The French Navy has deployed the nuclear-powered Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Middle East amid rising tensions in the region between the Western Bloc and their allies and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
According to Emmanuel Macron, France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group from January to April to support French military operations in the Middle East.
The ship was stationed off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and the task force was dispatched with the purpose “of reassuring the Saudi Kingdom… Once more our plane carrier will be the center for combined operational amongst several European countries.
“The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea”, Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military.
France is currently the only European country with a fully operational aircraft carrier outfitted for power projection operations.
At around 40,000 tons, the warship is of comparable weight to an American Wasp Class and Chinese Type 075 Class assault ships – approximately 60% lighter than the U.S. Navy’s own nuclear-powered carriers the Nimitz Class and Gerald Ford Class, and the smaller ship is considerably less efficient with only a fraction of the capacity for airstrikes.
The De Gaulle in many ways closely mirrored the American Nimitz Class supercarriers in its capabilities, but at little, over 40,000 tons was less than half the size of the American platforms and had far more limited capabilities.
The carrier remains to this day the only warship in the world outside the United States equipped with a catapult launch system – a steam system similar to that of the Nimitz Class which allows it to launch heavier fixed-wing aircraft by providing them with more energy to compensate for the short carrier runway.
Not only can fighter jets based on the Charles De Gaulle deploy with more missiles and fuller fuel tanks than those on any other non-American carrier, but a catapult system also allows the Charles De Gaulle to deploy vital support aircraft such as the E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) platform.
The E-2 was designed to operate from the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz Class but is comparable with the French warship due to its use of the same launch system.
This combined with a lack of comparable sophisticated escorts to the American Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and Ticonderoga Class cruisers makes the French naval task force far less intimidating than those from the United States which are so routinely deployed to the region.
The limited capabilities of the Rafale itself, which has yet to integrate modern air to air missiles comparable to the American AIM-120C and C and lacks stealth capabilities and other next-generation features found on American designs, further reduces the De Gaulle’s potency.
With the Iranian Navy and Air Force having trained and equipped themselves to a high standard for anti-shipping and air defence operations with engagements, with U.S. carrier strike groups in mind, France’s troubled carrier will appear far less intimidating.