My Review and Build of Hellers 1/400 scale Kit #81035,
French F713 Aconit and F714 Guepratte Frigates

Last updated: Main Deck, Deck to Hull, Deck Details, Decals, Helos, Photo Etch, Done - December 10, 2013 <-- Click to go directly there.

Introduction and What's in the Box - December 3, 2013

Introduction and Overview
In the late 1980s, the French Navy did studies on the type of Frigate vessels they would need in a post-cold war era for surveillance, show the flag, humanitarian operations, and for combat, both low and medium intensity roles. The initial product of this research produced the Floreal light frigates in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These were light frigates displaceing about 2.900 tons full load, and six were built. They are principally designed for low intenisty operations, surveillance, and show the flag duties and all are still in service. However, due to their light armament, a somwhat larger, better armed, mulit-role firgate was also needed.

The need for the higher intensity capabilities resulted in the design of the La Fayette class frigates for the French navy. These frigates, of which five were commissioned between 1996 and 2001, displaced over 3,500 tons full load and were the first modern frigates built with significant stealth features from the outset.

The construction process produced the following five vessels for France:

F7810 La Fayette launched: 1992 commissioned: 1996 F711 Surcout launched: 1993 commissioned: 1997 F712 Courbet launched: 1994 commissioned: 1997 F713 Aconi launched: 1997 commissioned: 1999 F714 Guepratte launched: 1999 commissioned: 2001

The success of the design was apparent, particularly with its stealth features. As a result, the frigate design was exported by France to Saudi Arabia who purchased three frigates, to Taiwan who purchased and licensed built 6 frigates, and to Singapore who purchased and license built six friagtes. A total of 20 frigates based on the La Fayette design have been built and are patrolling the world's oceans for their respective nations.

The design is very clean, with angled surfaces apparent throughout, and with very little deck equipment to reflect radar. The frigates make use of bays that hold ship's launches, anit-torpedo weapons, etc. The design also makes use of solid, raised, deck guards behind which some armament (like the anti-surface missiles, and other equipment are placed to also hide them from radar reflection. In addition, stairs and mooring equipment are internal, and prominent structures are covered by clear surfaces. The superstructures has been built using radar-absorbent synthetic materials.

Thanks to the adoption of low-power diesel motors and a special heat dissipation system, the La Fayette ships also have a low thermal signature, adding to its stealth features. The usual funnel is replaced with a small sets of pipes, aft of the mast, which cool the exit gas before it is released. The magnetic signature is reduced by the presence of a demagnetisation belt. Finally, the acoustic signature is minimized by mounting the engines on elastic supports, which reduce vibrations in the hull as much as possible, and by rubber coating on the propellers. The La Fayette are also equipped with the Prairie Masker active acoustic camouflage system. This sytem generates small bubbles from underneath the hull to confuse sonars.

The design includes a helicopter pad and a full hanger to house one medium sized (NH90) helicopter for ASW, Patrol, Radar, or SAR duties.

Specifications for the French La Fayette vessels include:

Displacement: 3,600 tons (full)
Length: 410 feet
Beam: 49 feet
Draft: 13.5 ft.
Speed: 25 knots
Propulsion: 4 SEMT Pielstick engines, 2 shafts
Crew: 141
- 1 100mm DP gun
- 8 MM40 BLock II Excocet missiles
- 2 20mm F2 guns
- 1 Crotale CN2 Missile launcher (8 Ready, 16 stored))
Aircraft: 1 x NH90, hanger helicopter (hanger and pad):

These vessels are intended to continue to serve with the French Navy for the forseeable future as one of France major surface combatants. In order to meet threat environments for the future, the ships will receive their own sonar system, and are built to be able to be upgraded to the Aster 15 VLS system if required.

What's in the Box:
Heller is a French model making company. They do most all of the French modern naval ships in the larger scales and specialize in 1/400 scale. You simply cannot find most of the modern French naval vessels with Trumpeter, Dragon, Airfix, or the other model makers in 1/350 scale. So, if you want to build a larger scale French Carrier group (as I do) then you deal with heller and their 1/400 scale vessels. This is Heller's Kit #81035, La Fayette class Friagte. With this build, I will assemble two of them, the F713 Aconit and the F714 Guepratte for my French Carrier group centered on the R91, Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft carrier, which I have already completed.

