An Independent Website Considering the Future Royal Navy and Promoting Naval Affairs


  Carrier Strike
   Future Carrier - CVF
   Deck Layout
   CVF Statements
   JCA Statements
  F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
  Joint Combat Aircraft
  Lynx Wildcat
  MARS (Fleet Tanker)
  Merlin CSP
  Queen Elizabeth Class
  Successor Submarine
  Type 26 GCS
  Type 45
  Site Index
  Email the Editor


French Second Aircraft Carrier (CVF FR)

Deuxième porte-avions français (PA2)

Part 1



(Above) A French version of the CVF has been selected by France for its next aircraft carrier. These new graphics were published in December 2005 to accompany the French announcement.  (Source: MOPA2 - DCN/Thales)


(Above) Extracts from a DCN video showing French and British CVF carriers in company.  (Source: Beedall)


(Above) An atmospheric artists impression (in the old sense!) of a French CVF, again dating to end 2005.


(Source: Marine Nationale)

(Above) The current flagship of the Marine Nationale is the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle which entered service in 2001.  By that date hopes for the construction of a sister ship had long faded away, but the French Navy still had a requirement for a second aircraft carrier or rather a deuxième porte-avions (PA2). 


This 2004 graphic from DCN shows their original Project Romeo conventionally propelled design concept for PA2 - a fore runner to Juliette.  (Source: DCN)



(Source: DCN)

(Above) This very large model of the latest DCN/Thales PA2 "Projet Juliette" concept was displayed on the DCN stand at Euronaval in October 2004, compared to Romeo the island has been substantially modified, and a bulbous bow added to the hull form.  The large radar dome would have been replaced by a Herakles "pyramid" inside a cone.

Note that there is only one island, with a deck edge lift just forward of it and another aft. There is no noticeable resemblance between this design and the much smaller model of CVF that was simultaneously displayed on the stand.  


(Source: 7 Seas)

(Above) Another model of the PA2 concept was displayed on the Thales stand at Euronaval 2004, it appears to be all but identical to the DCN model, but smaller.  The use of traditional propulsion shafts (rather than pods) can be seen in these pictures.


(Source: Thales)

(Above) The Thales stand at Euronaval 2004 had a model of CVF (highlighted left) as well as the Juliete PA2 (right)

(Below) The lower picture shows the bow of the CVF model with their model of Romeo/Juliette PA2 in the background.

(Source: 7 Seas)


(Source: MOPA2)

This graphic published in 2005 shows the Project Juliette concept, jointly developed by DCN/Thales until summer 2005.  The project was formally abandoned in December 2005 when a variant of the UK's CVF design was officially selected for the PA2 requirement. 



(Source: Unknown and Air & Cosmos Magazine)

(Above) Thales displayed on its stand at the 45th Paris Air Show (June 2003) a model of the CTOL carrier design based on CVF that it has proposed to France in order to meet its second aircraft carrier (PA2) requirement.  Notice the Rafale fighters, Hawkeye AEW&C aircraft and NH90 helicopters on the flight deck, and the different radars from the UK variant.  The lift arrangements and immense volume of the sponsons are clearly visible.  The French variant of CVF - CVF FR - can trace its lineage back to this design.



Models of a CTOL CVF displayed on the Thales stand at DESi in September 2005.  (Source: Beedall)


(Above) August 2006 graphics of the French PA2 (aka CVF FR), the design is evolving from the UK baseline, and associated cost increases have become an issue.  (Source: DCN/Thales


(Above) A model of the French PA2 (aka CVF-FR) displayed on the Thales stand at Euronaval 2006 in October and (below) the model in company with one CVF-UK furthest from camera.  The distinctive forward island is clearly shown, however it was later changed back to a closer variation of the CVF-UK baseline.    (Source: Thales




(Above) More pictures of the CVF model at  Euronaval 2006 in October.  (Source: 7seas


A 2004 schematic of DCN's Romeo proposal for PA2. (Source: DCN)

This unofficial schematic of the Delta CTOL CVF has significant errors but the deck plan shows the two long catapults and three arrester wires.  The French were considering two alternative deck layouts in early 2006. (Source: ?)


