A recent decision by the French navy to remove pennant numbers and names from some of its vessels, effectively anonymising them, has prompted a written question asking about UK plans to do the same.

The UK went even so far as to indirectly question France’s compliance with international maritime law in removing pennant numbers from their warships.

Luke Pollard, the Shadow Minister for Defence, directed a question to the Secretary of State for Defence.

He asked, “What assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of the removal by the French navy of pennant numbers and names from some of its vessels to anonymise those vessels.”

In response, James Heappey, the Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence and Minister for the Armed Forces, stated, “The UK continues to ensure that its warships satisfy the criteria as set out at Article 29 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The French navy’s move to anonymise certain vessels is certainly an unusual step. Conventionally, warships are identified by their pennant numbers and names, fostering transparency and accountability in international waters.

Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a specific definition and requirements for warships. The relevant part states:

“Warships mean ships belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.”

Removing pennant numbers from warships may not directly violate Article 29 of UNCLOS, which mandates warships to be clearly marked with their nationality. However, it could be seen as straying from the spirit of the article. Whether this constitutes a violation depends on the broader interpretation of UNCLOS and how these ships are otherwise identified, it’s anyone’s guess and I’m not paid enough to make that judgement.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also previously worked for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
1 month ago

Flying the ensign covers most of that.

Tullzter
Tullzter
1 month ago

What are the implications though?

Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Tullzter

Some thoughts off the top of my head. If their IFF/AIS is switched on, showing position in real time, lack of visible id will just make it harder for the French public to know what’s going on without having any effect on what the enemy knows. If they have a matching policy to switch off transponders it will make it harder for everyone to keep track, keeping the enemy guessing while reducing public accountability. However, it will also increase the chances of collisions and make it harder to hold any particular crew accountable if collisions occur. Perhaps the IFF will… Read more »

Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Jon, you don’t just rely on electronic gizmos, you have lockouts and radar, which obviously needs manning, whether military or civilian.
Collisions are somewhat rare in real terms, so when they happen they are headline news.

Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

Fair point. I was minded of an instruction that went out in the US Navy to ensure transponders were switched on in crowded waters, ostensibly to help avoid collisions. Of course that might have been political BS following a collision. I can’t recall the circumstances.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jon
Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

No it’s not PBS, but visual rules wins the day regardless of what your electronic gizmos are saying. Gives the home team a warm fuzzy feeling.
Bit more difficult at night, as you are more reliant on them, but you use all your sensors to determine what you are investigating if so required. Generally you are just staying safe.

John Jones
John Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Tullzter

none. they’re french so insignificant. These days they limit themselves to people trafficking across the English Channel.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago

So how do they identify the ships of a particular class internally. There has to be some independent distinction, otherwise imagine the cock ups the MOD would be capable of.
Or is it simply a matter of not advertising their identity to the World externally.

Last edited 1 month ago by Spyinthesky
Andy reeves
Andy reeves
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Nonesense typical french weird thing.odd and unnecessary

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The latter 👍.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

It’s interesting but, what use does it really serve ? Let’s be honest it’s not going to be hard to find out which ships are in refit, which ships are tied up and which ships are deployed…it seems a bit like being opaque for the sake of being opaque…. In regards to warships, they are very much part of a nations deterrent structure and for deterrent to work best you really want to blaze it all over ( unless you have a specific operational weakness and you are trying to hide it).

John Clark
John Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

I don’t see the point either Jonathan. First off, as the French Navy is so small ( like ours) a quick Google will tell you which ship of a particular class is currently in commission….

A bit different if it’s the US Navy and you have 20 of a single class, then it could be more of a head scracher….

As also said, I thought it was an internationally recognised legal requirement, to clearly identify any ship?

What are the French thinking here, too many wine and Cognac laden lunches at the French Admiralty perhaps?

Last edited 1 month ago by John Clark
Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

I think it’s fair to say John that the “French do as the French do” and leave it at that…there are plenty of things the British do that others find a bit bizarre or realise well down the line it was a good idea…the British. Obsession with putting toilets and boiling vessels inside armoured fighting vehicles was a bit of an oddity for a long time and considered a bit “ well the British are toilet obsessed tea drinkers” but now everyone is doing it…as it cuts down casualties.

Mark F
Mark F
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

As a former Electronics Tech with the Armoured Corps, fixing crews boiling vessels was always one of the top priorities, along with the gun control equipment. Always carried at least 4 spare repair kits when on exercise.

Ian M
Ian M
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark F

Yup, always BV first, then gun kit👍

Andrew Thorne
Andrew Thorne
1 month ago

They are probably trying to determine which pronoun they should use for their Ships….Psychological safety and all that….

John Clark
John Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Thorne

That could well be it, perhaps a Brussels Woke dictate???

Warships have always traditionally been female of course, but these days that might offend some of the ‘oh’ so very sensitive youngsters….

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Britain is much more woke than France and Continental Europe. at large.

John Clark
John Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Well you would have to go some way to be ‘woker’ then some of our youngsters.

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Not a priority or a concern for that matter I should think

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Not something to brag about btw

ElyH
ElyH
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Gods thats a pretty stupid take.

John Clark
John Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  ElyH

Gods, that’s an odd use of English, back to the St Petersburg Troll farm English classes for this one….

ElyH
ElyH
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Wow he’s doubling down!

