buildable with a minimum time in assembly. Heller has clearly aimed this kit at the world market, as instructions are in French, English, German, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Dutch and Portuguese. The 16 pages of instructions with painting guide are extremely clear and easy to follow. To round out the kit, Heller provides a large and beautiful set of decals, that not only provides boot-topping but also names and pendant numbers for every ship in the class. Heller also provides the individual ship’s crest for each vessel of the class on this sheet. Heller will undoubtedly have a hit with their La Fayette.
The Heller 1:400 scale kit of the Stealth Frigate La Fayette is available from Jacques Druel of L'Arsenal in sunny Normandie.