A nice graphic of the evolving CVF FR design, apparently first published in July 2006.   (Source: DCN)


The radar and electronics fit of CVF FR differs significantly from the UK design. Notice further revisions to the island, and the revised lattice mast on the aft island in thjs enlarged version of the above graphic. (Source: DCN)


This image from March 2007 shows off to advantage the finer bow advocated by France to help increase speed. The additional flight deck width compared with the UK's STOVL design is also obvious.  (Source: DCN via Mer et Marine)


Another picture of PA2, first released in June 2007.  It shows some significant revisions to the islands and the Herakles mulit-function radar has been moved from the fore to the aft bridge, in line with the UK CVF layout. (Source: DCNS)



Type Designation: Aircraft Carrier (CV)

The data in the table below is highly speculative, its based on information available in late June 2008

Name No Builders  (1) First Steel Cut Floated Out (2) In Service
[Richelieu?] R92? Aker Yards (St. Nazaire) & DCN (Brest) [2016?] [2020?] [2023?]

Hull construction is expected to be done at the Aker Yards shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, with fitting out and completion by DCN at Brest.  But no final decision has been made and other alternatives remain under consideration.
2. The ships will be built in a massive dry dock, so the traditional term "launched" does not apply.  After floating out, the hull may be towed to Brest for final fitting out.
3. The order for PA2 was originally (i.e. 2004) expected to be placed in late 2006, this was progressively delayed to 2008.  In  June 2008 any decision on ordering the carrier was officially delayed to 2011-12. 

Specification (Provisional and/or Speculative)

The table shows the concept derived from CVF work which was proposed by Thales and DCN to meet the French Navy's second aircraft carrier (PA2) requirement in January 2004, and the joint DCN Thales Romeo concept that was effectively discarded at some point in summer 2005 in reality, although not until December 2005 officially.  The table represents a filtering and analysis of information on PA2 published by Thales, DCN and the French government, supplemented by press reports and other sources, and an examination of published graphics. 

Characteristic Carrier Alliance, "CVF FR" design for PA2, French variant of CVF Delta, June 2005 [1, 2] DCN/Thales, "Project Juliette" design for PA2 , September 2004 [2]


70,000 tonnes full load on completion

Limiting 75,000 tonnes at end up service life  [4]

59,000 tonnes full load
(61,000 limiting)

Hull Dimensions (length x  beam):

283 metres (928 feet) length overall;
73 metres (238 feet) max width at flightdeck;

263.5 metres (865 feet) pp; 39 metres beam (water line) (128 feet)

284 metres (935 feet) length overall;
72 metres (235 feet) max width at flightdeck;
Draft:  11.5 metres (37 feet) max [4] ?
Aviation Facilities: Single hanger; 2 deck edge lifts capable of 70-ton loads (2 x Rafale's);  full-length/width  flight deck with angled landing lane

Mark 7 Mod 4 3-wire arresting gear and barricade; auxiliary steam generating plant; 2 x  C13-2 steam catapults, 90 metres long (300ft long)

Hanger area; 4,700 sq m

Flight deck area: 15,700 sq m

Storage capacity for 5.0 million litres of aviation fuel (JP-5)

SATRAP stabilisation system

Hanger Dimensions (length x  width x height): 163 x 29 x 7.1 to 9 metres
(535 x 95 x 23-29 feet)
Speed: 26 - 28 knots maximum (depending upon final machinery fit) 27 knots maximum. 
To be determined:


4 x 28.6MW General Electric LM2500+G4 gas turbine generators

2? x ?MW Diesel generators

1 propeller shaft and 2 propulsion pods


Similar to UK CVFs'




5.000 tonnes of dieso (F-76) giving 10,000 nautical miles at 15 knots.

