FS Charles de Gaulle

From Academic Kids

Charles de Gaulle nuclear aricraft carrier
Career Missing image
French Navy Jack

Builder DCN, Brest
Power Plant Two K15 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) two shafts
Length 261.5 m overall
Flight Deck Width 64 m
Beam 31.5 m
Displacement 40,500 tons full load
Speed 27 knots (50 km/h)
Catapults Steam
(the same models as installed on the Nimitz-class supercarriers).
Aircrafts 40 aircrafts, among which
Complement Ship's Company: 1,150
Air Wing: 600
Armament Four 8 cell SYLVER launchers carrying the MBDA Aster 15 surface to air missile.

Two 6 cell Sadral launchers carrying Mistral short range missiles
Eight Giat 20F2 20 mm cannons.

Date Deployed April 2001.

The Charles de Gaulle (R91) is the tenth aircraft carrier in service with the French Marine Nationale, and the first French nuclear surface vessel. She is named after the French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.

She is the flagship of the French navy. Her complement of Dassault Rafale and E-2 Hawkeye, as well as state-of-the-art electronics and Aster missiles, give her offensive power unseen before in France.




The carrier replaced the Foch conventionally powered aircraft carrier in 2001. The Clémenceau and Foch were completed in 1961 and 1963 respectively; the requirement for a replacement was identified in the mid 1970s.

The hull was laid down in April 1989 at the DCN Brest Naval shipyard. The carrier was completed in May 1994 and at 35,500 tonnes was the largest warship launched in Western Europe since HMS Ark Royal in 1950.

She was baptised Richelieu in 1986, after the famous French politician Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duc de Richelieu (following a traditional name for capital ships in the French Navy, see battleship Richelieu for instance), but was rebaptised to Charles de Gaulle the year after by Prime Minister of the time, Jacques Chirac.

Spying incident

In 1993, a group of MI6 officers posing as engineers were discovered inspecting the vessel during its construction. It is believed they were evaluating the method of shielding the nuclear reactors.

Trials and technical problems

Missing image
Satirical strip of Le Parisien newpaper. The sign reads : "Work in progress, slow down".

The Charles de Gaulle entered sea trials in 1999 which identified the need to extend the flight deck to safely operate the E-2C Hawkeye. This operation induced a bad perception in the population, though the same operation had been performed on both the Foch and the Clémenceau when F-8 Crusader aircraft had been introduced, and that the 5 million francs for the extension were 0,025% of the total budget for the Charles de Gaulle project.

On the 28th of February 2000, a nuclear reactor trial triggered the combustion of additional isolation elements, producing a smoke incident.

Missing image
The faulty propeller, a 6-metre wide, 19-tonne mono-bloc of copper-aluminium alloy

During the night of the 9th and 10th of November 2000, in the Western Atlantic, en route toward Norfolk, Virginia, the port propeller broke, and the ship had to return to Toulon to replace the faulty element. The following investigations showed similar structural defaults in the spare propellers: bubbles in the one-piece copper-aluminium alloy propellers near the center, blamed on the supplier. As a temporary solution, the less advanced propellers of the Foch and the Clémenceau were used, limiting the maximimum speed to 24 knots (44 km/h), instead of the contractual 27 knots (50 km/h). This does not affect air operations.

On the 5th of March 2001, the Charles de Gaulle went back to the sea with two older propellers, and sailed 25,2 knots (47 km/h) on her trials.

Between July and October, the Charles de Gaulle had to be refitted once more due to abnormal noises near the starboard propeller up to 100 dB, which rendered the aft part uninhabitable.

On the 18th of May 2001, the Charles de Gaulle was officially commisionned, somewhat tainted with a reputation as a financial black hole and as a bit of a lemon.

Active Service


On the 16th of September 2001, slightly abnormal radioactivity levels aboard the Charles de Gaulle, probably due to a faulty isolation element, were reported by the French press.

While the USA were preparing their retaliation for the attack of the 11th of September 2001 in the form of "Operation Enduring Freedom", the media complained about the lack of deployable French military power. At the same time, the Defence Commission reported the maintenance of the Fleet to be substandard. In this context, the Charles de Gaulle, then under repairs, was again object of criticism, former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing mentioning a "half-aircraft-carrier".

Liaison 16

Missing image
Command bridge of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier

On the 11th of October 2001, the Cassard frigate, four AWACS aircraft and the Charles de Gaulle were involved in a successful trial of the "Liaison 16" high-bandwidth secure data network. The network allows real-time monitoring of the airspace from the South of England to the Mediterranean Sea. The collected data were also transmited in real time to the Jean Bart through the older "Liaison 11" system.

Gas incident

On the 8th of November, a sailor performing a routine mainenance task lost consciousness due to a toxic gas leak. A non-commissioned officer attempted to rescue him and collapsed as well. They were immediately rescued by the onboard medical team and sent to Toulon Hospital. Both survived.

