French President Emmanuel Macron is prepared to authorize development of his country’s next-gen aircraft carrier. The carrier, known as PANG, will replace Charles de Gaulle as well as serve as a platform for France’s future air combat aircraft.
According to Naval News, the French President is expected to green light the PANG (Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation or new generation aircraft carrier) program.
Several carrier configurations (conventional or nuclear-powered among other things) have been submitted to Emmanuel Macron for review.
The French President will have the final word, based on recommendations by experts in the field. Of course, the choice will not be limited to technical capabilities.
The total cost of ownership and impact on the French shipbuilding industry (and jobs) are expected to be major decision factors as well, especially in these times of uncertainty due to the pandemic.
President Macron will also have to decide whether the PANG program is limited to a single replacement of the sole Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier or if the program calls for the construction of two flat-tops from the get-go.
France Aircraft Carrier History
In the late 1980s, France began construction on the first of what was planned to be two aircraft carriers, replacements for the then-serving carriers Foch and Clemenceau.
This began a 14-year odyssey of development that was at times slowed due to lack of funds, faulty propellers, an inadequately long flight deck, and insufficient radiation shielding for the nuclear reactor. Although delivered to the fleet in 2000, the ship didn’t reach its full potential until a refit in 2007. In the meantime a second nuclear-powered carrier, known as PA2, was canceled due to lack of funds.
Charles de Gaulle is France’s only aircraft carrier. de Gaulle is nuclear powered, 856 feet long, and displaces 43,000 tons. The carrier is less than half the size of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz and Ford-class carriers but can still carry up to 30 aircraft.
The carrier’s primary striking power is provided by the Rafale-M multi-role fighter jet. A feature that places the de Gaulle ahead of Chinese and even British aircraft carriers is the ability to operate E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control planes. The E-2C vastly increases the usefulness of de Gaulle’s fighters, detecting enemies and then vectoring Rafales to intercept them beyond surface radar range.
PANG missions and capabilities
The three main missions that are requested under the PANG program have been identified and published by the MP Jean-Charles Larsonneur (who serves on the Defense Committee of the French National Assembly). These missions are:
• Implementation of the Force Aéronavale Nucléaire (the Naval Nuclear Aviation Force known as FANu);
• Land strike capabilities by the implementation of the various elements of the Future Air Combat System (FCAS) including the capability to enter “first and alone” in contested airspace.
• Sea control in blue water
France wants the new carrier ready to take over by 2038, when CDG will be 40 years old.
PANG will be a 70,000-ton ship, nearly twice as large as the older carrier by weight. According to Naval News, it will also likely utilize nuclear propulsion.
France has territories and interests around the world and a nuclear-powered ship could steam to a crisis without stopping to refuel. A nuclear reactor could also allow France to install laser weapons and other high-energy weapons on board, either as part of the initial weapons package or down the road in a future upgrade.
One key technology aboard CDG is likely to be USA-made. France is reportedly very interested in the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS) in use on the aircraft carrier USS Ford.
EMALS has had more than its share of problems but the French note the system seems to be working much better now. The carrier might have three EMALS systems to the Ford’s four, allowing it to launch up to three aircraft in a short period of time. As a top U.S. ally and close cooperator with the U.S. Navy on carrier aviation, France will likely get this system and whatever else it wants from the U.S.
Naval News believes PANG will typically embark on 32 NGF fighters—France’s next-generation fighter jet—and 2-3 E-2D Hawkeyes. A joint Spanish-German-French project, New Generation Fighter (NGF) is set to replace the 1980s-era Rafale-M fighter on PANG. It will almost certainly be accompanied by carrier-based drones capable of reconnaissance, strike, or midair refueling missions.