10,000 nm at 15 knots (30% reserve)
Endurance:  45 days.  Replenishment typically every 7 days.  45 days without replenishing.
Armament: 1 x 8 cell Sylver A43 vertical launch SAAM systems (8 Aster 15 missiles); SLATs anti-torpedo system; EW and passive countermeasures outfit; light calibre cannons.
Air Group: Maximum 40.

Up to 32 Dassault Rafale M multi-role fighters;
3 x Northrop Grumman Hawkeye E-2C AEW&C aircraft;
5 x Eurocopter NH90 SAR & ASW helicopters.

Radars: Multifunction 3D Surveillance and Fire Control Radar:  Thales Herakles
Combat Systems: Amaris CMS; Tactical Data Links 11,  22 and JTIDS 16.
Armour: Little or none.  ?
Complement: 900 crew,; 650 airgroup; 100 command staff.

Accommodation for 1650

Up to 1,770 total, including 900 airgroup. 
Project Cost [3] : Est. €3.3 bn (approx £2.6 bn for one carrier)


  1. The original Thales proposal for PA2 was derived from the companies  work on CVF, presumably with some degree of official UK approval. 
  2. Since the beginning of 2004 the now joint DCN-Thales proposal for PA2 has diverged from the CVF concept.  PA2 has possibly evolved in to a new class that shares some design features, equipment and systems with both Charles de Gaulle and the UK's CVF.  
  3. June 2008 figure - probably includes the €500 million allocated for PA2 design and development by the French Ministry of Defense.  Much lower costs had previously been estimated,
  4. In October 2006 DCN reported 74,000 tonnes displacement, 73 metres beam, 11.5 metres (37 ft) draft and 25-26 knots for the CVF FR variant - this is probably actually the limiting displacement.   Officials referred to a 70,000 tonnes carrier in September/October 2006.  



The French Navy has long had a requirement to build a companion to its new nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle.  In December 2005, it was revealed that this would be derivative of the UK's Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) design, but it was long road to reach this point.

 As early as 1999 the French officially approached the UK suggesting co-operation between the two countries, and as a result a joint "Future Carrier Working Group" was established.  There were also extensive discussions between the UK's Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) and the equivalent French Délegation Générale pour l'Armement (DGA).  In May 2000 a report by a French Senate committee considering the need for a second French aircraft carrier recommended investigatin co-operation with the United Kingdom.  

In early July 2002 the French Ministry of Defense formally approached its British counterpart as regards possible collaboration on the CVF project with the objective of building future aircraft carriers for both navies (2 carriers for the UK and 1 for France), although senior UK officials quickly played down press speculation that the UK would join a collaborative carrier programme with France.  The French Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Jean-Louis Battet noted if the Royal Navy opted for CTOL for its two future CVF's, "it could be conceivable to add a third ship to the series for the French Navy." Such a solution, he underlined, would be considerably less expensive than the Charles-de-Gaulle (which cost €3 billion) and would make sense since "the overall European requirement for ships in this class is estimated at 4-5". 

On 11 September 2002 a French Cabinet Meeting chaired by President Jacques Chirac finally approved plans for a second aircraft carrier (known as PA2) - equivalent to Initial Gate.  It was expected that a decision on the hull type, nuclear or conventionally propulsion and overall capability package would be taken in June 2003, it will be ordered in 2005 and be operational by 2015.  Asked about possible construction of the new carrier with Britain, the Defence Ministry's Bureau said: "This is a dossier that is clearly on the agenda for French-British cooperation.". He added that Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and her British counterpart Geoff Hoon had reviewed the issue recently, but did not make any decisions.

