Loaded With Rafale-M & FCAS, France Unveils The Latest Model Of Next-Gen Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier

Naval Group, a leading French shipbuilding defense company, unveiled a scale model of the nuclear-powered, next-generation aircraft carrier during the biennial Euronaval trade conference.

The warship, designated as New Generation Aircraft Carrier (PA-NG), is scheduled to replace the current aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, of the French Navy by 2038.

PA-NG is expected to have the capacity to carry up to roughly 32 new generation fighters that are likely to be a combination of Rafale M and FCAS (French: Système de combat aerial du Futur; SCAF), three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, helicopters, and several unmanned aircraft.

In 2021, France placed an order for three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, which are scheduled to arrive in 2028. Preliminary studies on the program began in 2018.  President Emmanuel Macron decided to replace the Charles de Gaulle with another nuclear-powered ship in December 2020. 

French Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Pierre Vandier (L) points out design elements on a scale model of the service’s future nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as military-procurement chief Emmanuel Chiva (second from left), French Minister of Defense Sebastien Lecornu (middle), and Naval Group President Pierre-Eric Pommelet (second from right) look on, at the Euronaval conference in Paris on Oct. 18, 2022. (French MOD photo)

The vessel will be constructed by MO Porte Avions, a joint venture formed in March 2021 by Naval Group and Chantiers de l’Atlantique. The ship will be 75,000 tons in weight, 310 meters (1,017 feet) long, and 85 meters (279 feet) broad at its widest point on the carrier deck.

The two nuclear reactors that TechnicAtome is supplying will drive three shaft drives. The CEA (Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission) atomic energy commission will oversee the operation and coordination of the reactors. 

The ship could theoretically remain at sea for that entire period since the reactors only need to be refueled once every ten years.

An Evolving Design 

Olivier de Saint Julien, the program director, said that the preliminary design phase began in March 2021 and is now expected to be finished in March 2023. The next-generation aircraft carrier’s main features were depicted in an animated film by the French Navy in April 2022. 

The scale model on exhibit depicts the design as it stands, but it will evolve as the design phase progresses. Saint Julien also noted that the plan unveiled now might be altered before it is finalized in 2025. 

The carrier’s island exhibits the design progression that is the most noticeable. Its conceptual model has evolved significantly from the initial concept displayed in 2020: It used to be shaped like a “water drop,” but it is now more “square,” Naval News said

Both the mast and the bridge have changed in appearance. The SeaFire radar is still present in the new model on exhibit at Euronaval (in a configuration with four fixed panels), but the “cone” that once stood atop the island has been replaced with a collection of domes for satellite communication. 

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that the ship would be built in the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyards in Saint-Nazaire, on France’s west coast. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the ship will be sent to Toulon for final assembly. 

The latest design of the PANG on Naval Group stand at Euronaval 2022.

The warship’s sea trials are scheduled for 2036, and the Navy is expected to receive them the following year. The ship is slated to be operational in 2038, which is also Charles de Gaulle’s planned retirement year. 

Collar. Philippe, the PANG program director for the DGA procurement agency, said that some design choices were made to maintain interoperability between French and US aircraft carriers. 

In March 2022, a US Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye successfully made a maiden landing on the Charles de Gaulle. The mission was conducted as part of NATO’s increased vigilance activities in Romanian and Bulgarian airspace. 

Philippe emphasized that it is critical for French and the United States navies to be able to interact with one another because they are “the only two navies in the world operating nuclear aircraft carriers with catapults and arresters.”

The PANG will use electromagnetic catapults made in the US, similar to those used on Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers deployed by the US Navy, he added, because there are no French catapult manufacturers. 

Nevertheless, the idea of ​​having a second aircraft carrier built has been discussed by French parliamentarians in the past. De Saint Julien stated that while lawmakers have asked business partners to conduct studies to determine whether a second ship is feasible, no decisions have been made yet.