French Carrier

Gordon Mohr
Thu, 25 Apr 2002 17:04:25 -0500

  Robert Harley wrote
> Actually, as is quite well known, there is one aircraft carrier
> roughly comparable to the US's Nimitz class: France's Charles de
> Gaulle.  It is alone with the US's big carriers in combining nuclear
> propulsion, modern equipment, size and runway length for dozens of
> conventional warplanes, several years autonomy etc, even if it is half
> the size.

Ah, the Charles de Gaulle, "quite well known" to be comparable to
US Carriers...

# French 'calamity' carrier heads for sea - again
# By Julian Coman in Paris
# (Filed: 11/03/2001)
# ONE of the most embarrassing sagas in French maritime history took a
# further twist last week when France's most accident-prone warship
# began the countdown to another attempt to take to the high seas.
# In the Ministry of Defence and on the quayside at Toulon, where the
# 40,000-ton aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle had been dry-docked,
# sceptical observers crossed their fingers and prayed for a fair wind.
# The idea of France's first nuclear-powered carrier was dreamt up in
# 1986. It soon became a pet project of the then president, Francois
# Mitterrand. The ship that was built has proved, however, to be a
# humiliating and expensive naval failure. Fifteen years and 7 billion
# later, it has still to complete its first successful tour of service
# and has suffered a series of mishaps.
# An attempt to go to sea in November ended characteristically in
# disaster somewhere in the Bermuda triangle. A substantial part of a
# 19-ton propeller broke off, obliging the carrier to limp back to
# southern France.
# Since then, naval engineers have worked round the clock for three
# months in preparation for the next bid for seaworthiness. Last
# Tuesday, the vessel moved into the bay of Toulon proper. Its 1,950
# crew are hoping for an April sailing, although no one was celebrating
# prematurely.
# Frustration with the carrier has become palpable. Some of the more
# mutinous sailors of the Charles de Gaulle have taken to calling it
# "the damned ship [le bateau maudit]". The French minister of defence,
# Alain Richard, has promised to take whoever was responsible for the
# latest propeller debacle to court. He has even admitted that the
# Charles de Gaulle has become a subject of "ridicule".
# It is not hard to understand why. The propeller incident was only one
# of a growing list of examples of mishap, misjudgment and mismanagement
# of the ship that was intended to be a symbol of French military
# prestige in the 21st century. "If you look back on the history of this
# ship," said one senior naval official, "it has just been a catalogue
# of errors."
# Even the ship's name caused trouble. In 1986, President Mitterrand
# decided to call it the Richelieu, after the cardinal. In 1989,
# however, the Gaullist Jacques Chirac became prime minister. Mr Chirac
# believed that such a potent symbol of national pride should be named
# after the general who inspired his own political beliefs.
# After a ferocious row, Mr Chirac prevailed. While the arguments raged,
# however, construction was falling further behind schedule. As economic
# recession began to bite in the 1990s, the project was starved of
# funding. On four occasions, work on the ship was suspended altogether.
# It was clear that the 1996 deadline for active service was wildly
# unrealistic.
# Mr Chirac, then president of France, made a virtue out of necessity
# and decided that the Charles de Gaulle should become a millennium
# project, ready for service in 2000. After years of neglect, technical
# work and development began to be conducted at breakneck speed. By the
# late 1990s, the carrier was ready for its first proper sea tests, at
# which point things began to go even more awry.
# The ship's flightdecks, it became clear, were too short to accommodate
# the American Hawkeye radar aircraft that France had bought for the
# vessel. In addition, the decks had been painted with a substance that
# eroded the arrest wires used to slow the aircraft as they landed.
# The ship's electronics circuits weremalfunctioning, while its
# personnel, it emerged, were being exposed to unacceptable levels of
# radiation. The ship was simply not fit to sail. After many months of
# repairs, the Charles de Gaulle was relaunched last year on a cruise to
# Guadaloupe. Then the propeller problems began.
# The firm that made the propellers, Atlantic Industries, went bankrupt
# in 1999. When the ship sails next month, it will borrow two propellers
# from older carriers. This time, the voyage must be a success. "If
# repeated mishaps don't finish a ship off, ridicule does," said Mr
# Richard. The French navy's communications officer in Toulon, Pierre
# Olivier is issuing similarly warnings. "Nothing must be left to chance
# for this trip," he said. "Everything must be in order this time."

- Gordon