On 13 September French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Europe 1 radio "We would certainly welcome collaboration (with Britain).  We need to know whether the British will choose vertical take-off aircraft - which would mean a short runway - or more classic models such as ours."   By deciding on 30 September 2002 to opt for an "adaptable" STOVL version of a CTOL carrier design for CVF, the UK opened up the possibility of Anglo-French collaboration and on 2 October 2002 the British Ministry of Defence said that the potential for greater collaboration with France had been acknowledged.  The following day a spokesman for the French defence ministry, Jean-Francois Rivasseau, said that cooperation between Britain and France in the aircraft carrier construction projects underway in each country was "totally on the table" ... and that Britain's decision to build two "adaptable" aircraft carriers to go into service in 2012 and 2015 meant that they could be altered to handle both French and British warplanes.

High level government meetings were held in October 2002 to discuss the proposed Anglo-French carrier programme, reinforcing increasing rumours that Thales Naval might win the UK's early 2003 CVF down-selection decision, it being accept as inconceivable that France could accept a British company as prime contractor for its new carrier.  In January 2003 the UK MOD announced that Thales had indeed been selected to design the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers, but under BAE Systems as prime contractor.  Although this created many practical difficulties, it was a politically astute decision which pushed the ball firmly in to the French court as far its potential participation is the CVF programme is concerned - after all a company one-third owned the French Government was designing the RN's biggest ever warships and was promised one third of the spend, given the UK's requirement for two carriers versus the one for France, the French couldn't complain too much if a British company was playing a leading role in a UK or even Anglo-French project.  However work share and management issues still quickly came to the fore, the French rumoured to be demanding far more than their presumed 33% share of the work that the 2:1 funding would suggest.  Certainly French officials at the DGA made no secret of the fact that they believe that they should have the leading role in any joint Anglo-French carrier project because of their more recent experience with CdeG, but the British were unwilling to concede to the French the leading role that they felt entitled to. Also, the French were unhappy with the relatively risky 'superblock' assembly plan being proposed by the UK, and a suggestion that all 3 hulls were built in France was put on the table instead.

On 4 February 2003, at the 25th Anglo-French summit held in Le Touquet, the French Presidency issued a statement saying: 

"France and the United Kingdom emphasise that air-naval capabilities are a key element in power projection. Our two countries, who already have substantial capabilities in this area, have decided to procure new aircraft carriers and to improve the availability and effectiveness of our carrier groups.

In this context France and the United Kingdom wish to develop the interoperability of their aircraft carrier groups, pursuing all areas of co-operation, in particular harmonising activity cycles and training. The objective will be to have one aircraft carrier permanently available.

France and the United Kingdom will also seek to develop industrial co-operation on the basis of their aircraft carrier procurement programmes. The UK decision on its national programme will open up new areas of co-operation."

During a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the talks, French President Chirac said that he was satisfied with Britain's decision made the previous  week to award part of its two new aircraft carriers contract to French arms group Thales.  "I have expressed to the prime minister the great satisfaction of the French authorities," said Chirac.  This decision "opens the door to a new perspective for France when it involves the construction of its second aircraft carrier," he said.  "We will immediately start the studies to see whether we could be associated to the construction of these two (British) aircraft carriers, because the construction of three is financially more interesting (than building the two and the third separately)."

"The fact that Britain chose a large and flexible aircraft carrier, plus the involvement of Thales, opens the possibility of France ordering a British-derived aircraft carrier, rather than a second nuclear-powered aircraft like the Charles-de-Gaulle," Thales chief executive Denis Ranque had told French daily Le Monde a few days earlier. 

Despite apparent French enthusiasm, the UK government remained cautious.  E.g. Hansard 26 February 2003:

Mr Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions his Department has had with the French Government regarding the sale to France of UK aircraft carrier designs; and if he will make a statement.

Mr Ingram (holding answer 27/01/03): We have made clear to the French Government our view that the best way forward for United Kingdom/French co-operation on a range of carrier issues is at the industry-to-industry level. To facilitate the transition to such industry-to-industry co-operation, three official groups have been established and their work has been carried forward since the France United Kingdom summit on 4th February 2003 and the UK CVF down-selection decision. This work includes potential future co-operation on procurement issues and information interchange. The last such meeting took place on 13th February 2003. During the course of discussions, we have provided France with some basic design information, to help them decide the best way forward for their own programme. [Emphasis  mine]

The carrier is also regularly mentioned in more general discussions between Ministers and other members of our two Ministries of Defence.

