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French Second Aircraft Carrier (CVF FR)

Deuxième porte-avions français (PA2)

Part 2





Co-operation with the UK

Since the French decided to build PA2, there have been regular reports of possible co-operation with the UK.

As mentioned above, in June 2004 the UK and French governments directed industry (basically through the  UK's Carrier Alliance and the French MOPA2), later supplemented by BMT to provided specialist services to investigate possible areas of co-operation between CVF and PA2, based on the two countries requirements and the design concepts proposed.   

A major obstacle was been UK concerns that a joint project might entail delays and cost increases rather than savings, although France has had similar concerns!  With the Main Gate for CVF slipping by years, French newspapers and elected representatives were asking what impact delays to the UK's CVF project will have on their own new carrier project.  For example the following question was asked in the French National Assembly (Parliament):

Question 50944. - November 16, 2004. - Mrs. Genevieve Levy draws the attention of the Lady Minister for Defense to the Franco-British project of aircraft carrier. A national daily newspaper recently entitled one of its articles thus: "The Becalming of the Franco-British Aircraft Carrier".

This situation is due to the fact that British company BAE Systems will now only conclude its studies of the CVF program after a delay of more than eight months, that is to say during the first quarter 2005.  Aren't these British problems, due to technical questions - mode of use of the F-35 fighter - but also, undoubtedly, financial, likely to call into question the co-operation between our two countries?  The example set by the Horizon frigates is a deplorable precedent.  May I ask the minister whether the Romeo project, proposed by DCN and Thales, is an alternative or if she is comfortable with the British CVF Project.

Answer: The reporters remarks quoted by the Honourable Member do not correspond to reality. The decision to equip the second French aircraft carrier with a traditional mode of propulsion was made public February 13, 2004, and offers increased possibilities of partnership between France and the United Kingdom, this last having for its part a construction schedule of two aircraft carriers. This announcement accelerated the process of co-operation started since 2003 at the time of the Franco-British tops of Touquet and of London. At the occasion of their meeting in Portsmouth on June 9, 2004, the Minister for Defense and her British counterpart approved a document fixing the stages of this co-operation.  This program of work covers industrial and technological dimension as much that the operational co-operation. French and British acquisition services are currently developing a framework of co-operation which will make it possible to determine with the industrialists the installations and equipment which could be carried out jointly, so in particular reducing the maintenance and costs of acquisition, as well as the industrial and calendar risks. The process will complete summer 2005 with the identification of the areas of co-operation, starting from a comparison between the French project Romeo and the British project Carrier Vessel Fighter (CVF) Delta, and without interfering with their respective schedules. From this point of view, the industrialists of the two countries have a very important role. The task sharing which will be retained in fine will be the result of a work of optimization largely implemented starting from their proposals. It mobilizes the major industrial actors of our military naval sector, whose experiment and competence are recognized, on the level of the control of overall industrial work. This step of co-operation of industry to industry is not of inter-official nature and cannot thus be compared with the step implemented for the realization of the Horizon frigates.  The British program has been confronted for one year with some difficulties, in particular due to the determination of the choice of the type of embarked apparatus and to problems of constitution of industrial alliance CVF.  The declarations of the Summit of London of the 18 and 19 November last, show that these difficulties are not likely to call into question the taken step of Franco-British co-operation. In any event, within the current framework of the exchanges, the Romeo project does not have intent of being an alternative to British CVF Project, and reciprocally. These two projects evolve/move within a national framework and must meet different needs.  The perimeter of the co-operation will be established at the end of the studies of industry to industry, during the year 2005.

Nevertheless, the possibility of close Anglo-French co-operation still appeared to be possible, and during the '100-day' CVF project review undertaken in March-June 2005, the UK adopted a far more positive and active position as regards the idea.  On 6 June 2005 the UK's Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram) told the House of Commons in response to a question: “I am sure that [the questioner] recognises the advantages of sharing benefits with one of our allies, in terms of their needs as well as ours. There might well be opportunities for increased build at British shipyards.  It is right that we continue to discuss this with our French allies.  They have a need, and we have a need, so let us see if there can be some mutual benefit in this.”  

