With the new aircraft carrier, France intends to strengthen military ties with the US

The US allies in Europe want to show the next Biden government that they have the means and the courage for serious military action. The most recent example: the revelation of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a new nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

This month’s announcement of a replacement for the flagship Charles de Gaulle cemented France’s position as the United States’s main strategic ally in the European Union after Britain left. Macron is also increasing French military spending and urging neighbors to strengthen their armies instead of relying too heavily on the United States.

“It is a combat ship, a symbol of power, testimony to our ability to act,” said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Twitter.

“It is the voice of France in all waters of the globe.”

Macron says the United States will only respect European allies if they reinforce their armed forces. The new carrier, scheduled for launch in 2038, affirms “France’s willingness to preserve its strategic autonomy,” Macron said in a speech on December 8, announcing the new carrier at a nuclear component manufacturer.

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Some European officials, including Germany’s defense minister, have expressed doubts about Macron’s promotion of European power, noting that Europe cannot defend itself without the US

Still, officials and analysts say the French focus on capabilities and action is appreciated in Washington, even though Macron’s comment last year that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is experiencing “brain death” has caused consternation.

“There are very few nations in the world that have this ability to project power,” said retired American admiral James Foggo of the planned carrier. “France has everything we have, but on a smaller scale. They are a very valuable partner for us. “

President-elect Joe Biden says he wants to “deepen and revitalize” relations with European allies, who have suffered from trade measures and President Trump’s intimidation over issues that include weak military spending. In a phone call with NATO’s secretary general last month, Biden said he wanted to work with the allies “to ensure that NATO has the strategic direction and capabilities it needs to strengthen deterrence and face new and emerging threats,” said his transition team.

In Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country reluctant to use force because of its history, plans to increase military spending this month have suffered a setback. The Social Democratic Party, the youngest partner in the governing coalition, is preventing the country’s army from acquiring weapons for drones.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who supports drone armament, told Parliament that German soldiers in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province told her how, during a rocket attack, an unarmed drone located the firing position , but that they had to crouch and wait for US support.

“I’ve heard a lot in recent days about Europe’s strategic autonomy … that we need to debate and negotiate with Americans as equals,” she said on December 9. “The German Army soldiers in Kunduz lying on the ground looking anxiously at the sky to see when the American air support would finally arrive, they did not have the feeling that we can act as equals with America. “

France’s relationship with the United States has been close, but at times stormy, since the 1778 treaty that helped defeat the British. France withdrew from NATO’s integrated military command in 1966 and opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. But France returned to NATO’s military structures in 2009 and the relationship has become closer in recent years.

French soldiers participate in military exercises in Versailles, France, in October.


Benoit Tessier / Reuters

In recent years, the United States has pressured its allies to do more for European security as Washington’s focus has shifted to China. This year, France is expected to be one of only 10 NATO members, including the United States, to exceed the alliance’s spending target of 2% of gross domestic product. The French government plans to increase spending next year by 4.5%. France led efforts in the Sahel region of Africa to combat Islamic militants, with the support of US intelligence and logistics.

“France’s robust stance coincides with the American recognition that it is not always in the lead and wants the allies to share the burden,” said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of the Paris office of the United States German Marshall Fund, a tank opinion. . “France and the United States are willing to project a power that is not shared with all European countries.”

Charles de Gaulle, which was commissioned in 2001, has been a symbol of close cooperation with the United States, especially in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In late 2015, Paris sent its flagship to head the U.S. naval task force against the terrorist organization, the first time that a foreign ship has performed this function. Upon his return to the region the following year, retired admiral Foggo, then commander of the US Sixth Fleet based in Naples, Italy, remembers being on the ship’s deck while French-made Rafale warplanes flew to attack Islamic State targets. .

“It is very important for the alliance and for France,” said retired admiral Foggo, now a distinguished member of the European Policy Analysis Center, a think tank.

Charles de Gaulle uses a similar catapult system to launch jets like American carriers, meaning that their fighters can operate on each other’s decks. When Charles de Gaulle was under maintenance in 2018, French pilots trained on the aircraft carrier George HW Bush. In March, French and American fighters switched decks between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during training in the Mediterranean.

The new French aircraft carrier, still unnamed, will be significantly larger than its predecessor. With a length of 300 meters, or 984 feet, it will transport 30 fighters, whether the Rafale jets or their successors, currently in joint development by France, Germany and Spain. The projected weight of 75,000 metric tons is heavier than any active aircraft carrier, except the largest US vessel, Gerald R. Ford. It will be equipped with an electromagnetic launch system from General Atomics of San Diego, which means that it will be able to handle American fighter jets in the same way as its predecessor. Like Charles de Gaulle and U.S. aircraft carriers, the new ship will be powered by nuclear power, reducing its reliance on visits to ports for fuel.

Write to James Marson at [email protected]

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