Heller does a good job with its models. Earlier, they had a bit of an issue with larger sprues and moldings with some excessive flash and not as clean a finish. But over the years they have overcome those i ssues and now produce some very good moldings that are free of flash and are quite detailed.

Inside the box, you find that the hull is a single, well detailed piece. The entire main deck, bridge and secondary deck is alos a single piece. This model will go together realtively quickly. Both the hull and main deck are molded in a light grey. Given the stealth nature of this frigate, there justr aren't a lot of exterior detail pieces. They have either been built into the two masts, or are ocvered so as to minimize radar signature. So, not as many parts, actually 93 parts on four sprues for each vessel.

Two of those sprues contin all of the detail parts. The other two contain the hull, main deck and the santd. A Dauphin helicopter is included. Also included is a sheet of 58 water slide decals. These include full markings for any of the five vessels (which is nice) and a set of signal flags. Also, in keeping with later Heller practice, the hull water line mark is included as a set od decals on this sheet. Here's the box and its contents, including the decal sheet and the instructions.

This looks like it is going to be a fun and straight forward build. Also a failry quick and easy build relatively speaking. I intend to use some Tom's Model Works 1/400 scale PE railings, but there will not be many as the only railings will consist of the aft secondary deck holding the Cratale missile system, and the safety netting around the helicopter pad. Also some railings will be visible in one of the Ship Launch bays I intend to show opened.

The Build: Initial painting and the hull - December 3, 2013

I began by painting the various parts on the sprues (after cutting them loose from the sprue except at a single attachment ewach so as to minimiz touch up) in the Model Master Light Ghost Gray I am using for the vertical surfaces.

After this I assembled to prop supports and rudders for the vessels and glued them into place. The small second supports are quite small and you have to be careful with them. It all went together well.

Then, it was time to paint the hull and main deck accordingly, that is, in the Light Ghost Gray for vertical surface, and the Hull Red (which is a lighter red than normal) that I have left over from my Charles de Gaulle build and which came with that model. This color is similar to an Acrylic Hull Red available from other manufacturers, but I have enough of the paint left from the Charles de Gaulle to paint both of these vessels and the French destroyer I also intend to build for this group...which will allow me to maintain consistancy. Here's the parts, and the hulls fo both vessels:

So, that's it to date. Over the next week I believe I will complete all of the assembly on both vessels, and then complete the details, Photo Etch, and touch up the following week. Hope to be done with both of these frigates the week before Christmas.

The Build: Main Deck, Deck to Hull, Deck Details, Decals, Helos, Photo Etch, Done - December 10, 2013

Okay, over the last week I spent a lot of time and was able to complete these Lafayette Frigates.

First I started out by painting the main deck. Vertical in Light Ghost gray, and the helo deck and deck over the hanger in Flight deck grauy. Perhaps a little dark...but it has the hint of blue to it and provided a hgood contrast. And it was what I had too. Hehehe. Also, Heller provides a nice lille bench around the bridge that you can paint black, and then add the bridge roof on with its window supports which are painted in Light Ghost Gray, and you get a very good brdge window effect. Finally, the intial build of the two masts was completed and they were glued onto the main deck house. Sometimes it is best to build the entire mast assemblies with all of their sensors, antennae, etc and then place them. In this instance, there were just a few of the additional pieces and they were all easy to get at, so I went ahead and glued them to the main deck house in their initial form.

Then I built some of the principle weapons systems like the main guns, the Exocet Missile launchers and the Crotale Missile launchers. The missile launchers inparticular were nice little assemblies with a number of small pieces. They went together well.

Then I glued the maind deck to the hull. Use of some clamps and rubber bands gave a good fit.