Thales Chief Executive Denis Ranque told reporters at the Paris Air Show on 13 June 2005 that one way to cut costs was for two-thirds of the ships to be built in the United Kingdom and one third in France.  On 15 June 2005, the French Procurement Minister François Lureau (formerly of Thales) said during a presentation and press conference at the Air Show:  "At the end of June, we will have an answer on the idea of using the British aircraft carrier programme (CVF) for French needs a solution which seems to be able to satisfy a part of the French operational needs  ... costs will be a determining factor ... a final decision will be made at the end of the year ... [he was hopeful taking in to account] the similar schedules and the fact that the British admit that they need a traditional plane on board their future CVF".  (unofficial translation by N-M editor).  Contre-amiral Jean Tandonnet added “Cooperation should lead to reduced costs, certainly not more.”   A French defense official said the French and British programs were 30 percent to 50 percent common while a defence industry executive said that for cooperation to make sense, the level of commonality would have to be about 80 percent between the British and French ships.

Both the UK's CVF project and the French Project Romeo were on extremely tight budgets.  Joint discussions and a review of the CVF project undertaken in March to June 2005 apparently confirmed the prospect of substantial financial savings accruing from:

1. Developing just one rather than two carriers designs (and the more matured CVF Delta design is the logical choice over the PA2 Romeo)
2. The economies of scale from building three nearly identical carriers, rather than separate classes of just one and two ships.
3. Leveraging the low construction costs and impressive facilities of Chantiers at St Nazaire for the fabrication of some some superblocks, and probably assembly of all three ships.

There was also a political angle, a joint project would be a gesture of co-operation at a at a time when the UK and France are at loggerheads over many issues.

The first draft of a 499-page feasibility report requested from industry in 2004 by the French and British governments was jointly submitted by BAE, Thales UK, Thales France and DCN to the DGA and DPA on 24 June 2005.  This detailed the findings of their study in to possible areas of joint procurement or collaboration between the CVF and PA2 programmes, and the associated risks.  A comparison of the two preliminary design concepts found that excluding flight deck and combat systems where there are significantly different national requirements, some 75 to 80% of these two programmes could be common.

A press release by the Commander in Chief of the French Navy, 21 June 2005 (source AFP):

Convergence très forte (chef Etat-major marine) 

Le nouveau chef d’état-major de la Marine française, l’amiral Alain Oudot de Dainville, a assuré mardi à Paris que les marines française et britannique avaient une "convergence très forte" sur le projet d’un deuxième porte-avion français."Nous avons trouvé une convergence de besoins avec la marine britannique" a déclaré l’amiral à la presse. Cette convergence n’est pas "totale" car il reste une "divergence portant sur (l’usage ou non de) la catapulte", a-t-il précisé. "Mais en dehors de celà nous avons une convergence qui est très forte sur le dessin de la coque, ensuite il va falloir trouver une convergence industrielle", a-t-il poursuivi.Le fait que la France développe une version du porte-avion permettant le décollage des avions avec une catapulte représente un atout important pour les Britanniques."Nous sommes sur une très bonne base de coopération", a-t-il insisté.Il a également indiqué que le tonnage du futur bâtiment tournera "entre 55.000 et 65.000 tonnes".Le seul porte-avion français, le Charles-de-Gaulle est de 42.000 tonnes.L’amiral Oudot de Dainville, qui a pris ses fonctions le 15 juin, a mis en avant les deux priorités de sa politique : "faire connaitre le rôle de la Marine" et "continuer la construction de l’Europe de la Défense".Il a notamment appelé à développer la coopération européenne dans les domaines "de la sauvegarde", "des forces communes" et de "la sécurité des océans". "On ne peut pas protéger uniquement les côtes de France, il faut prolonger vers la Belgique et l’Espagne et l’Italie", a-t-il notamment souligné.Il a enfin jugé nécessaire de poursuivre la coopération entre Européens pour "la Marine de demain" notament pour "les frégates multimissions, le deuxième porte-avion et les missiles de croisière navale". "A part le sous-marin à propulsion nucléaire, tous les programmes que nous voulons lancer s’inscrivent dans cette dynamique de coopération" européenne, a-t-il ajouté.La France, qui entend se doter d’un deuxième porte-avions avec une mise en service prévue pour 2015, a décidé que celui-ci serait à propulsion classique, ouvrant ainsi la voie à une coopération avec la Grande-Bretagne qui compte pour sa part construire deux porte-avions.Par ailleurs évoquant la lutte anti-criminelle de la marine il a annoncé que cette dernière avait déjà saisi "7,4 tonnes de drogue contre 1 tonnes l’année dernière".

On the 28th June 2005, the French Le Figaro newspaper published an interview with DCN CEO Jean-Marie Poimboeuf in which he said (unofficial translation) "We gave to the authorities a working paper carried out jointly between BAE Systems, Thales and DCN.  Except for flight deck and combat systems, 75 to 80% of these two [aircraft carrier] programs could be common.  At the end of 2005, London and Paris should make a decision whether to prepare to award a development contract at the end of 2006."

