For several days, a background noise has become increasingly audible in the French defense ecosphere: confronted with the budgetary constraints surrounding the next military programming law currently being drafted, the New Generation aircraft carrier program or PANG , which was nevertheless undisputed star of the Euronaval 2022 show a few weeks ago, would be under threat. Even with a significant budget increase, with 100 billion euros more between 2024 and 2030 compared to the period 2018-2025, around 400 billion euros, i.e. 57 billion euros per year on average, the available resources would not in fact be sufficient to finance the expansion of the forces with in particular the recruitment of 40 to 60,000 additional reservists, the financing of the ongoing programs (SNA Suffren, FDI, Rafale F4/ F5, Hélicoptères H160M Guépard, program SCORPION, CAESAR NG, etc.) development of new programs such as the SNLE 3G replacement for the Triomphant class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the SCAF fighter jointly developed with Germany and Spain, or the new generation French -German tank MGCS.
With a development cost that would now reach or even exceed €8 billion, which would be at least half spent on the upcoming LPM, the financing of PANG as envisaged today would require difficult arbitrations regarding other major programs. , and the Minister of Defence, Sebastien Lecornu, indicated that a reflection was now being made, not only to assess a possible postponement of the program, but also to cancel it plain and simple, to be replaced or not by an alternative solution. In this article we will study the 4 possible alternatives: giving up the aircraft carrier for the French Navy, postponing the program, designing a less impressive nuclear aircraft carrier or one or more light hybrid aircraft carriers.
Abandoning the power of the aircraft carrier would be a historic mistake.
Every time the hypothesis of the construction of an aircraft carrier is discussed in France, there are voices that question the effectiveness of this type of ship. To its adversaries today, the aircraft carrier would be an antiquated tool, too expensive for its effective effectiveness, depriving other forces of additional means also capable of striking at long range. Above all, it would now be too vulnerable to develop in a context of modern warfare. While some of these arguments can be heard, particularly regarding depriving credits for other needs, the arguments regarding the aircraft carrier’s lack of effectiveness or perceived vulnerability carry no more weight today than they did at any time. advanced in the past: in the 1950s, after the arrival of nuclear weapons, the Korean and Vietnam wars showed how critical this type of ship was; in the 1970s and 1980s with the arrival of Soviet long-range bombers armed with highly capable anti-ship missiles, against which the pair F-14 Tomcat / air-to-air missile AIM-54A Phoenix and the anti-shipping system the air AEGIS became developed, and in recent news, as the US returns to a fleet of 11 heavy aircraft carriers and develops the Lightning Carrier concept, China is making a huge effort to rapidly acquire a fleet of heavy aircraft carriers, and that several countries, e.g. such as Italy, Japan, India and South Korea, are also making great efforts to acquire them.
To paraphrase the Chief of Staff of the French Navy in front of the French deputies, if the aircraft carrier was outdated, too vulnerable or ineffective, the majority of the world’s largest navies would not make such an effort to acquire it or to strengthen their fleets. In this area, France acts as a world exception, being the only country, apart from the United States, equipped with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and equipped with catapults, which is a significant advantage from an operational point of view. – in relation to aircraft carriers that do not have them, in particular by allowing fighters to take off with maximum armament and fuel, but also by allowing certain units, such as the advanced air patrol aircraft E-2 Hawkeye, to accompany the onboard air group. In addition to the means themselves, the French Navy has the skills inherited from decades of effort and operational use to implement this tool. Depriving her, even temporarily, of this tool would lead to a loss of skill that would take many years to recover from, as was the case with the Briton.
It is precisely these skills and tools which today constitute one of the greatest added values of the French armed forces, especially in Europe and within NATO, which, like its sub-nuclear naval vessels and its submarine, air and naval air deterrent components, constitutes the country’s international legitimacy, particularly with regard to its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In other words, renouncing the combat aircraft component on board French naval aviation would be a strategic renunciation with very significant consequences on the international stage, but also on France’s attractiveness as a defense partner and as an equipment supplier.
Suspension of PANG and extension of Charles de Gaulle
In addition to an unthinkable renunciation of the French aircraft carrier, the simplest alternative at first glance would be nothing more than the change of the program by a few years, so especially the investments required to rebuild the armies’ French companies to meet the challenge of high intensity, is not limited by the ship’s development. However, such an assumption is not without risks, and even high risks. First, to achieve this, it would be important to extend Charles de Gaulle’s operational life by a few years. The ship was launched in 1994 and put into operation in 2001, and the ship will actually “only” have 37 years of operation in 2038, whereas e.g. the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Nimitz, the first ship of the same class, is still in service. after 48 years of service, and that the USS Enterprise, the first US nuclear aircraft carrier, remained in service for 51 years, serving as a reserve aircraft carrier for another 6 years thereafter.
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