Still tiny, the design of France’s next aircraft carrier takes shape

PARIS — France’s Defense Ministry and industry leaders presented a first mockup of the country’s next-generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier here this week during the biennial Euronaval trade conference.

The new carrier is expected to replace the French Navy’s current aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, by 2038. Naval Group and Chantiers de l’Atlantique are building the ship together as part of the temporary MO Porte Avions joint venture, and Technic Atome will supply the two nuclear reactors to power the ship.

It will be a significantly larger ship than its predecessor, expected to weigh over 82,000 tons and be over 1,000 feet long, measuring 279 feet at its widest point. For comparison, the Charles de Gaulle weighs about 42,000 tons and measures just under 900 feet long.

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Senior defense officials including Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, French Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Pierre Vandier and Military Procurement Director Emmanuel Chiva met with Naval Group President Pierre-Eric Pommelet outside the company’s booth on day one of the conference to view a scale model to review the future ship currently known as PA-NG for the French Porte Avion Nouvelle generation.

Preliminary studies for the program were initiated in 2018. French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2020 decision to use nuclear power for the next aircraft carrier kicked off a preliminary design phase in March 2021, which is now expected to conclude in March 2023, said program director Olivier de Sankt Julien.

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The scale model on display represents the current state of the industry team’s design and will evolve as the design phase progresses, he told Defense News at the conference. While many details such as defense systems and weapons are yet to be decided, the carrier is expected to have space for around 30 aircraft, as well as a number of unmanned systems on board.

The final design is expected to be finalized by 2025 when the development phase begins. Construction is to take place at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyards in Saint-Nazaire on the west coast of France. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the ship will then be transferred to Toulon for final assembly. Sea trials are planned for 2036, delivery to the Navy the following year and operational capability for 2038, when the Charles de Gaulle is expected to be retired.

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French lawmakers have previously considered building a second aircraft carrier. De Saint Julien said MPs have requested studies from industry partners to assess the feasibility of a second ship, but no decisions have been made on the matter so far.

“Yes, French industry is capable of building a second aircraft carrier if we are asked to do so,” he said.

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