Then it was time for all of the upper side details which included the numerous small antennae, the life boats, the chaff launchers, the small 25mm guns on either side behind the bridge, the radar domes, and the auxillary deck for the ship's launches. There are two of these on each vessel, one on each side. I decided to show the Port side auxillary deck on the Aconit, and leave the others closed. it is a nicle little assembly and looks good in the open position with the Ship's main launch there and its cranes.

Then it was time to add the decals. There are quite a lot of them. be advised, it is highly recommended that you cut the long waterline marks into three sections and place them individually. These decals come apart very easily and otherwise you may be dealing with eight or ten fragments. The waterline mark really makes these vessels look good, along with their pennant numbers and particularly the helo landing pad markings. That decal too should be cut into two or three pieces and placed because it has a tendancy to come apart as well.

Once all of the decals were placed, I built, painted, placed decals upon, and then glued the Dauffin helicopters down on their landing decks. I then added the photo etch railing. Railing along the aft Crotale missile deck, and then helo guard rail/net along either side of the helo deck.

Once all of this was done, and those step just outlined took four evenings to accomplish, it was time to complete the model. At this point this just involved some touch up, and then a couple of good coats of dull coat. With that, it was time for the final pictures:

...and some close ups of some of the detail work:

I then placed the two Lafayette Frigate, Aconit, F712, and Guepratte, F714 with their main charge, the French nuclear aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, R91.

Very nice grouping...but still lacking one destroyer which I will build and place next.

SCHEDULE for Future Activities - December 10, 2013

  1. By Dec 31, 2013: Complete the French Carrier Group centered on Heller's Charles de Gaulle wwith the French De Grasse D612 DDG.
  2. By Feb 31, 2014, Start the Russian Carrier Group centerd on Trumpeter's Kuznetsov with a CGN, a DDGs and a SSN.
  3. By Apr 31, 2014, Start the US Navy Amphibious Ready Group centered on the Gallery USS Wasp with an LHD, an LPD, a DDG, a SSN and two LCS.
  4. By Jul 31, 2014, Start the PLAN Amphibious Ready Group centered on the Trumpeter Type 071 LPD-999, with a FFG, and three DDGs.
  5. By Sep 31, 2014 Go back and start fleshing out the rest of the DDG and FFG escorts for each CSG and ARG group.

The completion of the PLAN Carrier group was centered on the already completed Trumpeter's 1/350 scale PLA Navy's Aircraft Carrier CV-16, Liaoning, (in addition to the other escorts already completed) included Mini Hobby's's PLAN Guangzhou, DDG-168. I recently pre-ordered a 1/350 scale model of the PLAN Type 071 LPD, Yuzhao Class, announced by Trumpeter and due out in October, 2013. I will end up adding two of those, propbably LPD-998 Yuzhao and LPD-999, Jinggangshan, add the PLAN- DDG-139, Ningbo, and the PLAN DDG-115, Shenyang, along with the PLAN Weifang, FFG-550 and thus build a PLAN ARG.

The completion of the US Carrier Strike group was centered on the completed Tamyia's 1/350 scale USS Enterprise, CVN-65, (in addition ot the other escorts already completed) included Trumpeter's, USS Freedom, LCS-1, Dragon's USS Preble, DDG-88 and Hobby Boss's USS Texas, SSN-775. When a 1/350 scale USS Enterprise, CVN-80 (or any Gerald R. Ford Class) is released from Trumpeter, Tamiya, Dragon, or whomever else, I will add it to this group along with another AEGIS Cruiser. Whichever Ford Class coms out in 1/350 scale, I will build it as the USS Enterprise, CVN-80.

The US ARG will include Tamiya's 1/350 scale, USS Iowa, BB-62 (which I have already completed), Trumpeter's 1/350 scale USS Iwo Jima LHD-7, Gallery's 1/350 scale USS Sommerset, LPD-25, Bronco Models 1/350 Scale USS New York, LPD-21, Cyber Hobby's USS Independence, LCS-2, Acadamy's 1/350 scale USS Rueben James, FFG-57, and another Flight IIA US AEGIS class detroyer based on Trumpeter's 1/350 scale USS Lassen, DDG-82...all of these models which I already own.

