In December 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the launch of a new aircraft carrier program for the French Navy. Intended to replace the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle by 2038, this new ship, of which it is currently unknown whether it will include one or two buildings, will be much more imposing than its predecessor, with a length of 300 meters and a displacement of 70,000 tonnes, compared to 261.5 meters and 42,500 tonnes for the Charles de Gaulle, and will be powered by two K-22 nuclear reactors of 220 Megawatt each, where the two K-15s of the CdG only deliver 150 mW, of to meet the needs imposed by the new NGF combat aircraft developed as part of the FCAS program, and which will also be more imposing than the Rafale which today equips the combat fleets of the French Naval Aeronautics. Although sometimes subject to criticism, this program is today essential to maintaining French power projection capabilities, while the country must be able to intervene throughout the planet due to its overseas territories and interests. .
However, whether it is the PAN Charles de Gaulle today, or the PANG from 2038 if the construction of a second ship was not completed, having a single aircraft carrier is not not without imposing certain restrictions, particularly in terms of availability. During the period preceding the period of Periodic Unavailability to recharge the nuclear reactors and modernize the on-board systems in 2019, the Charles de Gaulle had demonstrated exemplary availability, with more than 240 days on an operational mission on the last year. But such a pace, imposed by tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, cannot be sustained over time, whereas at a normal pace, the availability of the French Naval Air Group does not exceed 200 days at sea per year. While international tensions have been increasing for several years, in the Europe zone as in the Middle East and in the Indo-Pacific zone, it seems essential to increase this availability so as to offer the French Navy and France the capacity to weigh on crises and issues. In this article, we will study two approaches likely to provide a response to this problem in a way that is sustainable from a budgetary point of view and effective from an operational point of view.
The principle of double crew
The first approach is also the simplest to implement, since it is based on a solution used for several decades for French nuclear submarines, and more recently for certain frigates , by equipping these ships not with a , but with two crews. The paradigm of this approach is obvious, since it is based on the fact that today, the most restrictive and constraining criterion concerning the maintenance at sea of a large naval unit is not technical but human. In other words, it is the fatigue of the crews, and not the equipment, which forces submarines and frigates to limit the duration of their deployments or the taking of operational alert. In addition, while on-board systems are increasingly complex to maintain and implement, the training needs of personnel are greater, requiring greater periods of time devoted to training for crews. Since it is more difficult and restrictive to carry out partial personnel rotations on board a ship in combat, and at the same time, sailors, like all military personnel, today aspire more to preserve a certain space devoted to family life, the human factor is undoubtedly the most restrictive with regard to the availability at sea of a combat ship.
In this context, relying on a double crew has numerous advantages. In fact, by doing this, it is possible to increase the operational availability of the building by 50%, while reducing the operational pressure on each crew by 25%. More concretely, if the PAN Charles de Gaulle must today support an operational activity of 200 days at sea per year, including 40 devoted to the training and qualification of crews and 160 days in operational deployment, a double crew would make it possible to reach 300 days at sea, the limit of what the ship can support from a technical point of view, while the training and qualification requirements would only be increased by 20 days, giving it an operational availability of 240 days a year. At the same time, each crew would only be on board 150 days per year, providing greater flexibility to the staff in planning training and training, while improving the quality of life of the sailors themselves. .
This solution is also relatively economical to implement. Indeed, if the crew of the Charles de Gaulle is 2000 men and women strong, only 1200 of them actually belong to the aircraft carrier itself, the rest being detached by the General Staff and by the flotillas and squadrons of naval aeronautics. In addition, several frigates constituting the escort of the aircraft carrier have already been double-crewed, and the French Navy has ordered 4 new Fleet Supply Buildings, the logistics ships which support the activity of the carrier. aircraft and Assault Helicopter Carriers, a fleet sufficiently sized to support such an increase in operational activity. In other words, the doubling of the crew will only concern the 1,200 crew members of the PAN, while the flotillas and squadrons will only need to increase their numbers in such a scenario. of 300 people to maintain such a pace, i.e. 1,500 new staff with an average budgetary cost of less than €75 million per year.
In terms of aerial means, in order to have the optimum means for this renewed activity, it would be welcome, but by no means necessary, to increase the format of onboard hunting by 15 new aircraft, i.e. a new flotilla, and to have an additional E-2D Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, i.e. an additional budget of €1.8 billion that can be spread gradually over several years, so as to reduce its relative weight. It should be noted, ideally, that it could be largely relevant, in such a hypothesis, to oversize Flotilla 12F specialized in aerial air defense with 5 additional aircraft, and to specialize the new flotilla created in electronic warfare and suppression missions. air defenses, by equipping itself with an adapted version of the Rafale for this mission . Thus equipped, on-board naval aeronautics would be highly efficient, and would offer France advanced operational availability for a final cost that is ultimately largely sustainable for public finances.
The light escort aircraft carrier
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