France is sending its aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to serve a support role in the country’s bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq, the AFP reported on January 6.
The decision to deploy the Charles de Gaulle was made before the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent hostage crises that claimed 17 lives and shook the nation last week.
But in light of French defence minister Jean Yves Le-Drain’s assertion this week that “ISIS must be wiped out,” the deployment looks to be part of a long-term engagement in the Middle East for what is Europe’s largest military force.
“Thanks to the Charles de Gaulle we will have intelligence … we may also conduct operations in Iraq,” President François Hollande told military personnel in the annual presidential address from aboard the 38,000-ton carrier on Wednesday.
Here’s a look at the French navy’s flagship.
French sailors stand guard during the visit of the French president and other government members to the new nuclear aircraft carrier’s inauguration on May 7, 1994.
Construction on France’s first nuclear-powered carrier began in 1987. Budget constraints halted the process on four occasions in the early ’90s until the Charles de Gaulle’s inauguration in 1994. But the ship would only be launched in 2001.
During final seaworthiness tests in the Bermuda triangle in November 2000, part of the blade from one of the carrier’s 19-ton propellers (below on the left) broke off. The Telegraph called the incident a “further twist” in one of “the most embarrassing sagas in French maritime history,” considering the ship’s dragged-out operational record.
The repair took months to complete, during which critics of the project pointed out that for the first time since World War II, France was left without a functioning aircraft carrier.
But the Charles de Gaulle soon saw action with a deployment to the Indian Ocean in 2001. It was accompanied by a French nuclear attack submarine and a frigate.
For the next 6 months, the carrier played a support role for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
The flattop has a capacity of forty aircraft, and is capable of launching a plane every thirty seconds. At 860 feet in length, France’s carrier is smaller than those of the United States, which are almost 1,100 feet long. It can carry up to 30 aircraft, along with a crew of nearly 2,000.
The ship has two aircraft strips for takeoff in the front and one for landing in the back. Here’s a Reuters breakdown of the vessel published when it deployed to assist the NATO mission in Libya in 2011:
In 2004, the French navy organised seafaring maneuvers to mark the 60th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, a post-D-Day campaign that saw the Allies land troops on the Mediterranean coast of occupied France.
The Charles de Gaulle plays a central role in the Varuna series — naval exercises periodically held between France and India.
In 2005, the Charles de Gaulle joined ships from 35 countries in Portsmouth Harbour, England, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a decisive naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars.
In 2007, the Charles de Gaulle docked at its home port in Toulon for a tune up that lasted over a year.
In January 2014, the carrier made a port call in Abu Dhabi.
France sent its flagship off the coast of Libya to support the bombing campaign that contributed to the ousting of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The carrier has been ordered into the Persian Gulf, along with a French nuclear submarine, putting it back in action in the Middle East.
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