Joint Australian-French maritime patrols on the horizon

He said French warships and research vessels were the most frequent visitor from a foreign navy to Australian ports, with 12 arrivals a year.

French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle sets sail from the southern French port of Toulon before taking part in military operations in the Persian Gulf. AFP

“Since the signing of this contract our links have been tighter and tighter with the Australian navy, not only on submarines but every aspect of maritime warfare,” he said.

Admiral Prazuck revealed this co-operation had gone as far as co-ordinating the deployment of frigates in the region to ensure that Australian and French warships were not patrolling the same waters, or if they did end up in the same place, they would carry out exercises together.

He also spoke of a desire for greater interoperability between the two navies, particularly in the areas of anti-submarine warfare and amphibious landings. Next year Australian, Japanese and US troops and ships will join French ones for joint exercises off New Caledonia.

“Another area where I think we could go further is the escort of capital ships, like when our aircraft carrier comes to the Indian Ocean,” Admiral Prazuck said, adding he had discussed it with Australian navy chief Mike Noonan.

“Or I would like French frigates escorting Australian amphibious ships.

“When you are escorting a capital ship, it is very demanding but a very useful exercise. You learn a lot.”

France has one aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle, which is the only nuclear-powered carrier in service outside of the United States navy.

Admiral Prazuck also raised the prospect of Australian and French sailors serving on each other’s submarines to help train crews ahead of the eventual arrival of the next-generation boats.

“All doors are wide open to host our Australian friends and officers on our submarines. It is certainly possible we do that,” he said.

Admiral Prazuck said a strong navy was crucial to France, which has the world’s second biggest exclusive economic zone behind the US, while Australia is in third place.

In recent times, France has stepped up its deployments in the heavily contested waters of the South China Sea, which Admiral Prazuck said was to illustrate the importance on preserving open seas.

“We are concerned each time the law of the sea is undermined or threatened,” he said.

“Each country has its own political agenda and its own constraints and it’s own objectives. The main thing is to share the same message and defence of the law of the sea.”

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