The French Navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) returned to sea for trials on Sept. 14 following the completion of the midlife upgrade and refit.
The carrier was relaunched on May 16 after completing 15 months in dry dock in Toulon, for the upgrade and refit that started in December 2016.
The midlife upgrade and refit program, costing 1.3 billion euros, is led by Naval Group and represented more than 4 million hours of work, including 1.8 million for the engineering and design, and 2.5 million for the refit. The program focused on the renovation of the carrier’s combat system, the installation of new sensors (including a SMART-S radar) and the adaptation of its facilities for it embarked fighter jet fleet consisting solely of Rafale M.
After the completion of the trials, the carrier and the embarked staff will re-qualify with the entire carrier group, which should be fully operational by the end of the year for a future deployment in early 2019.
Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale), is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the U.S. Navy service. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.
The hull was laid down in April 1989 at the DCNS Brest naval shipyard. The carrier was launched in May 1994 and at 42,000 tonnes (full load) was the largest warship launched in Western Europe since HMS Ark Royal in 1950.
The ship was commissioned on 18 May 2001, five years behind the projected deadline. She replaced Foch (R99), a conventionally powered aircraft carrier.
The ship carries a complement of Dassault Rafale M and E‑2C Hawkeye aircraft, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue (CSAR), as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses two 75 m C13‑3 steam catapults of a shorter version of the catapult system installed on the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, one catapult at the bow and one across the front of the landing area.
Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American carrier-vessel that has a catapult, allowing operation of American aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the C-2 Greyhound.