The completion of the UK Group featured the Airfix 1/350 scale HMS Illustrious, R06 as its centerp[iece until a 1/350 scale Queen Elizabeth carrier is released. When that happens, I will add that carrier to the group as its centerpiece. The Royal Navy CSG will also include two Airfix 1/350 scale Daring Class DDGs (one of which is already completed), two Trumpeter 1/350 scale Type 23 HMS Duke class Frigates (one of which is already completed), and the Hobby Boss 1/350 scale HMS Astute SSN (which is also already completed) and Airfix 1/350 scale HMS Tragalgar SSN. One day, when a 1/350 scale HMS Ocean LPD come out, I will use tt to start building a Royal Navy ARG.

The French CSG is centered on Heller's 1/400 scale Charles De Gualle, R91. I have purchased the 1/400 scale Heller French De Grasse, D612 DDG, which is an ASW DDG, the French Duquesne, D603 DDG which is an anti-air multi-purpose DDG, and the French Aconit F713 FFG and Gueprattet F714 FFGs, both of which are Lafayette class frigates. These five vessels will round out my French CSG. As soon as a French Robin class nuclear sub, like the French Perale S606 SSN is released in 1/350 or 1/400 scale, I will add that to the group. Also as soon as the Forbin D620, Horizon class anti-air DDG is released in 1/350 or 1/400 scale, I will purchase two of them and replace the De Grrasse and Duquesne with them, and then save those two for when a Mistral Class LPD is released in 1/350 or 1/400 scale so I can create a French ARG with those vessels.

The completion of the Japanese JMSDF group was centered on Fujimi's very finely detailed, 1/350 scale Hyuga, DDH-181. It will be escorted by Trumpeter's 1/350 scale DDG-177, Atago, an AEGIS class DDG and the JMSDF, DDG-174, Kongo class (which I own), Trumpeters's 1/350 scale DDG-114 Susunami and DDG-111 (both of which are Takinami Class DDGs which I own), and by the 1/350 scale SS-503 Hakuryu (which I own), one of Japans new, very modern and capable AIP Diesel Electric submarines. As soon as a DDG-115 Akizuki in 1/350 scale is released, I will add it to this group. Should a 1/350 scale Osumi Class LPD be relased, I will buy two of those vessels and create a JMSDF ARG.

Then, finally it will be a complete Russian CSG (centered on Trumpeter's Kuznetsov which I own) the Russian Kirov Class nuclear battle cruiser (CGN), the Peter the Great, by Trumpeter (which I own), the Russian Slava Class cruiser, Varyag by Trumperter (which I own), two Trumpeter 1/350 scale Udaloy DDGs (which I own), Hobby Boss's Akula II class SSN (which I own), and the new Yasen class Russian SSN (which I own), all in 1/350 scale. Some time in the more distant future when a 1/350 scale Russian version of the French Mistral class comes out (which is building in real life right now), I will add two of those and build a Russian ARG.

Recently I purchased Heller's 1/400 scale Foch, the Clemceau Class carrier that was sold to the Brazilians in 2000 and in 2002 was refitted and became the Brazilian CV, Sao Paulo, using steam catapaults. I will build the model as the Sao Paulo and thus start a Brazilian group, though the Type 22 DDGs and the FFGs the Brazilians use are not available at present. I have however purchased a set of 1/400 scale A-4 Skyhawks and S-3 Trackers to build a suitable airwing for the Sao Paulo.

Then, again, once the models are available, I'd like to build an Italian Carrier Strike Group centered on the Cavour and their Horizon DDGs, a Spanish Carrier Strike Group centered on the Juan Carlos and their F-100 AEGIS FFGs, and ultimatly an Australian Strike Group centered on the new Canberra Class LPD and the Hobart class AEGIS DDGs. If they ever build the models, an Indian Carrier Strike Group centered on either the Vikramaditya or their new ADS Carrier, the Vikrant, and their Kolkata class DDGs and Shivlak class FFGs would also be nice.

Years more worth of work!

You can see all of these actual carriers, read their histories and specifictions at my site:


...and most of their surface escorts at:


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