PARIS — France’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and its strike group will deploy under NATO command for the first time, as the French Navy’s flagship resumes operations after interim maintenance that kept it out of action most of last year.

The Charles de Gaulle, with an escort including a French air-defense frigate, a multimission frigate and a nuclear attack submarine, will start a deployment in the Mediterranean on April 22, according to Rear Adm. Jacques Mallard, commander of the French carrier strike group. Vessels from the United States, Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal will complete the escort.

While French aircraft and individual vessels have previously operated under NATO direction, the carrier strike group has until now remained under national command, according to Mallard.

Sailing under alliance command for part of the envisioned tour is meant to “show that we’re an ally who’s doing what everyone else is doing, but also to understand how the chain of command works,” Mallard said in a press briefing on April 11. “It’s a first, but it’s a logical continuation of what’s been going on until now.”

The goal is to “reinforce the defensive and deterrent posture of the alliance” as well as support operations that favor regional stability, with a focus on the central and eastern Mediterranean, according to a presentation by Mallard. The entire deployment might last around six weeks, according to the Armed Forces Ministry.

The admiral said cooperation with allies has been “fundamental” over the past 10 years, as the French carrier strike group integrated around 30 different ships from 12 nations during operations, with NATO procedures and exercises key to creating interoperability.

The Charles de Gaulle will carry some 18 Rafale jets during the upcoming mission, about two-thirds of its maximum contingent, as well as two E-2C Hawkeye airborne early-warning aircraft and two Dauphin helicopters. The French escort frigates will each carry a helicopter in either a surface- or submarine-warfare role.

During the mission, dubbed Akila, all ships and aircraft will report to Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, a command located in Oeiras, Portugal, near Lisbon for a period of about two weeks, Mallard said.

The admiral declined to identify the ships that will escort the Charles de Gaulle, other than the supply ship Jacques Chevalier. He said the French Navy has started to conceal the identity of its warships, which creates a degree of confusion for adversaries.

“We’re starting to get into the habit of not revealing the names, which is why the hull numbers and names have disappeared from our ships,” Mallard said. “It’s quite effective, and it’s sown doubt on several occasions when our vessels have come across other vessels that didn’t know exactly what to call them. We try to maintain a level of ambiguity.”

The strike group may cooperate with the Standing NATO Maritime Group operating in the Mediterranean, which has been under French command since April 5, as well as participate in the NATO’s air-defense mission over Poland and defensive mission in Romania, according to the rear admiral.

The carrier group will also participate in the Mare Aperto exercise in Italy as part of one of two forces confronting each other in what Mallard called a “symmetric” scenario. The admiral declined to provide details on the deployment timetable. “The more details we give you, the more we reveal part of our intentions.”

Mallard said a deployment of the carrier strike group to the Red Sea is not on the agenda, but is among the options being studied.

He declined to confirm reports that the Charles de Gaulle might head to the Indo-Pacific following its mission in the Mediterranean. He said the strike group’s missions are prepared at “a very high level,” with an eye on being useful to French policy and regional stability.

“The Indo-Pacific is one of the many theaters where the carrier strike group could have an impact,” Mallard said. “So we’re looking at many things, in particular far-away deployments, but for the time being, nothing tangible, nor any announcement to make.”

The Charles de Gaulle has a crew of about 1,200, including around 80 staff, as well as the embarked air group. The carrier in January set off from its home port of Toulon for sea trails, after being taken out of action for maintenance in May last year for work on the carrier’s steam catapults, water-purification plant and medical facilities, among other things.

The nuclear-powered carrier replaced the conventionally-powered Clemenceau in 2001, and France expects to continue operating the vessel until 2038, when the Charles de Gaulle is set to be replaced by a future nuclear-powered carrier known for now by its French acronym PANG.

France plans to start work on the future carrier either late next year or early 2026, with Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu last year estimating the cost of the next-generation vessel at €10 billion. Sea trials are expected in 2036 or 2037, and France included an initial €5 billion for construction of the carrier in its 2024-2030 military budget law.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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