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Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation [PANG]

By Bastille day (14 July 2020), the French President is expected to green light the PANG (Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation or new generation aircraft carrier) program. Emmanuel Macron can take a decision during the course of the year, in particular with regard to the type of propulsion adopted and possibly the number of aircraft carriers to be built. Two new units would indeed make it possible to recover permanent operational availability of this leading diplomatic and military tool, which France has lost since the withdrawal of service from the Clémenceau / Foch tandem, the abandonment of the construction of the Charles de Gaulle sistership and the failure of an alternative solution (PA2).

The PANG will be a platform of around 280 meters and 70,000 tpc. A difference which is mechanically justified by the fact that the future on-board combat aircraft (called to be developed within the framework of the SCAF program) will be of the 30-ton class, against a little more than 20 tons for the current Rafale Marine. It will also be necessary to provide much more space for new armaments and drones.

The decision to build a Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation [PANG - new generation aircraft carrier] is included in the Strategic Review and the military programming law 2019-2025, without its characteristics and funding being specified. What will the next French aircraft carrier which will succeed Charles-de-Gaulle in 2038 look like? "The contours are sketched, but it is still too early to reveal precise drawings" assured the Minister for the Armies Florence Parly, on 18 May 202, during a visit of the Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire. Where the future boat will be built. According to La Tribune, the minister ruled in favor of nuclear propulsion , during a ministerial investment committee in late February 2020.

It was still too early to discuss the budget for the construction of the ship intended to take over from the "Charles-de-Gaulle" which "will reach the end of its life in 2038-2040". "The military programming law provides for the budget for studies and when the President of the Republic has made his decisions, most of the resources intended for the construction of this new aircraft carrier will appear in a forthcoming military programming law", Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly explained 17 May 2020. "We are working in the form of studies" on this new generation aircraft carrier, continued the minister, and "we will have the opportunity to talk about it in a few months since the President of the Republic will be called upon to take decisions in this area in a few months."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 11 March 2019 endorsed some of the key European reform ideas put forward by her successor to the Christian Democratic Union leadership Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, including a joint EU aircraft carrier. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Merkel as leader of the CDU in December 2018, etched out her vision in a response to French President Emmanuel Macron's proposals for European Union reform. Having spoken in favor of greater European defense cooperation, Merkel said that a joint aircraft carrier would be a good idea in future, even if it was not the bloc's first priority.

In an op-ed published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Kramp-Karrenbauer noted that Germany and France were already working together on a future European combat aircraft and said that "the next step could be to start on the symbolic project of building a common European aircraft carrier to give shape to the role of the European Union as a global force for security and peace.” Merkel, who had previously spoken in favor of greater European defence cooperation, said that a joint aircraft carrier would be a good idea in the future, but added that the bloc does "have to do other things as a priority." "It's right and good that we have such equipment on the European side, and I'm happy to work on it," Merkel said.

“The 'European aircraft carrier' is such a ridiculous and meaningless proposal (don't get me wrong, I can imagine some French politicians having the same 'idea') that it does not even deserve a rebuke,” Bruno Tertrais, deputy director at the Paris-based Fondation pour la Recherce Strategique, wrote in an email to Defense News. Ulrike Franke, a London-based defense analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations, struck a similar chord in a Monday post on Twitter: “I am all for strengthening European capabilities, yes please. … But this appears … not particularly well thought through...?”

According to The UK Defence Journal, it was unclear whether the German leader meant a jointly operated ship or for a common class of vessels. However, the latter seemed the least likely variant, as it would be more expensive. The website Defense World suggested that a joint European vessel could be one of the proposals to replace the Charles de Gaulle.

Lasting 18 months, the series of studies launched in 2018 by the Ministry of the Armed Forces on the succession of Charles de Gaulle is coming to an end. Industrialists are in the process of finalizing their copy around the two main options that will be proposed: a conventional propulsion vessel or, as is the case for the current aircraft carrier of the French Navy, nuclear propulsion.

The design of the new generation aircraft carrier (PANG) must take into account a certain number of constraints and technological developments. The future air combat system (SCAF) project is part of the complex equation that PANG will have to solve. SCAF imposes a massive aircraft carrier. This size , as well as the autonomy and flexibility required to carry out the missions of the aircraft carrier, argue for nuclear propulsion.

With nuclear propulsion, the CATOBAR [Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery] format for the launch and landing of on-board aircraft, thanks to catapults and stop lines, is one of the great strengths of the current aircraft carrier: this format could be maintained, despite an assumed dependence on the with respect to the United States, which provides the technology. This option may seem contradictory to the objective of strategic autonomy. But the hearings did not identify any major obstacle to the use of electromagnetic catapults , currently tested by the Americans. Nearly 3,500 launches have been completed to date by the Americans with the EMALS [Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System] system. The dependence on the American ally would not be new, since it already exists; moreover, it has apparently never given rise to any difficulties to date. The completion times for the new generation aircraft carrier should allow benefit from a widely proven system, even if the initial difficulties are real.

The “human resources” component of the PANG project constitutes an essential dimension. It should not be an adjustment variable, given the major constraints that are already exerted on the size of this future aircraft carrier. The only weakness of Charles de Gaulle today is to offer living conditions unsuitable for its time. The contamination of the crew by the covid-19 epidemic showed that the question was not only of comfort but also of operational efficiency. The main asset of the aircraft carrier is its crew.The necessary improvement in living conditions on board should not, however, lead to a “forced march” reduction in staff, which would not be timely. The question of the double crew must be asked. At this stage, a reduction of 10% in the crew is envisaged for a total accommodation capacity of around 2000, roughly equivalent to that of the Charles de Gaulle.

The debate on the interest and the feasibility of building, not one, but two new generation aircraft carriers must be opened: the second copy would benefit from economies of scale, of the order of 30% to 40% , even if this point remains to be confirmed by the studies carried out; above all, it would make it possible to ensure a permanent alert for the carrier strike group , while the availability of Charles de Gaulle is 63%. Obtaining the alert permanence does not imply doubling all the means of the carrier strike group but it would imply an increase of the means of the airborne group (aircraft and personnel) by about a third. The recent fire of the Perle nuclear attack submarine (SNA) shows that unforeseen events can have serious consequences when fleet formats are very small.

The cost of the aircraft carrier (s) must be related to the total duration of the program : thus, for example, an annual cost of € 450 million would represent 1.5% of the defense budget and 0.02% of GDP (during the minus 10 years).

The aircraft carrier is for France a major factor of strategic autonomy. With nuclear deterrence, it helped make France a top diplomatic and military power. This strategic autonomy allows defense of French interests on all continents and all oceans. The construction of a new aircraft carrier is a national project of high symbolic value intended to participate in the development of the spirit of defense within the nation . It is also an intergenerational project, since it is the young people of today that this aircraft carrier will protect tomorrow.





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