PARIS — The French Armed Forces Ministry and industry leaders presented a first look, in model form, at the nation’s next-generation, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier this week during the biennial Euronaval trade conference in the capital.

The new carrier is expected to replace the French Navy’s current aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, by 2038. Naval Group and Chantiers de l’Atlantique are building the ship together under the temporary joint venture MO Porte Avions. TechnicAtome is to provide the two nuclear reactors to power the ship.

It will be a substantially larger vessel than its predecessor, expected to weigh more than 82,000 tons and measure more than 1,000 feet long and 279 feet at its widest point. By comparison, the Charles de Gaulle weighs about 42,000 tons and is less than 900 feet long.

Senior defense officials, including Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu, French Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Pierre Vandier and military procurement director Emmanuel Chiva, joined Naval Group CEO Pierre Éric Pommellet outside the company’s booth on the conference’s first day to examine a scale model of the future ship, currently known as PA-NG (porte-avion nouvelle-generation).

Preliminary studies for the program launched in 2018. French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2020 decision to use nuclear power for the next aircraft carrier launched a preliminary design phase in March 2021, which is now due for completion in March 2023, said program director Olivier de Saint Julien.

The scale model on display represents the current state of the industry team’s design, which will evolve, he told Defense News at the conference. While many details, such as defensive systems and weapons, remain undecided, the carrier is expected to have room for about 30 aircraft onboard as well as an unknown number of unmanned systems.

The final design is expected to be fixed by 2025, when the development phase will begin. Construction is set to take place at the shipyards of Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, on France’s west coast. The ship will then head to Toulon for final assembly, per the Armed Forces Ministry. Sea trials are scheduled for 2036, with delivery expected to the Navy the following year and operational capability scheduled for 2038, when the Charles de Gaulle is expected to retire.

French lawmakers previously mulled the prospect of building a second aircraft carrier. De Saint Julien said members of Parliament had requested studies from industry partners to assess the feasibility of a second ship, but that no decisions had been made on the matter.

“Yes, French industry is capable of building a second aircraft carrier, if that is asked of us,” he said.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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