A second French NG nuclear aircraft carrier: Why do it? And for how much?

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It is by an enthusiastic tweet that the Renaissance MP for the second constituency of Finistère, Jean-Charles Larsonneur, announced yesterday evening the adoption by a cross-party majority of an amendment to the Military Programming Law 2024-2030, so that an in-depth study be carried out during the LPM, about the construction and implementation of a second new generation nuclear aircraft carrier, or PANG, while the first unit to replace the PAN Charles de Gaulle in 2038.

Beyond the fact that Parliament has played a much more visible and welcome role in the design of this LPM than in previous ones, the announcement of a formal study to give a clear vision of what could be done, but also of what the construction and operation of a second aircraft carrier would cost for France, is undeniably a significant step forward on a subject which, since Jacques Chirac, has continued to be postponed by successive presidents to the "next term".

How much would a second next-generation nuclear aircraft carrier cost?

It is true that an aircraft carrier, which is moreover nuclear, is expensive. Thus, the envelope for the design and construction of the successor to the PAN Charles de Gaulle is officially set at around €5 to 6 billion, with some reports even reporting €8 billion. In addition, beyond the construction and equipment of the ship itself, it should be given an experienced crew, which moreover includes a nuclear unit, as well as an effective escort and an air group sized to exploit its potential.

Thus, to implement the Charles de Gaulle, the French Navy uses a crew of almost 2000 sailors, petty officers and officers on the ship, to which are added some 500 soldiers on board its escort composed of a nuclear attack submarine, an anti-aircraft frigate, two anti-submarine frigates as well as a Fleet Supply Ship (or BRF) in a classic deployment.

The air group is made up of 2 of the 3 E2C Hawkeye aerial lookout planes, 16 to 20 Rafale M out of the 40 in service within the 3 Naval aeronautics flotillas, a few helicopters as well as the support of an Atlantic 2 maritime patrol plane, out of the twenty in service today. In total, therefore, the Naval Air Group is made up of 6 ships, 25 aircraft and 3500 soldiers, the equivalent of 3 Army regiments.

charles de gaulle aircraft carrier FREMM
The PAN Charles de Gaulle is generally accompanied by an anti-aircraft frigate, two anti-submarine frigates, a logistics building as well as a nuclear attack submarine and a patrol aircraft maritime

In fact, the announcement of the study that will be carried out during the next LPM has puzzled many observers: will France have the means to finance the construction of the ship and its escort? will the French Navy be able to provide the new ships and flotillas with the required personnel? Wouldn't there be better to do with this amount than to acquire a second Naval Air Group?

What advantages would a second nuclear aircraft carrier bring?

As often, the questions, just like the answers put forward, depend on the point of view taken by the person who asks them, while the options are numerous, both from a budgetary and HR point of view, to answer them in the years to come, according to the stated ambitions.

First of all, it is essential to clarify the interest, for France, of acquiring a second aircraft carrier. We will not return to the recurring dispute between experts for several years, and even decades, about the supposed new vulnerability of aircraft carriers to now hypersonic missiles.

As we have already shown, this vulnerability is neither new nor even greater than it was in decades past, even as aircraft carriers have played a decisive role in controlling the oceans and conflicts since the Second World War.

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