On 30 June 2005 reports in Le Monde and other French newspapers (clearly using a common source) said that the commonality figure was in fact 80-90%, and that an important factor now was whether a collaborative Anglo-French carrier programme based on CVF (projet Romeo) would  cost less than the €2.2 billion estimated as being necessary to complete projet Rome for PA2.  A joint decision by the two governments on whether to proceed with a joint project is expected before the end of 2005, but current indications are very positive, one analyst saying "If our two countries want to realize savings, it is the best solution."

On July 9 2005, reported that the French Navy's project manager Capt. Jacques Bresson had said that the CVF design easily meets France’s needs: “We have convergence on the requirements on a common ship, with commonality of 80 to 90 percent, without any major concerns for the future.”   Louis Cazaubon, project director for prime contractor MO PA2, which helped prepare the report, said the study confirmed commonality of 80 percent to 85 percent, with the remaining designbasedc differences arising from the aircraft on board the two carriers.  

The French core requirement - 75 sorties per day by fully loaded Rafale F3s for seven days - was consistent with the Royal Navy’s planned sortie rate for CVF in a high-intensity conflict, Bresson said.  Although the Royal Navy’s sortie rate for the carriers has never officially been confirmed, an April 2005 article in the Navy News, put the figures at 108 launches in the first 24 hours, reducing to 72 per day for 10 days and 36 for a further 20 days.

“CVF as it is” forms the basis of industry’s offer to the French government, Cazaubon said.  The UK was insistent that it was only interested in a joint deal based on the CVF design concept, which was far further in to the development process than Projet Juliette - and that had generally been accepted on the French side.  French modifications for its own requirements would be minor, centring on:

  • Internal re-disposition of the aircraft bays in the hanger.
  • The command-and-control systems needed for a command ship - the French carrier would be able to embark 100 command personnel, making it a headquarters for an amphibious expeditionary force.
  • The United Kingdom would probably  use a combat management system compatible with its Type 45 destroyer, while France would probably opt for a version that being developed for its FREMM multimission frigates.
  • The French Navy wanted changes to the layout of the CVF flight deck, to allow for installation of catapults and arrester gear, based on experience of launching and landing Super Etendard and Rafale fighters on the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle carrier.
  • Other French Navy design changes included increasing storage capacity for jet fuel to 5 million litres from an initial 3 million, reflecting experience of operating the Rafale.

Bresson said that the British team had accepted the design changes which meant avoiding extra cost in later modifications.  As the CVF would be delivered to the Royal Navy fitted for - not with - catapults, and it was vital to incorporate into the ship architecture the right layout, otherwise it would be necessary “rebuild the ship” in a retro-fit,    Bresson added. “Previously, I was reasonably optimistic; now I am completely optimistic,” he said.  Interestingly, the British are themselves considering whether to change from the STOVL F-35B JSF variant to the conventional F-35C.

MOPA2’s Cazaubon said industry would seek a maximum of savings, and would propose trade-offs in performance and the use of commercial technology. Major subsystems such as the engines, electrical systems and other equipment would be common. The level of savings would therefore depend on the DGA and the UK's Defence Procurement Agency, but the overriding principle was “best value for money,” with extensive use of competitive tendering, he said.

The French carrier would ship 32 Rafale's, three Hawkeye's and five NH90 helicopters, compared with capacity of Charles de Gaulle of 24 Rafale's, two Hawkeyes and up to five helicopters. 

Two options were being considered as to French involvement: either licensing the CVF design to France so they can build a third carrier themselves, or letting them join the project and participate in building all three carriers. It would appear that the UK's preference is for the French to licence the CVF design for its own use, rather than a full joint project with the complications and negotiations that would entail. There were fears that the latter option would delay the UK programme, unless the French joined by October 2005.  A French decision was expected at the end of September. 

In mid-September 2005, DCN's chief executive Jean-Marie Poimboeuf indicated that the Anglo-French aircraft carrier project had reached a critical stage, with the two sides of the English Channel examining whether co-operation would make it possible to realize savings.  He said "[we] should have the results of this study by the end of the month and .... [know] if it is possible to find an organization which allows a significant reduction of the costs, because if we can't, there is no interest [on building the carriers jointly]."

Many industry sources on both sides of the channel have indicated that they a true joint project unrealistic, but favour French use of the CVF baseline design and joint CVF-PA2 procurements.

