French shipbuilding major, Naval Group has delivered the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the French Navy following the completion of the mid-life refit. The vessel will now start ramping up its systems before returning to its operational cycle.
The in-depth renovation of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier was performed to ensure the vessel’s operational performance levels for the next 25 years and ensure that it maintains its technological advance at the service of France’s interests.
The refit focused on three major challenges. Firstly, the modernisation of the combat system in particular with the modernisation of the tactical system, the brain that manages the sensors and weapons, the installation of new digital networks, the complete replacement of the Control Room, the renovation of the telecommunications systems, the replacement of the air search and navigation radars.
Secondly, the modernisation of the aviation installations covered all the necessary modifications to switch to an “all-Rafale” setup: modification and renovation of the aviation spaces, renovation or replacement of deck-landing systems.
The third challenge of this refit relates to the renovation of the platform i.e., amongst other things, the modernisation of the vessel control PLCs, the renovation of the automatic stabilisation and steering control system, the replacement of two units of the vessel’s cooling system, but also the refit of the control simulator and of one galley.
In addition to this renovation, the mid-life refit of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft also comprised through-life support work. This aspect of the project related essentially to the maintenance of major installations: the inspection of the two nuclear reactors and the replacement of their fuel elements, the maintenance of the electrical power plant, the maintenance of the propulsion system, the inspection of the catapults, shaft lines and stabilizing fins, and the painting of the underwater hull and topsides.
The aircraft carrier entered dry dock in February 2017; it was floated out in May 2018 and at the end of July 2018 it docked at its operational quay for harbour acceptance trials. It then performed sea outings for the trials that must be performed in operational conditions, with the support of other French Navy entities.
The final date on which the vessel was made available was 16 October 2018, after the complete re-certification of the systems was completed.
The refit programme was conducted by “Team France” bringing together the French defense procurement agency DGA (Direction générale de l’armement), the French Navy, the Navy’s Fleet Support Service (Service de soutien de la flotte, SSF), the aircraft carrier’s crew and the French industry. Naval Group worked with major Defence original equipment manufacturers such as TechnicAtome (formerly Areva TA), Thales and Safran.
“We are proud to have completed this exceptional project at the service of the French Navy within the imposed deadlines. I would like to thank in particular our clients, the DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) and the SSF (Service de soutien de la flotte), who entrusted us with the responsibility of overall prime contractor. This success is the fruit of a collective effort made possible by the commitment of the aircraft carrier’s crew, Naval Group’s teams, those of the Defence sector’s major original equipment manufacturers such as TechnicAtome, Thales or Safran, the generalist companies and the SMEs originating mainly from the local and regional industrial fabric”, underlines Nathalie Smirnov, Senior Vice President Services at Naval Group.
Key Stats of the Mid-Life Refit of Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier
+ 18 months of work (as a comparison: 4 years for a US aircraft carrier)
+ Over 200,000 tasks performed of which 50% by the crew
+ Over 4 million hours of work
+ On average, 2100 persons working each day: 1100 crew members, 1000 employees of Naval Group and its 160 subcontractors
+ 2000 tests performed
+ 5 years of preparation
+ A budget of €1.3 billion (as a comparison: €4.7 billion for a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier)
FS Charles de Gaulle (R91)
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.