Blog AnalysisMarine

BPC a formidable “Swiss army knife”

(BRUSSELS2 in Toulon) Today I was able to discover the Dixmude, the third BPC (projection and command building) put into service by the French Navy. A “formidable Swiss army knife” as sailors like to point out, proud of their brand new boat. And indeed, there is something to be seduced by.


Almost 200 meters long, 32 meters wide, a BPC remains imposing at the quay with its stacked bridges. And its autonomy – 11.000 miles (20.000 km) – allows it to carry out different missions. The maximum speed of 18 knots is more than adequate.

In its depths, 16 helicopters can be accommodated. And on the deck, 6 locations are reserved to allow the landing of attack (Caracal, Tigre, etc.) or transport (Puma, NH90, etc.) helicopters and 2 other lighter helicopters (Gazelle type). A staff of 150 people – or even more – can be set up with the different connectivity standards in use at the national and NATO level. During Operation Harmattan in Libya, he was able to cover a good part of the Libyan coast in one night.

An on-board hospital, with 2 surgery rooms, on-board radio, even scanner, and around sixty beds. If necessary, it can be supplemented by the arrival of additional surgical elements or medical modules. A raft allowing the reception of several landing craft: - 4 if they are the old CTM (material transport barges) or 2 for the more modern EDA-R (Rapid amphibious landing craft) - which ensure the amphibious capacity of the ship. This may seem easy, at first glance. But getting these ships into the ship requires a certain amount of know-how. To “park” the EDA-R there is only 40 cm on each side. With a little swell, and the specific effect of the waves in the riffle, dexterity and composure are required...

The EDA-R has the entrance to the Dixmude riffle. A ballast system allows the water to be emptied or filled

Its main asset, however, remains its hangar which can be used for different uses. Depending on the missions, it serves as a parking lot for the transport of vehicles (80 in total); can be transformed into a reception hall for the evacuation of nationals (1500 for a short period, 500 if the crossing is longer than one or two days) with the installation of padded beds if necessary; or even allow the extension of the staff rooms or the on-board hospital, etc. The rooms themselves can be reconfigured as needed using removable partitions. In short, the ship adapts according to circumstances and missions. Which makes it particularly suitable for all kinds of missions: evacuation of nationals (Lebanon 2006), disaster relief (Haiti), command of a maritime operation, helicopter base (Harmattan), transport of troops and means of landing, training (Jeanne D'arc mission) etc.

Its fairly wide corridors allow many people to pass each other without hindering each other like stretchers passing through. Its living structure is rather comfortable, for a warship. It's not too surprising that the Russians were won over. The reason for the success of this is also due to its design method. At the operational level, “ it was designed by a mixed team of sailors and earthlings » ; certain details have thus been studied to allow the reception of troops, such as these drawers under the beds to accommodate personal weapons (Famas type).

At the industrial level, its design and construction were borrowed from civilian ships: in particular construction by zones and assembly. This made it possible to have a relatively low cost for this type of ship: around 400 million euros for the first (Mistral entered into service in 2006 and Tonnerre put into service in 2007), around 550 million euros for the Dixmude (entered service in 2012, equipped with another engine and various additional amenities). The other side of the coin is that it is not self-protected. And in crisis zones, needs to be accompanied by frigates (anti-aircraft and/or anti-submarines, etc.). Only two on-board guns make it possible to fight against asymmetric threats, not to engage in naval warfare. This is not its role.

Comment: This type of very modular equipment, adapted to a whole series of current conflicts or future threats, seems very well adapted to the new strategic situation. Probably better than some other equipment. We can even say that in the long term, this type of boat could replace an aircraft carrier, if the use of drones continues to develop and improve (nb: some experts will undoubtedly say, more or less rightly. But it's not at all the same thing, let's just think ahead in 10 or 20 years...).


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).