France-based defence conglomerate Naval Group very recently announced that Paris has approved the construction of an aircraft carrier to be powered by two nuclear reactors as a replacement for the French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle.
The ship, due to enter service by 2038, will displace 70,000 to 75,000 tonnes, meaning that it will be the largest warship afloat apart from the US Navy’s carriers. Its 32-strong air group will be made up of France’s New Generation Aircraft, a fighter-bomber which is still at the project stage, as well as E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning planes and uncrewed aerial vehicles.
The main radar system will be the Thales Sea Fire, which will have air and sea surveillance as well as fire control capabilities. Aster missiles will provide air defence.
Some analysts have expressed surprise both at the size of the projected vessel and the choice of a nuclear power plant. It is likely that the French believe that extended long-range deployments, particularly to the Indo-Pacific region, will be a frequent commitment, and a large nuclear-powered ship offers greater levels of self -sufficiency and endurance than a smaller, conventionally-powered vessel.
The French government’s strong support for its nuclear industry and a desire – for reasons of national prestige – to commission a carrier larger than UK’s 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class might also have played into these decisions.