France plans to build a new aircraft carrier, but already meets some difficulties in its design.
France has plans to build its second aircraft carrier, which will become a part of the future French President’s program, the French L’Opinion newspaper reported. According to the newspaper, the new vessel’s preliminary design, which will cost about €100 million per year, can be started during the next five years. Some experts believe that the aircraft carrier’s construction will be begun in 2020, and the vessel will be totally ready by 2035. However, the exact time limits are still unclear.
As L’Opinion noted the new ship will replace the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. At the same time, it is possible that at the moment of entering into service of the new vessel, there will be two nuclear aircraft carriers in the French fleet. It is highly likely that the new ship will be built in Saint-Nazaire, but not in Brest, where its predecessor was constructed.
However, it is still necessary to solve a number of serious technical and operational issues about nuclear reactors and catapults.
The Charles de Gaulle is equipped with two K15 nuclear reactors – the same type of reactors is used for the Triomphant nuclear missile submarines and the new Barracuda multipurpose nuclear submarines. The K15’s power is 150 MW that is barely enough for the aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, US nuclear aircraft carriers such as Nimitz have two nuclear reactors, the power of each of which is 550 MW (3.7 times more powerful than Charles de Gaulle’s reactors).
Designers of the future French aircraft carrier should decide whether they will equip the ship with three K15 nuclear reactors or develop a new one for it. Three K15 reactors would take up more space that means that the ship would be bigger and heavier. Development of a new reactor would require a lot of money. As the newspaper assumed, most likely the К15+ reactor will be created, but its improvements will very quickly show their limits. At the same time, it will be necessary to think of new reactors for future third-generation ballistic missile submarines, which will come to replace the Triomphant.
One of the other pressing problems is issue of preservation of the industry competencies, in particular the Areva TA and DCNS companies or the Commission for Atomic Energy. A variant of creating an aircraft carrier with a non-nuclear power-plant unit, as is the case with two promising aircraft carriers of the British Navy, is also considered, but it has few supporters, both among the French Navy and in the industry.
In addition, there is also an issue of a catapult’s choice. France does not produce such equipment. Catapults for the Charles de Gaulle were purchased in the US and the same will also be made for the next aircraft carrier. However, the US is moving away from the steam catapult technology to the new generation of electromagnetic catapults. In this way, the purchase price, as well as the electrical power, required for its operation, are unknown.
In these conditions it is difficult to estimate the cost of the future aircraft carrier, but, as the newspaper noted, it certainly will be €4-6 billion.