Military


Charles de Gaulle

The Charles De Gaulle is a 38,000 ton, nuclear powered French aircraft carrier launched in May 1994. The ship operates a fleet of 40 Rafale M combat aircraft, the Super Etendard and three E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. The ship also supports the AS 565 Panther and Dauphin helicopters. There are two lifts, measuring 19 x 13 m, which have a load capacity of 36 tons. The hangar has a floor area of 140 x 30 metres and a height 6.1 metres. It accommodates 20 to 25 aircraft. The main deck consists of a main runway angled at 8.5 degrees to the ship's axis and an aircraft launch area forward of the island. The runway and the forward launch area are each equipped with a USN Type C13 catapult rated to handle aircraft up to 22 tonnes and capable of launching one aircraft per minute. The runway is 195 metres long and the whole deck measures 260 x 64 metres.

The ship's weapons are managed by a Senit Combat Management System, CMS Model 8. The system has the capacity to track up to 2,000 friendly and hostile targets. The weapon control system consists of two Sagem Vigy 105 optronic directors. The ship has two Sagem Vampir search and track systems. The ship is fitted with the Aster 15 surface-to-air missile launchers, Sylver vertical launch systems, installed on the edge of the deck, with two launchers (16 cells) on the starboard side forward of the bridge and two launchers on the port side aft of the bridge. The ship has two six-cell Sadral launching systems for the Mistral missile positioned on the edges of the main deck about 45 metres (starboard side) and 36 metres (port side) aft of the Aster missile launchers. The ship is also equipped with eight Giat 20F2 guns and four decoy launchers are installed, two on either side of the ship firing chaff to 8 km and infra-red flares to a range of 3 km.

When launched, Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was the largest fighting ship ever built by a European shipyard. Designed to operate 40 Rafale M aircraft, it will be the main unit of the French Navy's surface fleet. The Charles de Gaulle was officially handed over to the French Navy on 28 September 2000.

The Charles de Gaulle is the most sophisticated, highest performance warship ever built in Europe. She offers massive air power, a highly-integrated combat system, and impressive endurance. Deploying 40 modern combat planes plus early-warning aircraft, she can conduct 100 air missions a day. As the center-piece of a carrier group, she can perform vital duties in any waters.

Two catapults accelerate aircraft (Rafales, Hawkeyes, and modernized Super Étendards) to over 300 km/h in just 75 meters. The flight deck can launch one aircraft every 30 seconds or handle a mass landing of 20 aircraft in just 12 minutes. Data links (to NATO standards L16 and L11) allow Hawkeye early-warning aircraft to transmit tactical situation data in real time to naval units and combat aircraft.

The Senit 8 CMS enables CIC officers and the OTC to monitor 2,000 tracks in real time and engage air, naval and shore targets in fully-integrated mode. As part of one of the most modern systems of its type ever deployed, Aster 15 hyper-agile anti-air missiles provide protection against attacking aircraft and missiles. The aircraft carrier acts as the hub of an extensive communications network exchanging data over 50 simultaneous links with naval and air units plus shore-based command centers.

The Satrap stabilization system system offers exceptional performance. At 20 knots with the rudder at 30°, heel is just 1°. Reduced platform motion means the flight deck can handle 25-ton aircraft up to sea state 6.

In addition to state-of-the-art stabilization, communications and automation - including the Senit 8 CMS and the Shipmaster IPMS - all onboard facilities were designed and developed using the latest technologies, including CAD and virtual reality. All basic concepts correctly foreshadowed the design and construction of warships now at the proposal stage.

Safety is essential to the success of every naval mission. In peacetime, the crew's safety is the top priority. This depends not only on the inherent safety of the vessel's equipment and weapons, but also on how the crew handles the ship and how they respond to incidents and emergencies. As a result of long-term involvement in the design and development of powerplants for nuclear submarines and, more recently, the Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, safety awareness is a strong tradition at DCN. No other area of naval architecture demands stricter compliance with safety and environmental requirements, whether during normal operation or combat situations.

The procedures laid down in the DCN Reference System are based on lessons learned from the design and development of a wide range of warships. In addition to guidelines for naval architecture and design, the Reference System also details strict materials qualification processes and quality control procedures to be carried out during shipbuilding.