In mid October 2005 the UK's Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Reid,  told the House of Commons Defence Select Committee that France had put off a decision on whether to join the UK programme from this month until December.  But officials briefed on French thinking said the two-month delay would be used to come up with a more detailed assessment of potential cost-savings, a sign France is taking the prospect of joining the UK programme more seriously.  French officials made clear that the recent for the delay was that they had not been given adequate access to British CVF files, which they needed to make an accurate assessment of the viability of using the design for PA2.


PA2 Project - Progress between January 2005 and January 2006

The UK and France have been examining opportunities for cooperation between their respective Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) and (PA2) programmes since 2004, and with increasing seriousness since early 2005.  The PA2 design phase was officially launched on 24 January 2005 and initial thinking focussed a new carrier design proposed by DCN - Projet Romeo, later Projet Juliette - but the affordability of "going it alone" with a new national design became an increasing concern.  However a study completed by industry in June 2005 concluded that there was potentially 80-90% commonality between UK and French requirements, and that the basic CVF design could, with only limited tailoring, meet the needs of the Marine Nationale.  The French still had some outstanding questions over the use of the CVF design and UK was reluctant to provide the commercially sensitive and highly detailed information that DGA and MOPA2 were requesting in order to answer them.  The necessary documents finally began to be provided in September, but a French decision on the adoption of the CVF had to be delayed from October, and then by a further two months. 

With most issues resolved, and after nearly a year of discussions by officials at all levels, France effectively decided to abandon Projet Juliette and instead utilise the CVF design for PA2.   In press releases dated 12 December 2005, DCN and Thales France revealed that they had been awarded by the Délegation Générale pour l'Armement (DGA) a “relay contract” worth €20 million (about £14 million) to continue their design work, and that they will now focus their efforts on developing a detailed preliminary design of a “tailored CVF” for PA2, being termed “CVF FR”.  The studies will be undertaken by MOPA2 - the integrated DCN/Thales prime contract office for PA2.

Press release from DCN issued 12 December 2005:

French PA2 carrier programme advanced to next design phase

French defence procurement agency DGA has formally awarded DCN and Thales a ‘relay contract’ to continue their work on the design of the planned ‘PA2’ aircraft carrier. This marks a major milestone in the design of this second carrier for the French Navy.

The PA2 design phase was officially launched by French Minister for Defence Mme Michèle Alliot-Marie on 24 January 2005. The studies undertaken since early 2005 have focused on the opportunities for cooperation between the French PA2 and the British CVF programmes. These studies concluded, moreover, that the basic CVF design could, with limited tailoring, meet the French Navy's requirements.

The new contract, worth €20 million, will enable the PA2 team to proceed with a detailed preliminary design of a “tailored CVF”.

These studies will be undertaken by MOPA2, the integrated DCN/Thales prime contract office. The milestone marking the end of the design phase and the start of the production phase is scheduled for late 2006.

It was revealed by the French media that CVF FR was expected to displace about 65,000 tonnes, be 283 metres long with a 69 metres beam, carry up to 40 aircraft including 32 Rafale fighters, be fitted with two steam catapults and arresting gear, and accommodate up to 1650 crew and airgroup (compared to 1800 for CVF UK). 

Some desired design changes had already been identified by the MOPA2, and apparently accepted by the UK Aircraft Carrier Team as part of the joint baseline, for example increasing the designs storage capacity for jet fuel from 3 million to 5 million litres by utilising compartments previously intended for sea water ballast.   

The flight deck arrangements of the UK and French CVF variants will differ significantly.

At a meeting between UK Defence Minister John Reid and French Defence Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on 24 January 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning Anglo-French Future Aircraft Carrier cooperation was signed.  This will enable the sharing of the detailed and often classified information necessary to finalise the French adaptation of the delta variant of the British CVF design.  The MoU also establishes a framework for France to compensate the UK for costs that it has already incurred, and will contribute towards future work of common benefit. 

John Reid said “We have an agreement to continue our cooperation in the management of this project for the next 12 months”.   The French agreed to initially pay up to £100 million (€145 million) in three instalments - this representing one third of Assessment Phase costs incurred by the MOD UK in the period 1999-2005.  France would make an immediate £30 million payment and an additional £25 pound payment in July.   They will pay another £45 million by the end of 2006 if they still wish to continue development of the CVF FR design variant.

In addition, France agreed to eventually put in another £40m towards the development of the carrier. On 14 December 2005 the UK CVF Project had entered the Demonstration Phase, which will complete the detailed design work needed before construction can begin. Dr Reid revealed that “We have agreed that France will pay one third of the demonstration phase costs of the common base line design".  The additional £40m payment will cover about one-third of the development work common to the two UK carriers and the additional French ship, which Britain estimated at £115m.

