France’s New Nuclear Aircraft Carrier

The French Minister of Defence announced on 29 March the notification of the Avant-Projet Sommaire (brief preliminary design) contract for the new generation nuclear aircraft carrier (PA NG), bringing together Naval Group, Chantiers de l'Atlantique and TechnicAtome.

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The Minister also attended the signing of the agreements creating a joint company by the CEO of Naval Group, and the General Manager of de l'Atlantique. The project management of the vessel, excluding the boiler room, is ensured by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) and the French Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA).

Naval Group is the overall architect of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its transverse systems. In particular, the company will ensure the integration of combat, navigation, and aviation systems; catapults and arresters; the production of nuclear boiler subassemblies; and the integration of these boilers into the ship.

Until 2017 known as Direction des Constructions Navales (DCNS), Naval Group constructed France’s only current Aircraft Carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, which entered service in 2001. Naval Group is the principal supplier of the French Navy, but their ships have also seen successes abroad. Such is the case for the Frégate européenne multi-mission, which, co-developed with Italy’s Fincantieri, is to be produced for US Service as the Constellation-class.

Chantiers de l'Atlantique will be responsible for the construction and integration of the ship and will provide the architecture of the powered platform. For all phases from design to construction, its activity will relate to large platform systems such as structure, electric propulsion, life function, manoeuvring and auxiliary installations and transversal activities such as hydrodynamics, while also ensuring control of industrial coordination.

Chantiers de l'Atlantique is a largely civilian shipbuilder but has cooperated with Naval Group in the construction of the Mistral-class LHD, initially slated for Russia but ultimately sold to Egypt.

The relations of the joint-venture with TechnicAtome, which has the status of a co-contractor, are being finalized.

The Project had been announced on 8 December last year by French President Emmanuel Macron. The nuclear-powered Aircraft Carrier is to be equipped with the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system developed by U.S. company General Atomics, French officials said. It will be 300 metres long and have a deadweight of 75000 tons, making it the largest warship ever built in France. It will be able to carry up to 30 Rafale fighter jets or its successor FCAS, currently being developed by France, Germany and Spain.

The French military had initially tended towards a ship with conventional propulsion, but together with Macron later opted for a nuclear-powered vessel, despite heavier construction costs, for technical and strategic reasons. “Our strategic future, our status as a great power, lies with the nuclear industry,” the French President said. According to the Ministry of Armed Forces, the French state will invest one billion Euro during the first development phase that will end in 2025.

On the occasion of the signing, the Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, also notified Naval Group of the order for two Frégate de défense et d'intervention (FDI). These two are scheduled to be completed in 2025 and follow the first FDI, named Admiral Ronarc’h, which is to be laid down in November 2021. Together with another three FDI planned, these are to join the ten FREMM and Horizon-class frigates in responding to the need for a fleet of fifteen first-class frigates and allow the French Navy to operate in a crisis zone, as recommended in the White Paper on Defence and National Security of 2013. Ultimately, it is anticipated that the FDI-class will replace the La Fayette-class.

The joint venture is owned 65% by Naval Group and 35% by Chantiers de l'Atlantique and was incorporated on March 10. It will now start its activities to carry out the brief preliminary design and risk assessment contract, whose responsibility will be transferred to the joint venture once the contract authority will have given their agreement. The preliminary draft will define the reference architecture of the ship, integrating performance requirements, respond to the operational needs of the Navy and cover the best possible scalability for what will be the flagship of the French Navy until in 2080.

By Kevin Klemann

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