US To Boost French Aircraft Carriers With Hi-Tech Fighter Jet Launch System; Cements Ties After AUKUS Setback

The US has approved the sale of a sophisticated system to France after months of disenchantment between the two traditional partners. Their ties have hit a rough patch owing to France’s exclusion from the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) arrangement, a move seen as a diplomatic and military snub to Paris.

The Biden administration has approved the sale of an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) worth more than $1.32 billion for France’s future aircraft carrier, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). The deal is going to proceed through the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) route, as reported by Naval News.

“The State Department has made a decision to approve a possible Foreign Military Sale to the government of France of Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), and related equipment for an estimated cost of $ 1.321 billion,” the DSCA said in a press release on December 21.

The DSCA delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale, the release said.

“The government of France has requested to buy one Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), two launcher configurations, one Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) and three engine configurations,” it added.

The prime contractors for the project will be General Atomics-Electromagnetic Systems Group in San Diego, California, and Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Virginia, according to the DSCA release.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System at Naval Air Systems Command, Lakehurst, launching a United States Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet during a test on 18 December 2010

The release was also indicative of the American commitment towards strengthening the French military as well as ensuring interoperability between their armed forces. It highlighted how the security of NATO ally France was indispensable for the political stability and economic progress of Europe.

The release mentioned that “interoperability between the US and France will be maintained as a result of the proposed deal. The next-generation aircraft carrier program in France will include EMALS and AAG. This equipment will be easily integrated into France’s military forces.”

The American submission to Congress also hints at the value that France as an ally holds in the United States. It seems to have been striking a balance between its commitment to Australia and its responsibility towards France.

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The release further said that “to support shipboard system installation, commissioning, certification, aircraft compatibility testing, flight deck certification, and sea trials, roughly 40 US government and contractor representatives will be assigned to France for 10 weeks per year in the calendar years 2033-2038.

However, it also assured Congress and all Americans that the planned transaction will have no negative impact on the United States’ defense readiness.

What Is EMALS?

Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) employs electromagnetic technology to launch aircraft from the decks of aircraft carriers and has a number of advantages over existing launch systems.

File Image: Rafale Marine

Currently, most countries use steam-catapult systems on their aircraft carriers. However, catapults driven by steam have a number of drawbacks. By virtue of being such massive systems, they necessitate a lot of labor for the purpose of managing and maintenance.

They’ve reached a limit in terms of power generation, and as a result, they won’t be able to handle future bigger aircraft.

Because the launch of a steam catapult is not smooth, it has a severe influence on the aircraft’s life. The amount of steam required is determined by the weight of the aircraft, but after the launch begins, there is no ability to fine-tune the amount of steam used.

USS Gerald R. Ford - Wikipedia
USS Gerald R. Ford (via Wikipedia)

Given some of these restrictions, General Atomics has developed EMALS for the US Navy’s newest aircraft carriers. The various limitations associated with the steam-backed catapult are the reason behind the French readiness to acquire the EMALS for its new futuristic aircraft carrier.

The EMALS developed by General Atomics has increased launch operational ability, flexible architecture to suit different platforms, capable of launching a wide range of aircraft weights. It is expected to reduce manning and lifecycle cost, thermal signature, and topside weight and installed volume.

The massive carrier being built by France for which EMALS is being acquired will be larger than the existing one. The electromagnetic catapult system will be used for launching Rafale fighter jets and a maritime variant of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which is already in development.

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The success of the EMALS recorded on the American Ford carrier has made it a very significant and enticing purchase for the French Navy. It will allow France to cut costs, reduce manpower and allow the new next-generation carrier more efficient and versatile.

The US’ alacrity in approving the purchase could be an effort at expediting the normalization of the relationship between the two partners, each indispensable for the other.

Rapprochement Through the Military Route?

Earlier, France had announced in 2018 that it had started talks with the United States regarding the purchase of EMALS for its future aircraft carriers. The program to build these aircraft carriers was named as ‘Porte-avions de nouvelle génération’ (PANG).

In December 2020, President Macron announced that the carrier project was moving ahead. The French Armaments Procurement Agency‘s Gen. Nicolas Hué and the French Navy’s Rear Adm. Eric Malbrunot, Deputy chief of naval operations for planning and programs, accompanied the USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN-78) final autonomous steaming event of post-delivery test and trials in April this year.

France-nuclear-powered Carrier
Artist’s rendering of France’s future nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with three EMALS catapults. (Naval Group image)

The EMALS and AAG that are being purchased for its own aircraft carrier are currently installed on the American USS Gerald R. Ford carrier.

During the ship’s 18-month Post Delivery Test & Trial (PDT&T) period earlier this year, the systems met the US Navy’s target of 8,000 successful aircraft launches and recoveries. This has been all the more reason for the French Navy to call for the purchase of these systems as it ventures out to secure its own seas and carve out its own Indo-Pacific policy to counter China at the seas.

Collaborating on strengthening the French Navy’s capability could also be seen as a natural and obvious choice as both France and the United States are interested in improving maritime security, law enforcement, and legal norms at sea, as they aim to establish large exclusive economic zones.

Thus, a greater level of cooperation aboard aircraft carriers is an excellent place to start, according to Forbes.

After the announcement of the AUKUS defense deal between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, American officials have been shuttling through Paris for the better part of October, doing damage control. The failure of Australia’s $65 billion plan to buy 12 “Shortfin” Barracuda Class submarines from France intensified French rage over the poorly stated strategic snub.

Even though this current sale has been in the works for the last two years and gained momentum even before the AUKUS was formed, it is still capable of strengthening military and diplomatic relationships between the United States and France.