Mr Reid said any decision on whether to move forward as a bi-national programme would be made at the end of 2006, but it appears unlikely France, which has invested financially in the programme and has now invested considerable political capital towards an agreement, would back off in 12 months.

Senior negotiators said Britain would retain full control of the programme despite the French participation. Sir Peter Spencer, head of the Defence Procurement Agency, said: "There is no joint decision-making."   British officials have been insistent on such control in order to avoid disputes that have destroyed past joint programmes, particularly UK participation in the Horizon common frigate.

For the French, the deal allows them to jump approximately two years ahead in their efforts to build PA2 since the DCN lead Project Juliette was far less advanced than the CVF design.  The Financial Times reported that the French decision came after nearly three years of fitful negotiations, and that people involved in the meeting emerged surprised and giddy that a deal was completed. "We did not expect such a fruitful result," said one French official.  Both sides said the final talks were also unusual in that both Mr Reid and Ms Alliot-Marie were personally involved in detailed and sometimes heated negotiations.

The formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK and French Governments on cooperation on aircraft carriers was signed on 6 March 2006, on the sidelines of an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Innsbruck by John Reid and Michele Alliot-Marie.  This gave French officials access to the detailed and often classified information and documents necessary to finalise the French adaptation of the delta variant of the British CVF design.  The MoU also formalised the framework for France to compensate the UK for costs that it has already incurred, and to contribute towards future work of common benefit.

An internal review of CVF-FR design was passed on 22 June 2006, and MOPA2 (common company of DCN and Thales in load of the project)  presented the General Delegation for Armament (DGA) at the end of July with the results of its study in to how the British CVF design could be adapted to meet the needs of the Marine Nationale while retaining as much commonality as possible, as well as a first detailed financial estimate.   

A report in La Tribune newspaper on 29 August 2006 claimed that the MOPA2 had "made recommendations to the specifications" for PA2 from the baseline CVF design, the French Ministry of Defense confirmed the report on the 31 August.  The proposed changes would apparently increase displacement from about 65,000 tonnes to 74,000 tonnes (this is probably the end of service life limiting displacement, other reports have since referred to 70,000 tonnes), increase maximum flight deck width by 4 metres( to 73 metres)  increase draft by 2 metres (to 11.5 metres) and reduce speed from 26.3 knots to about 25.0 knots (DCN says 26 knots). 

The increase in displacement was primarily due to Marine Nationale requirements related to the airgroup; including the fitting of heavy steam catapults and associated boilers, changes to the  hanger space, increased fuel storage, the storage and handling of air launched nuclear weapons, and the fitting of a sophisticated anti-roll system.  There were also substantial changes to the ships internal layout to conform to French practices.  Additionally, the Marine Nationale was very unhappy about the reduction in speed and subsequently sought an increase to close to the 29 knots it had originally specified for  PA2.  The suggested mechanism was a change from two conventional shafts to a single centre shaft plus two high output propulsion pods - a fairly significantly design change.

These changes could not be made without increasing costs and after the report was received, the DGA apparently had serious concerns about PA2 budget estimates, and the industrial organisation.  The UK also expressed serious concern about the scale of the proposed changes.  Commonality was dropping below 80% and CVF FR was rapidly becoming a separate class from CVF UK, rather than a simple variant with minimum changes.  Hoped for economies associated with co-operating with the UK seemed likely to be less than had been expected.

A key factor was now cost, there was a de-facto price cap of €2.7 billion on PA2, and if this could not be met then officials were warning that the project is in danger of cancellation. 

There was also still uncertainty about how to build and fit-out the new carrier - not necessarily helped by government ownership of DCN and a naval consolidation plan involving Thales.  France was concerned that manufacturing decisions already made by the UK had limited scope for co-operation and costs savings.  A desire to reduce costs to an affordable level lead the MOPA2 and DGA  to even consider building blocks in an Eastern European (probably Polish) shipyard. They also looked at the possibility of building the French CVF hull in the UK as part of a three-ship production line rather than at the Aker Yards (formerly Chantiers de L'Atlantique) shipyard as had long been expected  - but there were serious French doubts about the cost base of UK shipyards; their size, facilities, capacity and capabilities; and continuing deep concerns about the risks associated with the superblock approach.  French officials complained in September that the UK failed to provide them with the information needed to consider this option seriously, and it had to be eliminated.

