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Introducing the PA-NG: A Glimpse into the French Navy’s Future Aircraft Carrier

The French Navy has long been planning to design and develop a second aircraft carrier, specifically for use when the current French aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, is undergoing maintenance. The future aircraft carrier for the French Navy is referred to as the PA-NG. Construction of the PA-NG is anticipated to commence around 2025, with an expected entry into service in 2038. The ship will be nuclear-powered and equipped with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapult system.

France’s Naval Group recently revealed a scale model of the nuclear-powered, all-electric, next-generation aircraft carrier set to replace the Charles de Gaulle in 2038. Temporarily known as the PANG (Porte Avion Nouvelle Génération), the 75,000-tonne (82,673 tons) vessel will measure 310m (1,017 ft) in length and 85m (279 ft) at the widest point of the carrier deck.

The ship’s two nuclear reactors, supplied by TechnicAtome, will power three shaft drives (for comparison, larger US aircraft carriers have four shaft drives). The CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) atomic energy commission will supervise the implementation and coordination of the reactors, which will only require refueling once every ten years. This means the ship could potentially remain at sea for that entire duration.

PANG will accommodate around 32 next-generation fighters, up to three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes (France ordered three in late 2021 for delivery in 2028), and several unmanned aircraft. The carrier will be constructed by a joint venture, MO Porte Avions (the MO stands for Maîtrise d’Oeuvre, i.e., execution and coordination), established in March 2021 between Naval Group and Chantiers de l’Atlantique. Olivier de Saint Julien, the director, said at the Euronaval exhibition that the Chantiers de l’Atlantique has a dry dock in Saint Nazaire on France’s west coast, large enough to build the PANG. This is crucial since the existing Naval Group dry dock used for the Charles de Gaulle is too small, as the PANG will surpass the older carrier by 159 feet in length and 68 feet in width.

In March this year, a US Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye made its first landing on the Charles de Gaulle as part of NATO’s enhanced Vigilance Activities in Romanian and Bulgarian airspace. As Philippe emphasized, France and the United States are “the only two navies in the world operating nuclear aircraft carriers with catapults and arresters,” so interoperability is vital. French Rafales have also landed and taken off from US aircraft carriers in the past. Since there are no French catapult manufacturers, the PANG will feature US-made electromagnetic catapults, like those on the US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, Philippe added.

President Emmanuel Macron decided to replace the Charles de Gaulle with another nuclear-powered ship in December 2020. The design revealed today may undergo tweaks before the design is finalized in 2025, Saint Julien explained. “The first sea trials are expected to occur in 2036, with the ship being delivered to the Navy in 2037 and becoming operational in 2038, at which point the Charles de Gaulle can retire,” he said.

The vessel delivered to the Navy may not initially have all the desired features on board. “It will be designed in such a way that it can be modernized incrementally, and the combat system can evolve,” Saint Julien stated. “We don’t know today what kind of technology will be available in 15 years

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