Thales now proposed to build a CTOL version of its CVF design for the Marine Nationale which would displace about 65,000 tonnes full load.  In competition Direction des Constructions Navales (which now prefers to be simply known called DCN), the builders of Charles de Gaulle, proposed a stretched CdeG displacing about 50,000 tonnes, able to carry 50 rather than 40 aircraft, with 4 rather than 2 catapults, and with 4 rather 2 than K-15 reactors for a maximum speed of 34 kts (an extraordinarily high speed, even with 4 reactors).  While the design was attractive, the estimated cost of over €2 billion concerned officials.

In June 2003 French newspaper reports indicated that while France would not become a direct partner in the UK's CVF project, the Thales CVF design was the preferred solution for PA2.  According to French sources, senior officers maintained that while nuclear carriers offer some operational advantages, including more autonomy, range and flexibility, nuclear ships come with drawbacks as well: they are forbidden to enter some nations’ ports and must give three times the prior-notice period that conventional ships are required to give to pass through the Suez Canal.  Also, French officials said cooperation with the Royal Navy, and Britain as a whole, was considered key.  

In late June senior French Ministry of Defense and DGA (Délegation Générale pour l'Armement; the French procurement Agency) officials visited London to discuss CVF and PA2 with their UK MOD and DPA counterparts.  In view of the uncertainty then surrounding the UK's CVF project, French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie deferred a decision on the PA2 design until September as the UK had itself deferred a final decision on whether to proceed with the Thales 'adaptable' carrier design until early 2004 when the results of cost-reduction efforts were known.  A decision in principle on whether to carry forward the Thales design as the basis for an Anglo-French carrier project was expected to be taken at meeting between French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and her British counterpart Geoff Hoon on 12 September 2003 but this did not occur.  At the end of September an important report (on the PA2 selection) from the Defense Committee of the French parliament was deferred to end of October (actually to November, see below) on the basis that they needed to take into account the latest inputs from the UK's CVF program - which they felt was subject to considerable indecision.  Also in September, DCN submitted a new 'last minute' proposal for PA2 of an 'updated' CdeG of 43,000 tonnes for €1.83 billion - a huge saving compared with the original Charles de Gaulle which finally cost about Euro 3.3 billion in 2001 numbers.  This new proposal generated quite a shock within the French MOD (the Thales CVF based proposal was previously regarded as the clear winner) and many questions were quickly asked concerning this very aggressive cost figure from DCN, and a review by the DGA suggested that the actual price would be €1.98 bn.  In a counterattack, Thales publicly promised that it could deliver to France a CVF variant for PA2 for less than €2 bn.

French Navy's Chief of Staff testified before the French Parliament's Defence Committee on Oct.8, 2003, responding to a question about possible cooperation with the UK for PA2 he said:  "...Pour ce qui concerne l'opportunité d'une coopération avec le Royaume-Uni sur ce programme, les spécifications retenues par les autorités britanniques sont en cours d'évolution et sans doute le tonnage des futurs porte-avions de la Royal Navy sera-t-il revu à la baisse, ce qui favoriserait une coopération avec la France et permettrait alors de réaliser des économies d'échelle.  ..."  (the specifications for the CVF are being currently re-examined by the RN and that it will probably lead to the tonnage of the CVF being reduced, which would increase the chance of a cooperation with the UK.)

Should France agree to adopt the CVF design, the two programmes would not be fully joined, according to executives, but would run in parallel, sharing technology and sub-systems. This would allow Britain to have the first of the ships in service by 2012 as planned, one Thales executive said: “We’d have to sort out how cooperation would work and how development costs, which are significant, would be shared,” said Alex Dorrian, Chief Executive of Thales UK, French and British procurement officials “have been working on that.” 