Dependability analyses are undertaken to check that each system's target failure rates comply with the allocated rates. The ship's Operations Manual is also based on these dependability analyses. This Manual details both normal operations and responses to failures and incidents.

Nonetheless, the Charles de Gaulle has suffered from a variety of problems [see James Dunnigan's "How NOT to Build an Aircraft Carrier"]. The Charles de Gaulle took eleven years to build, with construction beginning in 1988 and entering service in late 2000. For comparison, constructino of the American CVN 77 began in 2001 with a projected delivery in 2008. The 40,000 ton ship is slower than the conventionally powered Foch, which she it replaced. The propellers on the CDG did not work properly, so she recycled those of the Foch. The nuclear reactor was problematic, with the engine crew receiving five times the allowable annual radiation dose. The flight deck layout has precluded operating the E-2 radar aircraft.

Six years after the Charles de Gaulle was first brought into active service on May 18, 2001, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier entered the Vauban docks in Toulon on July 31, 2007 to begin, on September 1, its first major refueling and complex overhaul operation, due to last a total of 15 months, including 12 months in the dry dock and 3 months at its berth. On August 22 - the day the aircraft carrier sailed out of the dock - was a major event, demonstrating that the particularly complex refitting work had been completed according to schedule. The conditions were ideal for this delicate maneuver: the weather was perfect (a smooth sea and breeze no greater than 5 knots), the dock had been prepared and the nominal functioning and watertightness of the different equipment necessary for refloating the vessel had been validated.

With the DCNS Group acting as the prime contractor, the aim of the refueling and complex overhaul operation of the aircraft carrier CVN Charles-de-Gaulle is to bring the warship back to full operational power. The refitting work will make it possible, in particular, to update key installations such as the core of the nuclear reactor and the aircraft carrier's information and command systems, and allow them to work at maximum capacity.

The scheduling constraints of reactor refuelling determined the rest of the refit schedule. More specifically, while the two reactor cores were being refuelled and the entire stream generating system checked out, a large number of tasks were programmed for other systems and areas.

The propulsion system was overhauled and inspected from the steam turbines to the propellers. The entire 11,000-sq.m hull was stripped then re-painted and the 7,800-sq.m flight deck resurfaced. For these two operations, DCNS adopted an environment-friendly process using industrial-scale high-pressure water jets. This new technique, tested and approved earlier by DCNS as part of the refitting of French Navy frigate Dupleix, significantly reduced the amount of waste.

The catapults, arresting gear and other flight deck systems were overhauled and inspected. The replacement of three of the ship's cooling plants, in compliance with new environmental standards, involved cutting holes in the hull for plant removal and installation.

DCNS modified the ship to accommodate Rafale combat aircraft to standard F3 and updated the command information and communication systems to the latest technological standards. The new Syracuse III terminal gives the ship significantly improved bandwidth for satellite communications which, in turn, will greatly simplify direct, high-speed data links between the ship and its aircraft. Over 80 km of new cable was installed, much of it for the new telephony-over-IP network which also offers extensive internet access.

The CVN Charles de Gaulle undergoes a nuclear refueling every 7 years. Over the 15 months between 1 September 2007 and 1 December 2008, DCNS successfully completed this exceptional project for its prime customer, the French Navy. In so doing, the Group significantly expanded its naval support service capabilities. Everything was organized with an ultimate deadline in mind - November 30, 2008 - to allow the gradual powering up of the Charles de Gaulle and its return to operational availability in the spring of 2009. The CVN Charles de Gaulle refit and upgrade was completed on 01 December 2008. Prime contractor DCNS conducted this exceptional shipyard project at a sustained pace to complete it on time in just 15 months. After modernization in 2008/2009, it must be refuelled again in 2015/2016 and around 2023/2024, then around 2030, then to around 2037.

The draft budget for 2012 envisages the preparation of the next major stop of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The second major technical stop the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, in 2016-2017, requires provision already long-term supply, hence the mention in the draft budget law for 2012, and which is found in the following years. With a expected service life of about 35-40 years, it could be retired from service around 2037 (or at worst to 2043).





NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list