All hail the OPV


Will Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) be the workhorse of all Navies in the future? This is the question that you could asked yourself after the latest naval conference organized by IQPC on 15 to 17 October in Saint-Cyr sur Mer, on the French Riviera.

Gathering a huge panel of specialists, shipbuilders and high-ranking officers from all over the World, IQPC offered interesting briefings about what seems to be the vessel type of choice for many naval forces. According to several participants, OPVs are sufficient for most tasks currently assigned to navies, including environmental and maritime resources protection, as well as representing the State’s political authority at sea.

Currently, several leading navies use frigates for assistance missions, but this kind of vessel is clearly oversized. Take the French example: you do not need a sophisticated, heavily armed and protected 6000 tons FREMM frigate to rescue illegal migrants, monitor fishing activities or provide assistance after a natural disaster…

That said, even if an OPV can perform this kind of missions, Navies do sometimes need bigger ships. Different weather and sea conditions also have an influence. This is the case in the Philippines, for example, where the Navy must cope with really different scenarios between the South and the North of the Archipelago. The Navy can easily use OPV in the South of the country, but it could be a tougher and different story in the North…

The latest dramatic events following the Typhoon showed this could be a problem. Another challenge, impacting almost all Navies around the world, is a lack of funds. It is more and more difficult for navies to conduct big shipbuilding programmes. Seamen have to adjust their needs to their means. OPV offer some flexibility here, as they can be “more or less armed”. For example, this is the case with designs proposed by Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding – the Sigma OPV – can realize several kind of low intensity missions usually performed by corvettes or frigates.

Of course you would rather give this kind of mission to the bigger OPVs, but it could be a good alternative to Frigates, mainly because deployment costs less… For their part, shipbuilders also explained how they are trying to reduce manufacturing cost. For example, the French shipyards DCNS has partnered with a smaller French shipyard Piriou – mainly engaged in the construction of small patrol boats – in order to build OPVs. The aim is not only to share knowledge and know-how but also be innovative and propose cheaper products.

But when you are a meaningful military power can you be satisfied with OPVs? And when you are an emerging power looking to become a regional or global player can you do it without main vessels like frigates?

Both questions may call for one single answer which is: probably not! But OPVs nevertheless appear to be one of the must-haves for any modern Naval fleet. Every shipyard is now able to propose OPV types for their customers, and when you take into consideration that the design of a big OPV is quite similar to a corvette design – although less weaponized – you know that you are almost able to have two designs for the price of one in your catalogue.

The main selling point of the conference was to compare and confront the points of view of numerous and very different Navies, such the French, the Norwegian, the Algerian or Philippines Navy and others. They all operate in a different contexts, they do not share the same CONOPS, they obviously have different needs and allocated resources, they have different plans regarding their future and the military effect they want to achieve… However, interestingly, OPVs appear as one common platform of choice for them all to carry out their main tasks.