Germany's Interest In a European Aircraft Carrier Might Be a Pipe Dream

Germany's Interest In a European Aircraft Carrier Might Be a Pipe Dream

Just because it could be a good idea doesn't mean it will come to fruition. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: At present, just two E.U. states possess aircraft carriers. 

A German politician has floated the idea of a European aircraft carrier.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who in 2018 succeeded German chancellor Angela Merkel as the head of Merkel’s governing Christian Democratic Union party, proposed the Euro-carrier in the summer of 2019.

Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal came in response to French president Emmanuel Macron’s call for greater European integration.

Merkel herself in early 2019 endorsed the idea. “It’s right and good that we have such equipment on the European side, and I’m happy to work on it.”

It’s unclear whether Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to share a single flattop across several European navies, perhaps under the European Union’s umbrella.

Alternatively, European defense firms jointly could produce a single carrier-class for different E.U. navies. European governments and industry already collaborate on major warplane designs.

At present, just two E.U. states possess aircraft carriers. France operates one carrier, Charles De Gaulle. The United Kingdom is working up a new class of two new carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class. The government in London could leave the European Union as early as October, leaving Charles De Gaulle as the sole E.U. flattop.

It’s unclear whether and how Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal would affect France’s plans for a carrier to succeed Charles De Gaulle.

The current French carrier launched in 1994 and could require replacement as early as the 2040s. At the 2018 Euronaval conference, French defense minister Florence Parly said the Marine Nationale would define the new vessel's requirements in 2020. The new flattop could serve into the 2080s.

"Key issues to be decided during the study period include whether or not the new carrier will be nuclear-powered like the Charles De Gaulle, and how to accommodate new combat aircraft being jointly developed with Germany," Agence France-Presse reported. 

The French flattop recently returned to action following an 18-month, $1.5-billion overhaul. The Marine Nationale accepted the 42,000-ton-displacement, nuclear-powered Charles De Gaulle from the Direction Générale de l’Armement -- the French procurement agency -- in early November 2018.

"The 18-month overhaul and modernisation of the carrier in the southern French port of Toulon covered the combat system, aircraft maintenance facilities and the platform," Jane's reported.

"A new longer-range 3D air surveillance radar and more accurate navigation radars were installed, the networks were digitised, the control room was completely replaced and the telecommunication systems were modernised," Jane's continued.

From Jane's:

The maintenance hangars, aircraft spaces and deck-landing systems were converted to an "all-Rafale" configuration optimised for the naval version of the Rafale combat aircraft following the retirement from service of the Super-Etendard Modernisé. The carrier's automation systems and automatic stabilisation and steering control system were modernised, two units of the cooling system were replaced, the control simulator was refitted and one of the two galleys was refurbished.

The French defense ministry announced that the newly modernized Charles De Gaulle and her battle group -- three destroyers, a submarine and a supply ship -- would deploy to the Indo-Pacific region for five months starting in March 2019.

During the deployment, Charles De Gaulle and her escorts will exercise with the Japanese navy and the militaries of Egypt and India, NHK World Japan reported.

The 860-feet-long flattop normally embarks an air wing of around 40 aircraft, including Rafale M fighters, E‑2C Hawkeye radar early-warning planes and EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters.

It's a problem having just one carrier. During refits, Charles De Gaulle's air crews must find ways of maintaining their skills. It's for that reason that most navies that possess carriers aim to acquire at least two of the vessels. France and Russia are alone among major carrier powers in operating just a single flattop.

With their only carrier laid up for repairs starting in 2017, French aviators for the first time integrated with a U.S. Navy carrier air wing.

Twenty-seven French aviators and 350 sailors in April 2018 traveled to Virginia with 12 Rafales and one Hawkeye. After training on land, the French embarked on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush for at-sea training.

David Axe served as a defense editor for the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix,War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This article was first published in 2019.

Image: Reuters.