France’s Next-Gen Aircraft Carrier Begins To Take Shape
In the late 1980s, France began construction on the first of what was planned to be two aircraft carriers, replacements for the then-serving carriers Foch and Clemenceau. This began a 14-year odyssey of development that was at times slowed due to lack of funds, faulty propellers, an inadequately long flight deck, and insufficient radiation shielding for the nuclear reactor. Although delivered to the fleet in 2000, the ship didn’t reach its full potential until a refit in 2007. In the meantime a second nuclear-powered carrier, known as PA2, was canceled due to lack of funds.
Charles de Gaulle is France’s only aircraft carrier. de Gaulle is nuclear powered, 856 feet long, and displaces 43,000 tons. The carrier is less than half the size of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz and Ford-class carriers but can still carry up to 30 aircraft. The carrier’s primary striking power is provided by the Rafale-M multi-role fighter jet. A feature that places the de Gaulle ahead of Chinese and even British aircraft carriers is the ability to operate E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control planes. The E-2C vastly increases the usefulness of de Gaulle’s fighters, detecting enemies and then vectoring Rafales to intercept them beyond surface radar range.
France wants the new carrier ready to take over by 2038, when CDG will be 40 years old. PANG will be a 70,000 ton ship, nearly twice as large as the older carrier by weight. According to Naval News it will also likely utilize nuclear propulsion. France has territories and interests around the world and a nuclear-powered ship could steam to a crisis without stopping to refuel. A nuclear reactor could also allow France to install laser weapons and other high-energy weapons onboard, either as part of the initial weapons package or down the road in a future upgrade.