A new design contract (the third so far) to develop a detailed industrial plan and proposal for the construction of PA2 was signed on 25 September 2006, with the plan to be delivered by Christmas!  DCN and Thales now teamed with several large partners: Aker Yards worked on the platform, EADS on elements of the system of combat, MBDA on the munitions handling, Bertin Technologies on human factors and Thales Naval on the definition of the common design baseline with the UK.   However the MOPA2 still had only 40 employees, many working in the UK trying frantically to agree the common baseline design with their CVF counterparts.

It had been previously decided by the DGA on 21 September to require the MOPA2 to achieve 90% commonality with the UK during the new contract .  Since then some of the design changes proposed in July have been dropped (e.g. relocation of the air wing operations room and alterations to accommodation arrangements) , while five others have now been better provided for in the common baseline design with UK agreement - slightly widened lifts able to handle the Rafale fighter; improved allowance for the steam catapults and associated boilers, arresting gear, increased fuel storage, and the SATRAP stabilisation system.  The agreement by the Anglo-French team on common arrangements for accommodation, operations/command, wet and engineering spaces represents significant progress - although the last is dependent on the French Navy not insisting on a significantly higher speed.

In September 2006 it was revealed that the DCN/Thales joint company MOPA2 project provided offices for the  major PA2 programme partners, specifically: Armaris (combat systems), Aker Yards France (platform), EADS (combat system modules), MBDA (ammunition management) and Berlin Technologies (human factors study), all associated with the programme’s definition phase.  DCN said that this participation in the studies does not reflect each company's specific role, which would be decided later.    DCN also stated that the MOPA2 had than 40 engineers and senior officers, and a permanent team based in Bristol (location of the main offices of both the MOD's CVF Integrated Project Team and the Aircraft Carrier Alliance), in charge of making sure that the documents received from the British teams met France’s needs and offered options suitable for the PA2. French experts at the ACA were there to speak for France’s programme requirements and to gather technical, cost and schedule information regarding the CVF project.  By September 2006 the MOPA2 had more than 1,000 documents describing the CVF design as well as access to the British secured network of about 6,000 sources.  MOPA2 members were also participating in the preparation of common acquisitions within the ACA and lending their experience to the British teams, especially in the field of operating a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) carrier aircraft if that was chosen by the U.K.



PA2 Project - Current Situation (covering approximately the last 8 months)

An August 2006 graphic of the French PA2 (aka CVF FR) with a very distinctive forward island.  The French are evolving the  design from the UK baseline, and associated cost increases have become an issue.  (Source: DCN/Thales

The project remains in the Design and Definition Phase.

At a press conference on 27 September 2006, French Defence Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie admitted that PA2 was vulnerable to cancellation by a future government that was focussed more on increasing Social rather than Defence related spending (French Presidential elections are due May 2007).  The following day Les Echos newspaper quoted DCN Chief Executive Jean-Marie Poimboeuf as saying there was only a 50% chance that the carrier will be built and anyway DCN "doesn't have the means to build a 70,000 tonnes ship", reference to suggestions that it might be built in the UK .

France has delayed a decision from December 2006 to March/April 2007 on whether to place contracts for further detailed CVF-FR design work and the procurement of long lead items  - which would trigger a further €50 million payment to the UK (€100 million has apparently been paid so far).  The long lead equipment would include American designed and manufactured steam catapults and arresting gear, expected to be ordered by early 2007.

On 25 October 2006, the Le Monde newspaper reported that the Minister for Defense, Michele Alliot-Marie, was taking a very firm position concerning the uncertainties which weigh on the PA2 program after the French Presidential election of 2007.  She said that "it will be difficult to stop a full and whole co-operation which functions perfectly under the agreement shared by France and the United Kingdom”.  She also said that the €700 million allocated for PA2 under the 2007 Finance Law is " a firm decision, final, on which we invest”.   French officials claimed that commonality between the CVF-UK and CVF-FR variants was over 90%, and said that three CVFs would be built -  or none.

In mid-December  the MOPA2 completed its detailed industrial plan and proposal for the construction of the new carriers.  The file was reviewed on 18 December by the board of directors of DCN.  It was then to validated by CA of MOPA2 before being delivered on 20 December to the DGA (just 5 days before the Christmas deadline).  It's believed that the proposal gives "over 80%" commonality between PA2 and the CVF UK, and is priced at about €3.2 billion (£2.1 billion).

Assuming that the proposal was acceptable, the French Defense Ministry hoped that a Dossier de Lancement et de Réalisation (DLR) - equivalent to the UKs ‘Main Gate Approval’  could be made at the end of March 2007, and notification of the contract follow before the expiry of the current offer in May. 