Should Paris adopt the British design, Thales was likely to serve as France’s prime contractor on the programme, with DCN acting as the major subcontractor.  This would be a major role reversal for DCN which lead the construction of Charles de Gaulle, DCN was for several centuries an administrative arm of the French government, but took on company status at the end of May 2003.

A decision against another nuclear carrier could spell the end of the country’s four-decade-old nuclear shipbuilding programme, which has made France the only nation other than the United States to operate nuclear carriers. The decision will influence the choice of power for the Barracuda – the successor to France’s Rubis class of nuclear attack submarines.

One development in October 2003 was that apparently the USA warned the UK that it would consider French involvement in CVF as being a major problem from its point of view.  If it forms the view that JSF information might get across to the French, then the flow of that information to the UK will be stopped, a very serious issue given the scale of UK's involvement with the F-35.

On 26 October 2003, the Sunday Times newspaper reported: "The British and French governments are close to a historic deal that could see France buy a copy of the two multi-billion aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy.  .... Discussions have gone on between the British and French governments at official and ministerial level in recent weeks, and a memorandum of understanding is expected soon. ....  A final decision is expected by the end of the year."

The Sunday Times report was however rather premature.  On 5 November 2003 a Commission of the French National Assembly issued a report discussing the options for PA2 with the associated advantages and disadvantages, and expressing a preference for nuclear propulsion.  Soon afterwards the French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie was quoted as saying that France would decided on the propulsion mode for PA2 by the end of the year, if nuclear was dropped she had already told her UK counterpart (Geoffrey Hoon) in September that the French Ministry of Defense would need final information on CVF from the UK by June 2004 if it was to be considered when making a final decision on the format of the final decision as to PA2 design in the second half of that year.  The later is probably code that by June 2004 the UK must have finally made up its mind on the CVF design that it wants, and this must be suitably sized  for French CTOL requirements (designs the UK considered in summer 2003 were too small), if CVF is to be considered for PA2.  Any further delays to CVF would increasingly pressurise French plans for PA2 to be in service by  2015.

On 14 January 2004, the newspapers Les Echos and the London Financial Times reported that France had opted for a conventional propulsion system for its second aircraft carrier, they claimed that the decision was taken by President Jacques Chirac and Michele Alliot-Marie, Defense Minister on January 5, and was expected to be announced late in March.  By now DCN, the state warship builder, which had lobbied for the nuclear option, had changed tack and now accepted the approach.  A DCN spokesman said: "Every defence project must take into account the industrial co-operation dimension."

It was claimed that this decision revived prospects of a joint procurement with the UK involving three ships, the FT said that "a contract to build two carriers for the UK was awarded to BAE Systems and Thales last year, with the UK defence contractor leading the project.  But the French government hopes its decision in favour of a conventional system for a second carrier to complement the nuclear- powered Charles de Gaulle will cause the Ministry of Defence to think again.  In particular, it hopes to exploit strained relations between BAE Systems and the ministry to see a joint project relaunched under French industrial leadership." 

The papers also gave some first details of the design of the new ship.  Thales, now partnered by DCN, proposed a conventional carrier of 280 metres length and 58,000 tonnes - this was a DCN design study title Projet Romeo.  If ordered the hull construction would be sub-contracted to Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, but fitting-out would be by DCN in Brest.  The newspaper reports stated that the design would be based on the hull of the new Cunard liner, Queen Mary 2, but this appears to be the reporter getting confused by that fact that a similar podded propulsion system is proposed, and that the PA2 hull would be constructed by the same yard that constructed QM2

On 12 February 2004 the Guardian reported that political and industry sources said that Britain and France were set to share the costs of designing and building three aircraft carriers in a further rapprochement since the rows over the war in Iraq,  said yesterday.  The move was triggered by negotiations between Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and his French counterpart, Michèle Alliot-Marie.  A senior industry executive said after talks in Paris: "The French navy are happy to be part of the UK programme, and this could help the UK government out of the embarrassing dilemma that we believe the ships cannot be delivered with the required capability for less than £4bn."

