The American EMALS aircraft launch system being prepared for the new French aircraft carrier
- France plans to build a new generation aircraft carrier to replace Charles de Gaulle.
- The new carrier will have the same aircraft launch and recovery systems as the new US carriers.
- The new French carrier is expected to enter service in 2038 and remain there until at least 2080.
In September, US defense firm General Atomics announced it had received a US Navy contract to continue development and evaluation of its electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arrest equipment for sale. potential to France.
It is the latest development in France’s ambition to build a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a project known as Porte-Avions de Nouvelle Génération, sometimes referred to as PANG, which translates to “Aircraft Carrier new generation”.
The ship, which has not yet been named, will replace the current French carrier, Charles de Gaulle. The PANG will be considerably larger than its predecessor and give the French Navy the prestige of operating a “super carrier” – a distinction held by only a few navies.
Charles de Gaulle
Launched in 1994 and commissioned in 2001, the Charles de Gaulle replaced the two French Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers, Clemenceau and Foch, which were decommissioned in 1997 and 2000, respectively. (Foch was sold to Brazil and was in Brazilian service until 2018).
The Charles de Gaulle is currently the flagship of the French Navy. It is 858 feet long and displaces some 42,000 tons when fully loaded. It is made up of a crew of 1,350 and an air wing of 650. It can also embark 800 men.
It is the only non-US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world. Its two K15 pressurized water reactors give it a top speed of around 27 knots and a range limited only by the endurance of its crew.
It is also the only non-US carrier to use catapults to launch aircraft, a system known as Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery.
Its catapults are shorter versions of those used aboard the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. “An American officer is present among the crew of the aircraft carrier to provide maintenance interfaces,” Admiral Pierre Vandier, the French navy chief of staff, said of Charles de Gaulle in July.
“For the future aircraft carrier, it was also decided to go with American equipment, which will be electromagnetic catapults and electromagnetic arresting gear,” Vandier told Naval News, adding that there would be ” similar cooperations” with the United States “to support the ramp-up in operational power and to ensure the maintenance of these catapults.”
De Gaulle can sail with an air wing of up to 40 aircraft, although it is usually made up of 30 Rafale M fighters, two E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft and a combination of NH90, AS565 Panther and AS365 Dauphin helicopters. .
In addition to its air wing, Charles de Gaulle has four eight-cell Sylver VLS launchers capable of firing MBDA Aster 15 surface-to-air missiles and two six-cell Sadral launchers for Mistral anti-aircraft missiles.
Charles de Gaulle’s first combat deployment was during Operation Enduring Freedom, during which his aircraft flew some 700 sorties against Taliban targets. In 2011, the carrier helped enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
Charles de Gaulle has also been very active against ISIS, launching airstrikes against targets in Iraq from the Persian Gulf in 2015 and in support of the liberation of Mosul in the Mediterranean in 2016. This year he helped strengthen the NATO presence in the Eastern Mediterranean following Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Although France has traditionally operated two carriers simultaneously, it has never built an equivalent for Charles de Gaulle. There were plans for a British Navy Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, but they were canceled in 2013.
In 2018, however, the French Minister of Armed Forces said a new effort to replace Charles de Gaulle was underway. In December 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron officially unveiled the program.
The PANG will be a significant improvement over Charles de Gaulle. It will be around 984 feet long and displace some 74,000 tons, putting it on par with other active “supercarriers”, which typically displace over 65,000 tons.
Like its predecessor, the PANG will be nuclear-powered, using two K22 reactors, each capable of generating 220 megawatts. (The K15s generate 150 megawatts each.) French officials say the reactors will allow the navy to project power overseas while reducing emissions.
The PANG air wing will be larger than that of Charles de Gaulle and is expected to include at least 32 fighters as well as an undetermined number of support aircraft, helicopters and drones.
Besides the Rafale M, the air wing is expected to include the naval variant of the New Generation Fighter, a sixth-generation combat aircraft jointly developed by France, Germany and Spain. Eventually, the entire air wing of the PANG will be made up of NGFs.
The PANG will also feature EMALS and AAG – the same systems used by the US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. EMALS uses linear induction motors instead of steam, which makes it more efficient and able to launch fixed-wing aircraft more smoothly and at much faster speeds.
EMALS has been a headache for the US Navy, but recent changes have increased the reliability of the system. The Navy said in July that the EMALS and AAG aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford had performed 10,000 aircraft launches and recoveries.
Construction of the PANG is scheduled to start in 2025. Its first sea trials are scheduled to take place in 2036, followed by commissioning in 2038 – the year Charles de Gaulle is expected to leave service.
Once commissioned, the PANG will replace the Charles de Gaulle as the flagship of the French Navy. It should be in service until at least 2080.