However reports in February indicated that the DGA considered that the €3.2 billion price tag to be too high, and was looking for a quick 15-20% reduction.   If that is not quickly obtained  then French Presidential and Parliamentary elections would delay any order for the ship in the second half of 2007 (at best). 

Vigorous negotiations, some small cuts in equipment fit, and insistence that the total project costs must come within the available budget, had by March 2007 apparently resulted in a reduced build price of  €2.5 billion (about £1.7 billion, i.e. less than the £1.9 billion each  the UK is expected to pay for its far less expensively equipped ships!)  - less than the reported unit cost of the two (simpler) STOVL configured UK carriers!  However this price tag apparently depends upon Aker Yards become a risk sharing partner in the project rather than a subcontractor, and much closer industrial linkage with the UK CVF project - this apparently including the manufacture at St. Nazaire of CVF superblocks or even their whole hulls, BAE Systems Surface Ship Solutions (formerly known as BAE Naval Ships) and VT being compensated for the loss of work by being given a share of the overall savings.

UK sources finally confirmed in early April that the CVF build strategy was being reviewed, with a decision expected by the end of the month.  Under one option it appears that two (out of five) superblocks - probably the large, midships blocks 2 and 3 - might be reallocated to France.  Final assembly of the British carriers could also be moved from Rosyth to Sante Nazaire.

It is also known that the ACA has asked Aker to quote for the construction of Block 1 - which has the greatest commonality between the CVF UK and CVF FR designs, the other blocks having greater customisation to meet national requirements.

The CVF/PA2 base-line design includes five superblocks.  The UK MOD announced in December 2005 that Block 1 would be built by BES at Rosyth, Block 2 by VT Shipbuilding at Portsmouth, Block 3 by BAE Submarines at Barrow, and Blocks 4 & 5 by BAE Naval Ships on the Clyde (the Govan shipyard with assistance from Scotstoun), with assembly and final outfitting by BES at Rosyth.   It has been expected that France would build the whole hull of its PA2 at Aker Yards at St Nazaire with final out fitting by DCN at Brest.  One option under consideration in March/April 2007 in an effort to reduce costs appears to be the reallocation of blocks for the three UK and French carriers on a common workshare basis - probably Block 1 to VT Portsmouth, Blocks 2 & 3 to Aker Yards and/or DCN, with Blocks 4 & 5 remaining at the BAE  Clyde yards.  It is also known that the ACA has asked Aker  to quote for the construction of Block 1.
1. This diagram fails to show that the UK intends to offer the ships upper decks to open tender. 
2. For scale, the lower divisions are 10 metre wide, and Block 3 alone will displace 16,800 tonnes.

In mid April 2007 the Chief Executive of Thales, Denis Ranque, confirmed that with the backing of the French government the company had submitted a proposal to the UK MOD for merging the separate PA2 and CVF projects into a single three-ship programme.  He said that "Building the ships together would be in the best interests of British and French taxpayers."  He suggested that a French yard could build one-third of the hull for each ship; British yards could build the other two-thirds: "If we can find a way that industry is incentives, if part of the savings are going to industry itself, I do not see why our friends at BAE Systems would not take that on."  It was said by others that this new approach could realise savings of about £80 million (€120 million) per ship. 

BAE Systems is believed to be resisting the French proposal on the grounds that it would cause further delays and that UK shipyards would be unable to each build their superblocks for three ships in the time scales being demanded by the two governments.  When asked to comment, the Ministry of Defence said that it was still considering all industrial proposals for the carrier-building plan, and that the final go-ahead for the British carriers was still being negotiated.  However off-the-record feedback was more reserved, issues identified include the lack of clarity of the savings (if any) that the UK MOD would achieve by the merger, concern that the French schedule for PA2 was considered immoveable and that the two British carriers would have to be fitted around this (effectively resulting in significant delays as they became units 02 and 03 in the programme), and an assumption that final assembly of all three ships would be in France.   French sources apparently admit that their "initial offer" should have been made more attractive to the British.

On 6 May 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as the new French President, although expected to place a slightly lower priority on defence spending than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, he had previously publicly expressed support for PA2 (the second French aircraft carrier). 

With the projects future reasonably assured the French MoD was expected to try pressure the UK in to making a commitment to CVF before options negotiated on long lead items such as steam catapults expire on 31 May 2007.  The delays associated with renegotiating these would threaten France's objective of having the new carrier fully operational in early 2015 - when FNS Charles de Gaulle will enter an extended overhaul and refuelling period.  No such commitment had been received from the UK by the end of May, but some unconfirmed reports suggest that France actually signed a €50 million ($67 million) contract for two 90-metre long C13-2 steam catapults for PA2 on 7 May 2007.

