WASHINGTON: As tensions continue to rise between the United States, its NATO allies and Russia over the gradual build up of forces near Ukraine’s border, the chief of the French Navy says he has not seen a change in Russian naval forces in and around the Black Sea.
“I think much of the concern is ashore. It’s land forces. Hospitals, tanks and so forth,” Adm. Pierre Vandier said during a Monday event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “So, on the naval side, we didn’t see a very abnormal pattern of life of the Russians. They still send some ships at sea… The Russian pattern of life is not very different from what it use to be before.”
The French officer also referred to a recent incident involving Russian naval forces “challenging” a French warship. He appeared to be referencing an occurrence in December between a Russian warship and the French frigate Admiral Essen. That encounter ended with a “professional interaction” between both sides and an agreement to maintain distance, Interfax reported. (Interfax is a Russia-based news organization.)
Seth Jones, an expert on international studies at CSIS who was interviewing Vandier during the CSIS event, added the think tank has been tracking satellite imagery and noted “increasing activity” in the Black Sea.
Vandier spoke about the rising tensions in and around Ukraine as well as a range of other topics on Monday. Another subject raised was the trilateral security pact between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, nicknamed AUKUS. That agreement, which involves the two former countries sharing nuclear submarine technology with the latter, sparked an international row between the signatories and France over a separate agreement Australia had with the country being canceled.
Vandier said the tensions between political leaders did not have a major impact between his forces and the US Navy.
“You have two levels in AUKUS. You have the political level … and then you have the military-to-military relations between the US and French,” he said. “These relations have still been very deep… AUKUS didn’t change anything about this level of cooperation.”
Later commenting on unmanned aerial vehicles, Vandier noted that drones serve greater utility the closer to shore they are operating. While locating ships near the coast or transiting by natural choke points is very easy for an aerial drone, Vandier said using the same technology to locate ships operating in high seas is much more difficult and less affordable for most countries.
He also said, similar to the Pentagon, that the French navy is highly interested in technologies that can disarm aerial drones at a low cost, such as dazzling or directed energy. The goal is to ultimately avoid having to use a $1 million missile to destroy a $100,000 drone.
Vandier added he doesn’t believe drones will be a threat to ships operating in high seas for the next five to 10 years. While suicide drones were used to attack commercial ships in 2021, those were ships transiting near bodies of land — not traveling in a wide open expanse of water.
French Navy chief on Ukraine, AUKUS and unmanned tech – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense is written by Justin Katz for breakingdefense.com