PARIS — The French procurement office and the Navy will submit proposals to the Armed Forces Ministry based on definition studies for a future aircraft carrier, according to the head of the naval armaments operations unit at the Direction Générale de l’Armement.
The DGA and the Navy have been working on a “reflection for definition studies,” with those studies required to launch the carrier project, Laurent Sellier told Defense News on Sept. 24. Industry has served as observer, while the procurement office and service lead the discussions.
The studies will consider the future carrier’s capability to carry the Rafale fighter jet and its successor, as well as drones, he said. It will be up to the ministry to “greenlight” the contracts for the carrier.
Sellier was speaking on the sidelines of a news conference held by Gican, the industry association backing the Euronaval trade show, which opens Oct. 23.
Dassault Aviation, shipbuilder Naval Group and electronics specialist Thales have been sitting in on the discussions led by DGA and the Navy, an industry executive told Defense News. “There is close teamwork on tackling the overall problem,” the executive said.
The DGA and the Navy launched the first study at the end of August, examining lessons learned on aircraft carriers in operation and reviewing operational requirements of the future carrier, the executive said.
Thales could contribute its experience from working on the British carrier Queen Elizabeth. Other companies, such as MBDA, could be invited to take part in the studies.
A second study, largely steered by the DGA, will focus on technology and overall architecture, including onboard combat systems, system of systems and naval architecture, the executive said. That study is expected to be launched toward the end of October or early November.
The overall dossier comprising the two studies is expected to be completed at the end of 2019 or early 2020, and will allow the authorities to decide the capabilities of the ship. The studies will consider key factors such as size of the vessel, propulsion — both conventional and nuclear — and aircraft-launching capabilities.
The aircraft will not be included in the carrier budget but will be a major element in design and construction of the ship, which will be a system of systems. The studies will help determine the budget for the carrier.
There have been three large carriers built in the West — the U.S. Navy’s Gerald R. Ford and America, and the British Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth — since France launched the Charles de Gaulle, said Robbin Laird, an analyst with consultancy ICSA, based in Washington and Paris.
Any French study should look at those ships and see the technology available for a new carrier, such as an electromagnetic aircraft-launch system, he said. The French should consider the impact from an “evolving force system,” such as the use of direct-energy weapons for close-in defense and the integration of air and sea systems, he added.
Another major factor in designing a new carrier could involve France’s adaptation of the planned Franco-German jet fighter to a carrier-based version, he said. That future fighter will replace the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Britain and Italy will fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from their carriers, he said. That deployment of the F-35 calls for interoperability of the future French carrier and its aircraft with operators of the jet.
French Navy pilots have flown the Rafale from U.S. carriers as part of training, French Navy Rear Adm. Gilles Boidevezi told news conference attendees.
The French Navy sent pilots, support staff, 12 Rafale jets and a Hawkeye spy plane to the U.S. earlier this year to qualify and train with the U.S. Navy. The French pilots flew from the George H.W. Bush carrier, sailing out of Newport naval base.
The Charles de Gaulle recently began sea trials from Toulon naval base after some 18 months of a major overhaul in dry dock. The upgrade included replacing onboard nuclear fuel and modernization of the combat and telecommunications systems. The carrier will now solely fly the Rafale, having withdrawn from service the Super Etendard fighter.