On 13 February 2004 it was announced by the Office of the French President, Jacques Chirac, that following a recommendation by the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic had chosen conventional propulsion for the second aircraft carrier which France intended to acquire.  The statement said that the choice was perfectly adapted to the operational needs for decades to come, and opened good prospects for cooperation with the United Kingdom.  The Office also said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had phoned Chirac in order to thank him for the decision.  In London, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that the French decision: "opens the way for cooperation between industries on either side of the channel in order to satisfy the respective needs of the two navies. ...  The decision is particularly significant in this year marking the centenary of the Entente Cordiale and it will help reinforce the defence capabilities of Europe as well as Franco-British cooperation."  French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said Chirac's decision was: "a European choice. We will reinforce our cooperation with the British navy."  The president of the French National Assembly's defence committee Guy Teissier said the decision was "first of all political - because on the diplomatic level it opens up the possibility of Franco-British cooperation and supports the establishment of a European defence with Europe's foremost military power."

In a press release dated 20 February 2004, DCN reluctantly put aside its preference for nuclear propulsion and an updated CdeG design, stating: "Following major contributions to the preliminary design effort, DCN will now gear up for the design phase proper and demonstrate once again its expertise as a prime contractor for sophisticated warship programmes. ...  DCN looks forward to the opportunity to play a pivotal role in this project and work closely with new and established partners."

A common collaborative Anglo-French carrier project is politically very attractive, and it should theoretically be cheaper for the UK at least than a purely national project because of shared design costs, reduced build costs, and economies of scale from ordering 3 sets of everything rather than 2.  However in private senior Royal Navy officers continue to express reservations about the possible impact in terms of timescales and cost overheads of having to incorporate France and French companies in to the project, and the requirements of the French Navy requirements in to the design.  Arguments over work share, costs and management are almost inevitable.  Unfortunately some recent Anglo-French collaborative defence projects (e.g. the Horizon CNGF) have been notably unsuccessful, with timescales slipping many years (5-10) and costs soaring (40-100% above the cost of a purely national project according to a NAO report published in 2001.  Subsequent British parliamentary "post-mortems" have concluded that the problems were largely due to French insistence on un-equitable and unworkable management and industrial structures, while simultaneously the systems specification became ever less suited to UK needs.  Some people find it hard to believe that a joint Anglo-French carrier project will have more favourable results for the UK.  

DCN PA2 Graphic, Feb 2004In late February 2004 reports also appeared that BAE Systems was prepared to relinquish its status as the Prime Contractor role for the CVF Project, the French companies Thales and DCN being the eager but rival heirs apparent.  A BAE Systems source stated: "The Government may be keen for political reasons to allow the French in on this deal, but the reality is that they (the French) will want a slice of the action.  The project will become severely delayed and the Americans have told us they are not keen to share their technology with the French." 

On 26 February 2004, Mr Turner, Chief Executive of BAE Systems, expressed his concern about the attempts by the UK and French Governments to co-operate on building their new aircraft carriers. He said that such a move would be plagued by complications and potentially delayed delivery of the British carriers.  “I would be very cautious about the idea. I’m not sure what would be in it for our armed forces,” he said. “But at the end of the day we do what our customer (the UK Government) wants.  ... You never have negotiations with the French where you come out winning. At best you come out even.  So I would approach it with great caution.”.   Mr Turner said the Anglo-French carrier deal could also badly affect a technology transfer deal by the UK with the US to allow it access to sensitive American defence technology.  Industrial collaboration between the UK and France on CVF may help reduce the costs of the two Royal Navy carriers but ironically, it will almost certainly dash BAE's hopes of the technology transfer deal governing the JSF because of the enmity between the French and Americans.  BAE Systems needs this to bid for work on the JSF and in the future to independently enhance the British variant, "You could say goodnight to anything on JSF," said Mr Turner.