On 18 May 2007, Hervé Morin was appointed as France's new Defence Minister, replacing Michèle Alliot-Marie.   His first action - under a President expected to place a slightly lower priority on Defence spending than his predecessor - will be to conduct a defence review to establish the 2008 Defence Budget and the 2008-2013 Military Spending Law.  Statements from him, and the new President, supporting PA2 are now awaited.

In June 2007, the UK media began to suggest that the preferred CVF/PA2 approach may well be full Anglo-French co-operation, with the Royal Navy receiving the first and third carriers (entering service in 2015 and about 2020 respectively), and the French Marine Nationale the second carrier (entering service about 2017).  Superblock's 2 & 3 will be built in French shipyard(s), while 1 and 4+5 will go to UK shipyards. [Note that a major source of information for some recent media reports appears to be this website, so there could be circular referencing].

According to various French media reports, during a visit to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle on 20 June, Morine noted that no final decision had yet been taken to build a second carrier.  A few days later he said He said “in principle, we will have a second aircraft carrier”, but that was put in the context of an ideal world with less budgetary constraints.  Sarkozy stated on 23 June that defence procurement “clearly continues to suffer from insufficient controls and from a mismatch between programs and requirements”, defence procurement decisions should be the result of a prioritized expression of capability requirements, and “not just a catalogue of weapons.”

In early July 2007, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a speech to the lower house of the National Assembly that the current Defence Spending Review would involve tough choices, such as whether and when France needed a second aircraft carrier.  “We are working towards making this second aircraft carrier.  A definitive decision will be taken, based on all the analyses, between the end of this year and the start of next year [2008].”

The UK and French Defence Ministers met on 14 July, with the French seeking to clarify whether the UK would be proceeding with the CVF project. 

The UK announced on 25 July 2007 that Main Gate approval had been given to order and manufacture two carriers at cost of £3.8 billion (€5.8 billion), for entry in to service in 2014 and 2016.  The UK would continue to co-operate with France on the project, and further announcements about this would be made in next few months.  However it is confirmed that all the superblocks will be built in the UK, and final assembly will be at Rosyth - clearly a blow to French hopes for large scale joint construction of the ships.


From the top, FNS Charles de Gaulle;, a PA2 concept based on CVF; a computer graphic of CVN 78, USS Gerald R Ford.   (Sources: Marine Nationale, DCNS, Northrop Grumman)

PA2 Delay

On 27 May 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pre-empted the findings of a White Paper on Defence and National Security.  He said that a decision on ordering a second aircraft carrier (PA2) would now be taken around 2011-2012 - "I want to think about it.  This is a serious decision".

This delay was officially confirmed on 17 June 2008 when the results of the defence review were officially published - President Sarkozy stating "we’ll take the decision to launch the second aircraft carrier programme at a later date, since there’s no urgency for us to do it now".   French newspapers gave the estimated cost of  the PA.2 project as €3.3 billion - far higher than anything previously published, although this figure apparently arrived at by adding VAT on top of the €200 million already spent and the  €2.5 billion still required.


The death of CVF-FR?

Clearly PA.2 will now be unable to cover for FNS Charles de Gaulle during her refit and refuelling (IPER) in 2015-16, indeed it is becoming obvious that PA2 is now becoming her replacement rather than a supplement. 

With a three to four year hold in place, the French Navy is expected to revisit the case for nuclear propulsion for its new aircraft carrier in the light of soaring fuel prices.  It is now possible to envisage the French abandoning the CVF-FR concept and instead developing an all new design which has far more in common with the US Navy's latest CV-21 Gerald R Ford-class of aircraft carriers than CVF.  If a "green light" for this new approach is given in 2012, the detailed design could be sufficiently complete by for construction to start in 2015-16, with the carrier then entering service in 2023 - by which time Charles de Gaulle will be twenty five years old.  


PA2 Links

Note: Links open in new windows

Ministère de la Défense
   - A propos du second porte-avions
  - Second porte-avions

DCN - porte-avions No2

French National Assembly
  - L'AVENIR DU GROUPE AÉRONAVAL : La nécessité d'un second porte-avions
  - Examen du rapport de la mission d'information sur le mode de propulsion du second porte-avions
   - Audition de M. Denis Ranque, président-directeur général de Thales




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 © 2004-13 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.