Last edited 1 month ago by ElyH
John Clark
John Clark
30 days ago
Reply to  ElyH

Hmmm, ok, welcome back John in Minsk ??

terence patrick hewett
terence patrick hewett
1 month ago

Ship names matter because vessels are crewed by people: and they are christened, like people – names are vital for all sorts of human reasons. In the case of autonomous vehicles, it doesn’t matter.

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago

Correct. Even our tanks , ifv’s and apc’s have names though anything lighter has just an alphanumeric designation

Andy reeves
Andy reeves
1 month ago

And what prey has it got to do with a low grade politician in the opposition? That individual couldn’t tell a warship from a fishing boat.

Armchair Admiral
Armchair Admiral
1 month ago

I believe pennant numbers and so forth were painted out during the Falklands campaign, and you can see sense in that by denying the enemy easy ship recognition.
However, during peace time?

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago

Royal Navy Submarines today don’t have pennant numbers.

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul T

Penants are flown and submarines by nature are stealth vehicles therefore it would not fall under the category as I highly doubt that the submersibles of SEAL TEAM 2 out of Hawaii have pennants that though I know for sure that they have names

Henry Lamb
Henry Lamb
1 month ago

How aptly French. Well it’s going to be either 1 of 4 ships in a class, so not exactly anonymous.

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago
Reply to  Henry Lamb

That’s exactly why nobody understands this decision…

In a small navy, it doesn’t really matter.

Information like this is too easy to find, even if it isn’t made public…

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  Henry Lamb

It’s anonymous because a Houthi rebel probably doesn’t have the knowledge to distinguish the different classes of each warship much less the nationality. Aside for the big gun or missle launcher on the fore and sometimes on the aft it’s hard to tell that it’s even a warship but for the big main command tower. For all a rebel can tell he might be attacking a “friendly “ vessel like Ivan’s or the chinks . Good move I think

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 month ago

Don’t think the French are going to war with anyone 🤗 🇫🇷

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Tell that to the foreign legion

Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago

Alex mate, you could always run a flag from elsewhere, bit of a ruse if you will. Won’t detract from the opposition in the event of a crisis mind, flags numbers are irrelevant, you go of the silloette/ profile.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

Radar profile
Sonar profile
Noise profile
Chemical profile
Electronic emissions profile

Additionally in the case of Russian aircraft carrier/submarine

Smoke profile

That is all before you break out the binos and check the pennant number.

Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago

Radar profile – no unless you have a very good radar that gives you a profile/silloette.
Sonar profile – no unless you have a TA
Noise profile – see above.
Chemical profile – not unless you are a SM with non acoustics fitted and have a really good database.
E P – yes, but has to match the silloette/profile you are expecting.

MK1 eyeball whether Bono’s or IR/TI kit usually wins the day fella.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

Radar profile – no unless you have a very good radar that gives you a profile/silloette. I think Artisan and Sampson will do that with some ease? Sonar profile – no unless you have a TA I was referring more to an SM Noise profile – see above. This was meant more about electronic noise fingerprinting which was always a UK area of excellence? Chemical profile – not unless you are a SM with non acoustics fitted and have a really good database. You just might be underestimating current capabilities….. E P – yes, but has to match the silloette/profile… Read more »

Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago

TBH fella, I’m not a radar expert, but while both Artisan and Sampson are undeniable good, they are not always turning and burning unlike the ships nav radar which is – where I was coming from.
SMs, a totally different ballgame, acoustic signature whilst submerged, or, visual/EM signature if surfaced.
Chemical profiling is an absolute nightmare, basically its either nuclear or not. Any database in this area is very unreliable, too many variables which can fit anything.
Whichever way you attack this, unless you get a positive electronic/acoustic fingerprint, you are reliant on visual ID.

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

So F123456789 tells you what about the ship nationality

monkey spanker
monkey spanker
1 month ago

Not a good move. The forces and the names of equipment should be named in such a way that they become common around the public which helps keep forces in people’s minds when the poop isn’t hitting the fan.
Removing names is silly.
Ask people to name a ship and most will be able to.
Names are important, removing the name will do little to effect any adversary but will effect the general public.

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago
Reply to  monkey spanker

But they always have a name.
They are only made anonymous for deployment.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago

So if they do this with the navy…will they remove serial numbers from aircraft or TRF from uniforms of army units?? And if not, why one but not the others?
This makes no sense to me.

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago

One of the main reasons is officially to create a certain vagueness around ships and crews, which makes espionage more difficult, in particular by making it more difficult to collect data on ships and crew members.

John Clark
John Clark
30 days ago
Reply to  Hermes

Unfortunately Hermes it won’t achieve that, a simple quick Google and a 6 year old could tell you what ship it is within 30 seconds!

That principle only works with large Navies. It’s a rather silly and quite odd thing to do….

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago

The foreign legion technically is independent of the government though we all know better. It’s a more streamlined and obedient version of Wagner

Frank Sencer
Frank Sencer
1 month ago

It won’t matter when the ships are sailing in darkness.

A Palmer
A Palmer
1 month ago

Don’t Russian warships have different numbers displayed if they change location?
The US have unique Hull numbers, rather than the random pennants we use.
(R05-R09 have been reused since the 60s)

Mark B
Mark B
1 month ago

I suspect this will cause more annoyance to France’s allies than it’s enemies. Pointless exercise. Very French.

Sunny
Sunny
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark B

Hey our ancestors thought that foreplay was useless and pointless too . Now look at where we stand on this. God bless the French I say!

Mark B
Mark B
30 days ago
Reply to  Sunny

😂