Charles de Gaulle (R91) is the only serving French aircraft carrier and is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). She is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the first and only nuclear-powered carrier built outside of the United States Navy. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.
The ship carries a complement of Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard, Dassault Rafale M and E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is the second largest European carrier, after the Admiral Kuznetsov. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses a shorter version of the catapult system than that installed on the US Nimitz class carriers, the 75 m C13-3 steam catapult.
The carrier replaced Foch, a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier, in 2001. Clemenceau and Foch were completed in 1961 and 1963 respectively; the requirement for a replacement was identified in the mid-1970s.
The hull was laid down in April 1989 at the DCNS Brest naval shipyard. The carrier was completed in May 1994 and at 35,500 tonnes was the largest warship launched in Western Europe since 1951. She was to be named Richelieu in 1986 by the French president at the time, François Mitterrand, after the famous French politician Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duc de Richelieu (following a traditional name for capital ships in the French Navy, see battleship Richelieu for instance). On 7 February 1987, however, after a ferocious row, the name of the ship was changed to Charles de Gaulle by the Gaullist Prime Minister at the time, Jacques Chirac.
Construction quickly fell behind schedule as the project was starved of funding, which was worsened by the economic recession in the early 1990s. Total costs for the vessel would top €3 billion. Work on the ship was suspended altogether on four occasions: 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1995. The ship was commissioned on 18 May 2001, five years behind the projected deadline.
In 1993, it was alleged by The Guardian that a group of engineers inspecting the vessel during her construction were MI6 operatives, believed to have been evaluating the method of shielding the nuclear reactors, amongst other technical details. However, the newspaper published a denial by both the British government and the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire that there had been any incident.
First major overhaul
Charles de Gaulle's first major overhaul began in September 2007. The highlight of this 15-month refit was the refueling of the nuclear power plant, a necessary step after six years in service, during which Charles de Gaulle sailed the equivalent of 12 times around the world, spent 900 days at sea, and performed 19,000 catapult launches. Several improvements will also be made, including the installation of new propellers. These will allow the Charles de Gaulle to reach her design speed of 27 knots, replacing the vintage propellers used as a stop-gap since 2001. Aircraft maintenance and weapons stores will also be upgraded to allow operation of new Rafale F3 fighters armed with ASMP-A nuclear missiles and SCALP EG cruise missiles, and satellite communications bandwidth will be increased tenfold. The refit was completed in December 2008 but following technical problems in March 2009 the carrier is back in Toulon for repairs. An intensive work-up period is planned to bring the Charles de Gaulle and her airgroup back to operational status.
On 14 October 2010, a four month cruise was cut down to a single day when the ship suffered an electrical fault in its propulsion system.
Fifth overseas deployment:
Task Force 473 & Operation Agapanthus 2010A French naval task group, designated Task Force 473, led by the Charles de Gaulle departed Toulon on 30 October 2010 for a four-month deployment, code-named Operation Agapanthus 2010, to the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean. and Persian Gulf.The task group also included the frigates Forbin and Tourville; a nuclear attack submarine Améthyste; a replenishment oiler Meuse, 3,000 sailors, and an Embarked Aviation Group (EAG) consiting of 12 Super-Étendard attack aircraft, 10 Rafale multi-role fighters, and two E-2C Hawkeye 2000 AEW aircraft. The task group commander, Rear Admiral Jean-Louis Kerignard, defined force's mission as follows:
The force would help allied navies fight piracy off the coast of Somalia and send jets to support NATO in the skies above Afghanistan."
Once on station, Task Force 473 joined two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups operating in the Persian Gulf (pictured), the Carrier Strike Group Nine led by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and Carrier Strike Group Ten led by the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) . On 28 November 2010, according to an Associated Press dispatch, the French Ministry of Defense announced that a French Rafale fighter jet crashed near the Charles de Gaulle which was operating 60 miles (100 kilometres) off the coast of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea in support of coaltion forces in Afghanistan. The pilot parachuted to safety and was picked up by helicopter, and the cause of the crash was under investigation.
In December 2010, during its deployment to the Persian Gulf, the British Type 22 frigate Cumberland rotated from its maritime security patrol to escort Charles de Gaulle in support of coalition military operations in Afghanistan. This represented an example of interoperability pursuant to the recently-ratified Anglo-Franco defence cooperation treaty.
Between 7–14 January 2011, Task Force 473 participated with bilateral naval exercise, code named Varuna 10, with the Indian Navy. Indian naval units participating in Varuna 10 included the aircraft carrier Viraat, the frigates Godavari and Ganga; and the diesel-electric submarine Shalki. Varuna 10 was a two-phase naval exercise, with the harbor phase taking place between 7–11 January and the sea phase between 11–14 January in the Arabian Sea. The carrier Charles de Gualle and the frigate Fobin paid a goodwill visit to Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates, on 30 January 2011, docking at its container terminal facilities.
Operation Agapanthus 2010 concluded on 21 February 2011.
Task Force 473 completed more than 1,000 flying hours flown from the Charles de Gualle in support of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan. Task Force 473 also participated in bilateral exercises with armed forces of India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to test the interoperability of French military forces and share expertise with the regional partners.
Name: Charles de Gaulle (R91)
Ordered: 3 February 1986
Laid down: 14 April 1989
Launched: 7 May 1994
Commissioned: 18 May 2001
In service: 18 May 2001
Renamed: Laid down as Richelieu, renamed Charles de Gaulle in 1987
Homeport: Toulon, France
Honours and awards: Jack with the colours of the Free French Forces (front) and the ribbon of the Ordre de la Libération (back)
Fate: Active in service as of March 2010
Class and type: Unique aircraft carrier
Displacement: 37,085 tonnes (standard) 42,000 tonnes (full load)
Length: 261.5 metres (858 ft) overall
Beam: 64.36 metres (211.2 ft) overall
Draught: 9.43 metres (30.9 ft)
Propulsion: 2 × K15 pressurised water reactors (PWR), 150 MW each
4 × diesel-electric
2 × shafts
Speed: 27 knots (50 km/h)
Range: Essentially unlimited distance; 20 years
Endurance: 45 days of food
Capacity: 800 commandos, 500 tonnes of ammunitions
Complement: Ship's company: 1,350
Air wing: 600
Sensors and processing systems: DRBJ 11 B tridimensional air search radar
DRBV 26D air search radar
DRBV 15C low altitude air search radar
Arabel target acquisition radar
Electronic warfare and decoys: ARBR 21 Detector
ARBB 33 Countermeasures suite
ARBG2 MAIGRET Interceptor
4 × Sagaie decoys launcher
SLAT (Système de lutte anti-torpille) torpedo countermeasures
Armament: 4 × 8 cell SYLVER launchers carrying the MBDA Aster 15 surface to air missile.
2 × 6 cell Sadral launchers carrying Mistral short range missiles
8 × Giat 20F2 20 mm cannons.
Aircraft carried: 28 - 35 aircraft, including
*SA365 Dauphin helicopters