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A Look at the French Navy’s Ambitious PA-NG: The Future of Naval Aviation

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

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

Two nuclear reactors, supplied by TechnicAtome, will generate electricity for three shaft drives (for comparison, the 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 10 years—meaning, in theory, the ship could remain at sea for that entire duration.

PANG will carry approximately 32 next-generation fighters, up to three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes (France ordered three at the end of 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, stated at the Euronaval show—which opened Tuesday in Le Bourget, in the northern suburbs of Paris—that Chantiers de l’Atlantique had a dry dock in Saint Nazaire, on the west coast of France, large enough to build the PANG. This is crucial, as the existing Naval Group dry dock used for the Charles de Gaulle is too small, given that 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 today, France and the United States are “the only two navies in the world operating nuclear aircraft carriers with catapults and arresters,” making interoperability essential. French Rafales have also previously landed and taken off from US aircraft carriers. As there are no French manufacturers of catapults, the PANG will be equipped with US-made electromagnetic ones, similar to those on the US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, Philippe added.

The decision to replace the Charles de Gaulle with another nuclear-powered ship was made by President Emmanuel Macron in December 2020. The design unveiled today may undergo some revisions between now and 2025, when the design will be finalized, Saint Julien explained. “The first sea trials are expected to take place in 2036, the ship delivered to the Navy in 2037, and 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 desired features. “It’s going to be designed in such a way that it can be

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