Afghanistan : Mission Héracles

On the 21st of November 2001, France decided to send the Charles de Gaulle to the Indian Ocean to support UN operations against Afghanistan.

Task Force 473, with 2900 men under command of Contre-Amiral François Cluzel sailed on December 1st. The task force comprised of the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, frigates La Motte-Picquet, Jean de Vienne and Jean Bart, the nuclear attack submarine Rubis, the tanker Meuse and the aviso Commandant Ducuing.

The air power comprised 16 Super Etendards, one E-2C Hawkeye, two Rafale and several helicopters.

Missing image
A rare occurrence of a 5-country multinational fleet, during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Oman Sea. From the upper left to the bottom right: ITS Maestrale, FS De Grasse, USS John C. Stennis, USS Port Royal, Charles de Gaulle (R 91), HMS Ocean, FS Surcouf, USS John F. Kennedy, HNLMS Van Amstel and ITS Luigi Durand de la Penne (18th of April 2002).

On December 17, 2001, Task Force 473 was integrated in an international force, alongside USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS John C. Stennis aeronaval groups, and the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi. The force included over 100 French, US, Canadian, British, German, Italian, Dutch, Australian, Spanish and Japanese ships under a centralised inter-allied command in Bahrain.

Super Etendard aircraft carried out their first missions above Afghanistan on the 19 December, executing reconnaissance and bombing missions, covering over 3000 kilometres. Overall they carried out 140 missions, averaging 12 every day, dodging five Stinger missiles.

On February 18th, 2002, a Helios observation satellite spotted abnormal activities near Gardez. The next day, after US Special Forces in the region confirmed these observations, the Charles de Gaulle launched two reconnaissance Super Etendards. On the 20th, British and US forces entered the valley, and on the 2nd of March, "Operation Anaconda" began.

In March, Super Etendards and 6 Mirage 2000 aircraft carried out airstrikes against targets claimed to be al Qaeda. A few targets suggested by US forces were denied out of fear of hitting civilians. Nevertheless, French involvement was complimented by the US President George W. Bush, mentioning "our good ally, France, who deployed a quarter of her Navy in Operation Enduring Freedom" (11 March 2002)[1] (http://www.brookings.edu/fp/cusf/analysis/shapiro.pdf). At this point, the French air complement had been increased to 16 Super Etendards, 6 Mirage 2000 D, 5 Rafale, two KC-135 air tankers, and two Hawkeye AWACS. From February, the Charles de Gaulle and the USS John C. Stennis exchanged a few aircraft as a means of strengthening the ties between the allies.

Missing image
Charles de Gaulle and USS Enterprise, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier

On May 2nd, the Charles de Gaulle arrived in Singapore for a relief, and returned to Oman on the 18th. At the same time, tension began to increase over the question of Iraq; Vice-Amiral Francois Cluzel declared before the press: "France is opposed to any military action against Iraq. Should anything of this nature be undertaken, we would be unlikely to be part of the coalition".

Indian-Pakistani crisis

From the 9th to the 19th of June 2002, the Charles de Gaulle and her group carried out interposition missions to ease the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The Rafales patroled the Indian and Pakistani coasts, armed with live air-air munitions, with the aim of preventing incidents such as in 1999 when a Pakistani Breguet Atlantique coming from the sea, possibly on an intelligence mission, was shot down by Indian forces.

Rescue mission

On the 9th of October, the CrossMed (Regional Operational Centre for Monitoring and Rescue in Mediterranean Sea) received a distress call on the 8-metre Babolin, whose hull was leaking. The Charles de Gaulle, on manouvers in the region, sent a helicopter which airlifted the three-man crew, in spite of a 35-knot wind, troubled sea and bad visibility.

Integration in the future Navy

The French navy is usually a two-carrier navy, mainly to ensure that at least one ship is operational at all time even if the other is under repair. This scheme calls for another aircraft carrier to be built.

The emerging European forces have made equipment standardisation both a necessity and a way to reduce costs. In this context, projects have been drafted to merge the British and French projects for future carriers.

It is possible that the new ship series could be build on the British design, incorporating the recent experience with the Charles de Gaulle.

Compromises might have to be made in such a scenario: the new carrier would likely be conventionally propelled to meet the requirements of the Royal Navy, while the French Navy might favour a nuclear design, for which they have the experience and technology, and which would allow greater operational capabilities. Also, because of the size of the hull, the British would need a modular construction, while the French have the dry docks needed to build a one-piece hull.

See also: Future French aircraft carrier



  • The Charles de Gaulle will be featured in Gemo 13, a French action and espionage film.


fr:Porte-avions Charles de Gaulle

ja:シャルル・ド・ゴール (空母)


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