The French naval-based defense Naval Group starts refit and modernization of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in Toulon. The Charles de Gaulle’s first major overhaul began in September 2007. The highlight of this 15-month refit was the refueling of the nuclear power plant, a necessary step after six years in service, during which Charles de Gaulle sailed the equivalent of 12 times around the world, spent 900 days at sea, and performed 19,000 catapult launches. Several improvements were also made, including the installation of new propellers. These allow Charles de Gaulle to reach her design speed of 27 knots (50 km/h), replacing the vintage propellers used as a stop-gap since 2001.
Aircraft maintenance were also upgraded to allow operation of new Rafale F3 fighters armed with ASMP-A nuclear missiles, SCALP EG cruise missiles, and satellite communications bandwidth will be increased tenfold. This refit increased displacement to 42500 tonnes and was completed in December 2008. After technical problems in March 2009 the carrier was back in Toulon for repairs. An intensive work-up period was planned to bring Charles de Gaulle and her airgroup back to operational status. The aircraft carrier underwent an 18-month midlife upgrade and refit begun in February 2017 and returned to service in September 2018.The nuclear reactor was refueled, standard maintenance was completed, and the ship’s combat system was modernized, to better communicate with allies and support the Rafale fighters employed by the carrier.
Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). The ship is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle. The ship carries a complement of Dassault Rafale M and E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, AS365F Dauphin Pedro, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses two 75 m C13?3 steam catapults of a shorter version of the catapult system installed on the U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, one catapult at the bow and one across the front of the landing area.
The French Navy aimed to be a two-carrier navy, mainly to ensure that at least one ship is operational at all times even when the other is under repair. This scheme requires another aircraft carrier to be built; however, Charles de Gaulle is the only aircraft carrier currently serving. As of July 2021, Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American carrier-vessel that has a catapult launch system, which has allowed for operation of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds of the US Navy. Charles de Gaulle led the carrier strike group (CSG), as part of the “Clemenceau 21” mission, which set sail on 21 February 2021. The CSG is deployed for several months to the Mediterranean Sea, then to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf and is set to return to Toulon in June.