France Says “Non!” to Aging Navy with MASSIVE Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Project PA NG

France orders a new generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to replace aging Charles de Gaulle.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

On April 27, French Minister of Defense Sébastien Lecornu made a significant announcement for the French Navy: the order for a new-generation aircraft carrier. This is a crucial step for the French Naval Group, Atlantic Shipyards, Naval Group’s Armaments, and Atomic Technologies, as they are now tasked with long-term service, including developing a nuclear propulsion system.

“New generation aircraft carrier: first orders launched. Notifications to Naval Group, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, and TechnicAtome for long lead-time services, notably nuclear propulsion. Extensive French industrial fabric mobilized,” the minister announced via X without providing further details.

Following the retirement of the Foch aircraft carrier, which was sold to the Brazilian Navy in the early 21st century, France was left with only the Charles de Gaulle as its sole aircraft carrier. The Charles de Gaulle undergoes major maintenance every decade, significantly reducing France’s naval projection capability. This underscores the strategic need for a second carrier, ensuring the sustained availability of its carrier air wing.

On December 8, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron officially launched the  “New Generation Aircraft Carrier” (Porte-Avions de Nouvelle Génération, abbreviated as PA NG) program during a visit to the Naval Group’s nuclear facility in Le Creusot, confirming the selection of nuclear propulsion for the new carrier. This decision aligns with the recommendation of the French Navy’s General Staff, as the new ship will be much larger than the Charles de Gaulle and will require greater power.

This ambitious project to replace the aging Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier began preliminary studies in October 2018. By 2024, the project had entered the detailed pre-project phase, with the development phase expected to be completed by late 2025. The subsequent ‘development and production’ phase will span ten years, with production and construction set to begin in early 2031 in Saint-Nazaire. The PA NG will then be transferred to Toulon by mid-2035 for outfitting, with initial sea trials commencing by the end of 2036 and delivery for testing by the end of 2037. The aim is for official commissioning by the end of 2038.

According to the latest data revealed by the French Naval Group at the 2022 European Naval Exhibition, the PA NG aircraft carrier will have a length of 310 meters, a width of 85 meters, a draft of 10.8 meters, and a full-load displacement of 75,000 tons. In comparison, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier has a length of 261.5 meters, a width of 66.5 meters, and a full-load displacement of only 42,500 tons.

The PA NG carrier is expected to feature a catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system, a standard configuration for French carriers since the 1960s. Based on the current models displayed, the PA NG carrier will be equipped with 2 to 3 90-meter-long electromagnetic catapults (the latest models only show 2), capable of carrying over 30 Franco-German Next Generation Fighter (NGF) jets and Rafale-M carrier-based fighters. The models display the E-2 “Hawkeye” carrier-based airborne early warning aircraft and NH-90 helicopters. 

As a reminder, Belgium allocated a budget of 60 million euros on April 29 to strategically position its industrial and technological foundation to maximize cooperation opportunities under the NGWS/FCAS development program. By 2025, Belgium is anticipated to join the troubled NGF project.  

The PA NG carrier will be powered by two new K22 nuclear reactors, developed in collaboration between Naval Group’s Armaments and Atomic Technologies. These reactors will provide 220 to 230 megawatts of power, enabling the carrier to reach 27 knots and operate advanced systems such as electromagnetic catapults, directed energy weapons, and high-power jammers. The electromagnetic catapults are much lighter than traditional steam catapults, and their integration will enhance operational flexibility, making them capable of launching various aircraft, from drones to next-generation fighters.

In June 2021, Framatome Défense, an industrial partner of TechnicAtome, said it had forged the first “demonstration piece” of the future K-22 nuclear reactors intended for the PA NG. This was “the preliminary step to qualify the ship’s boiler room components.”

The Military Programming Law [LPM] 2024-30 2024-30 specifies that the “overall PA-NG program will be conducted to ensure the sustainability of ‘nuclear propulsion’ skills, with particular attention paid to the design and manufacture of the new K22 boiler rooms, and then to ensure a controlled transition with the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.”


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