France launches future aircraft carrier design work

With a 75,000t displacement, France’s future carrier would carry NGF and Rafale fighters

Paris has begun the process of designing a replacement for its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, with industrial lead Naval Group saying its successor will be “the biggest warship France has ever built”.

French President Emmanuel Macron on 8 December announced the launch of the Porte-Avions Nouvelle Generation project, which should deliver an operational replacement for the navy’s current flagship in 2038.

New vessel could operate with up to 30 NGF combat aircraft embarked.

The announcement was made during the President Macron visit to French company Framatome, an international leader in nuclear energy which designs and supplies nuclear steam systems and services.

The Charles de Gaulle, as you know, will come to the end of its life in 2038. This is why I have decided that the future aircraft carrier that will equip our country and our navy will be nuclear-powered like the Charles de Gaulle. Your plant in Le Creusot, which has been producing parts essential to our navy for a long time, will produce, among others, several major parts of the nuclear boiler of the future aircraft carrier by forging and machining them right here […] By these choices we confirm France’s desire to preserve its strategic autonomy, said French President Macron.

France’s defence ministry says the vessel should have a displacement of around 75,000t and be approximately 300m (984ft) long. It will deploy an air wing including up to 30 examples of a New Generation Fighter (NGF) now being developed by France, Germany and Spain, it adds.

A two-year preliminary design study activity will be followed by detailed design studies running until late 2025, ahead of a contract for full development and construction.

“This project will help develop jobs in the defence industrial and technological base and ensure the continuity of our skills in the current health and economic crisis,” says Naval Group chief executive Pierre Eric Pommellet. Its major industrial partners on the project are Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Dassault Aviation and TechnicAtome.

To meet the entry into service objective, Paris expects the new ship to commence trials by 2036. It will be powered by two nuclear reactors, and also feature new-generation launch and recovery equipment including electromagnetic catapults.

Naval Group notes that nuclear propulsion has “proven reliability and safety” aboard Charles de Gaulle, and ensures “considerable autonomy at sea and a great flexibility of use”.

The defence ministry says it is too early to decide whether the navy should acquire one or two replacement ships, but notes: “two aircraft carriers guarantee to always have one on alert”.

Source Naval Group

France’s current lone aircraft carrier entered operational use in 2001. The navy embarks Dassault Rafale fighters and Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control system aircraft, along with support helicopters.

Concept images of a future carrier released by Naval Group show the vessel carrying a full load of NGF combat aircraft, and a nearer-term operational mix of the type alongside Rafales, Hawkeyes and NH Industries NH90 helicopters.

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With a 75,000t displacement, France’s future carrier would carry NGF and Rafale fighters

Source: Naval Group

With a 75,000t displacement, France’s future carrier would carry NGF and Rafale fighters

The subject of a tri-national development effort as part of their Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme, the stealthy NGF – also referred to as SCAF by France – is expected to be a larger airframe than the Rafale.

“The fighter and the systems we develop will have to be compatible with navy applications, including to land on an aircraft carrier,” Bruno Fichefeux, head of FCAS for Airbus Defence & Space, said on 9 December. “Finding the right trade-off will be our challenge, and we are strongly dedicated there, with Dassault Aviation being the prime partner.

“A navy application has an impact on structure and [landing approach] speed, but maybe it can also help increase the performance by making the fighter able to fly slow and fast,” Fichefeux says.

“I am convinced that with the combined experience of Dassault Aviation and Airbus that we will find the proper trade-off to answer these requirements.”

Displacing as much as 75,000 tons of water, she’ll be much larger than Charles de Gaulle.

The extra size translates into a bigger air wing with more firepower. Where Charles de Gaulle normally accommodates 24 Rafale fighters (more in an emergency), a pair of E-2 radar planes and four helicopters, the new flattop routinely could handle 32 Rafales and three E-2s plus helicopters and drones.

The initial artist impressions released by Naval Group confirm some of the technical details which we have been reporting since July:

  • Nuclear powered (CVN) with two K22 reactors (2 x 220 MW thermal)
  • Length between 285 and 295 meters
  • Full load displacement around 70,000 – 75,000 tonnes
  • Maximum speed: 26 to 27 knots (similar to Charles de Gaulle)
  • Propulsive power would be around 80 MW delivered to three or four shaft lines
  • Total power around 110 MW, including the electrical plant
  • Future air wing: 32 Next Generation Fighters with 2 to 3 E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and a yet to be determined number of remote carriers/UCAVs
  • Two side elevators with 40 tonnes lifting capacity
  • Three 90-meter electromagnetic catapults (EMALS) by General Atomics
  • Flight deck: 16,000 m²
  • Aircraft hangar: 5,000 m²
  • Crew: 900 and 1080 sailors (not including the air element of 550 to 620 sailors) with higher comfort compared to Charles de Gaulle.
  • Thales SeaFire radar
  • PAAMS with MBDA ASTER surface to air missiles for self defense

The artist impression seems to show the presence of the new RapidFire CIWS as well.

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