As attempts to forge a common Anglo-French design for CVF/PA2 foundered, the French Ministry of Defense began to urge DCN and Thales to collaborate rather than compete for PA2.

On 4 June 2004, DCN and Thales Naval France announced the creation of a joint company (controlled by DCN) to lead and be prime contractor for the PA2 program.  The Thales press release stated:

"DCN and Thales have decided to combine their strengths to propose to jointly lead the future French aircraft carrier programme (PA2), and have set up an integrated Prime Contract Office that will be placed under the responsibility of a jointly owned company. The new company will have a four-member board of directors, with equal representation of Thales and DCN, and will be chaired by a DCN nominee.  The purpose of the Prime Contract Office is to lead the PA2 programme from conception to completion. It would also be able to assist the studies for potential cooperation with the United Kingdom’s future aircraft carrier programme, should this be desired by both governments. The shareholding of the new joint company will be DCN 65% and Thales 35%."

The agreement was actually signed on 18 May.  The joint prime contract office was called Maìtrise d'Oeuvre Porte Avions No 2 (MOPA2).  DCN was expected to play the lead role in the PA2 platform design and construction, while Thales would have the lead role as regards electronic systems (power, communications, networking, combat, radar, surveillance, etc.), and will also be a vital link in discussions with UK concerning co-operation.  In order to reduce costs, Chantiers de l'Altantique was expected to be key player in building the hull of PA2.  The French Ministry of Defense and DGA seemed to have accepted this development (indeed they actively encouraged it) which has finally killed off any hope of a unified joint Anglo-French aircraft carrier project, with the two countries building basically the same design.  As a side effect (or deliberately), it also prevents any significant UK involvement in the French project, something long predicted by sceptical BAE Systems executives.  The Chairman and CEO of Thales, Denis Ranque, later told the Defense Commission of the French National Assembly that he expected at most only 20% industrial co-operation.

It was probably no coincidence that a few days later, on 9 June, the French Ministry of Defence issued a press release stating that the French and British Ministers for Defence had met that day on board the French carrier  Charles de Gaulle, anchored off Gosport, and had approved a document defining the future stages of co-operation in the field of aircraft carriers. The scope covered industrial and technological aspects, as well as operational co-operation.  A joint statement said "Industrial talks are currently identifying cost and time savings and reduction of risk for both programmers.   We expect an initial view including, where appropriate, a quantitative assessment on risk reduction and financial benefits from industry by the end of September 2004.   There are promising paths of co-operations on systems, subsystems and equipment dealing with ... power generation and distribution, propulsion, ships control, data distribution and surveillance systems."  An accompanying press release from the French Ministry of Defense also stated that construction work would begin on the second French porte-avions in 2005 [meaning definition and design studies rather than construction work] and that the new ship would be in service before 2015, a service life of 40 years was implied. 

Major improvements planned compared with Charles de Gaulle included increased tonnage, greater margins for meeting future requirements (e.g. UAV's), an ability to operate heavier aircraft (due to the longer catapults), a larger hanger, a bigger and higher flight deck, improved ammunition stores and and preparation areas, adaptable aviation fuel tanks, and aviation workshops and stores adequate to the support a similar size air group for longer.  Many of these improvements were lessons learnt from the deployment of Charles de Gaulle in Operation Heracles in 2001-2.  The available funding did not permit the construction of a nuclear carrier of tonnage sufficient to meet these requirements.  After an analysis of the operational, financial and industrial aspects, conventional propulsion was selected on the basis that this would result in a 10% reduction in total cost of ownership compared with nuclear.

In September 2004 DCN and Thales published more details of their joint design for PA2 - now termed Projet Juliette.  Although the tonnage (59,000 tonnes) and dimensions (284m overall) were similar to the UK's CVF, the overall appearance of the one island design was much closer to Charles de Gaulle.  Work on Projet Juliette was continued until summer 2005, by which time it was clear that it was unrealisable with in the Defense Ministry Euro 2.7 billion budget ceiling for PA2.



Back to top 


 © 2004-13 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.