In A First, France To Launch New Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier By 2038, Releases Its Scale Model

France’s Naval Group has launched a scale model of an all-electric, nuclear-powered, next-gen aircraft carrier that aims at replacing Charles de Gaulle in 2038.

Known now as PANG, which stands for Porte Avion Nouvelle Génération, the 75,000-tonne vessel will measure about 310m in length and 85m at the carrier deck’s widest part.

The two nuclear reactors offered by TechnicAtome will provide electricity to run three shaft drives (a larger US aircraft carrier usually boasts four shaft drives). The Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) is expected to supervise the coordination and execution of reactors that will need to be refuelled once in 10 years — indicating, in theory, the vessel could remain at sea for that time.

PANG is expected to carry approximately 32 next-generation fighters, three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes (France reportedly ordered three in 2021, to be delivered in 2028), and multiple unmanned aircraft.

It is going to be constructed by a joint venture (JV), MO Porte Avions (where MO denotes Maîtrise d’Oeuvre, i.e., execution and coordination), created in 2021 (March) between Naval Group and the Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

Aircraft Carrier
Image for representation purposes only.

The director Olivier de Saint Julien said during the Euronaval show on Tuesday in Le Bourget, Paris, that the Chantiers de l’Atlantique had a Saint Nazaire-based dry dock Tuesday on France’s west coast, which was large enough to construct the PANG.

That’s key since the Naval Group dry dock that is in existence and used for the Charles de Gaulle is way too small, as the PANG will outclass the older carrier by 68 feet in width and 159 feet in length.

Col. Philippe, the program director of PANG (for the DGA procurement agency), informed Breaking Defense that some design decisions had been made to ensure that the US and French aircraft carriers stay interoperable.

In March 2022, a US Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye made its primary landing on the Charles de Gaulle in NATO’s framework of advanced Vigilance Activities in Bulgarian and Romanian airspace. As Philippe stressed, France and the US are the two international navies operating nuclear aircraft carriers with arresters and catapults, so they must be interoperable. The French Rafales have in the past reportedly landed and also taken off from US aircraft carriers. There are no manufacturers of catapults in France. Hence, Philippe added that the PANG would be equipped with US-made electromagnetic ones, similar to those on the US Navy’s Gerald R. aircraft carriers of Ford class.

The final decision to replace the Charles de Gaulle with a nuclear-powered vessel was undertaken by President Emmanuel Macron in 2020 (December). The design may be tweaked by 2025 when the design will be fixed, Saint Julien explained.

He further explained that the initial sea trials are expected to be carried out in 2036, the vessel will be delivered to the Navy in 2037 and expected to operate from 2038. During the latter year, Charles de Gaulle can retire.

The vessel that is going to be delivered to the Navy is not going to necessarily have everything onboard that the Navy would like — at least, not at the moment.

It’s expected to be designed so that it can be modernized quickly and incrementally, and the combat system can also evolve, Saint Julien mentioned.

Saint Julien added that they do not know today what technology will be available in 15 years, so we need to permit new technology to fit easily.

PANG will boast a crew comprising 2,000 individuals; some would be experienced aircraft engineers as the Navy desires to be capable of undertaking the kind of repairs on board that typically would be carried out by the manufacturer.

References: Eurasian Times, Breaking Defense

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