Home » Aviation » CNO: U.S./French Integrated Air Wing Helping Develop ‘One Larger Team’ to Tackle Maritime Operations

CNO: U.S./French Integrated Air Wing Helping Develop ‘One Larger Team’ to Tackle Maritime Operations

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and his counterpart, Chief of Staff of the French Navy Adm. Christophe Prazuck, observe launches of both American and French fighters aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on May 14, 2018. USNI News photo.

This post is the second in a two-part series on the U.S./French integrated air wing effort taking place aboard USS George H.W. Bush. For additional coverage, please see U.S./French Integrated Air Wing Exercise Accelerates French Pilots’ Return to Sea.

ABOARD USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, IN THE VIRGINIA CAPES OPERATING AREA – When Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Chief of Staff of the French Navy Adm. Christophe Prazuck stood together on the flight deck of carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Monday, pairs of fighters flew overhead – one American F/A-18E-F Super Hornet, one French Rafale at its side.

E-2C Hawkeyes – the U.S. Navy planes with plain gray radar domes, the Marine Nationale ones with their anchor and bullseye naval aviation emblem painted on – sat on the flight deck, set to be used interchangeably in later flight operations.

A flurry of colorfully clad flight deck crew members scurried around the admirals, with the only easily identifiable marker of nationality being the French crews’ distinct purple pants compared to the U.S. Navy’s khaki or dark pants.

This level of integration is exactly what the admirals hoped to gain from exercise Chesapeake 2018, originally conceived of as a means to get French pilots back at sea while their sole carrier wraps up a deep maintenance period.

“As we look out on the flight deck waiting to see the next launch, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between U.S. sailors and French sailors as they prepare for the next launch,” Richardson said in the ship’s bridge, in a message broadcast to the ship over the 1MC.
“This is exactly the level of teamwork we’re going to need as we confront high-end competitors at sea in high-end blue-water warfare. We’re going to need our partners and allies to fight with us in the most advanced ways at sea to maintain sea control, maintain air control and protect this international order we’ve worked so hard to build together over the last 70 years.”

French Rafale and American F/A-18E-F Super Hornet fighters are maintained, launched and flown side-by-side during integrated air wing operations onboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) as part of exercise Chesapeake 2018. USNI News photo.

Prazuck offered a similar vision in his 1MC address: “All this is not merely a technical or a diplomatic exercise. What we’re really doing is preparing to fight together in the future, if ever called to do so. Proving our seamless interoperability is a very powerful message. In a few month’s time, French and U.S. carriers will inevitably take turns holding the line in the most dangerous, the most demanding theaters in the world, like we’ve done in the Middle East for years, like all the U.S. and French ships, submarines and [maritime patrol aircraft] did last year from the beaches of Guam to the freezing seas of the North Atlantic. This visit has convinced me we’re ready for it.”

The U.S. and French navies are no strangers to one another: they participate in naval exercises together, student aviators learn to fly together at U.S. Navy flight schools, and rising leaders learn together at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. – where Prazuck was once a student as well.

Still, the level of coordination between the two navies at the tactical level has never been as great as it is now, in a month-and-a-half-long exchange aboard Bush. After working out some differences in procedure and policy between the two navies, Cmdr. Patrick Baker, executive officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, told reporters that his F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron had seen “almost seamless operations with the French Rafales and Hawkeyes onboard. … One of the things I’ve taken away from this is, if there ever is an opportunity or a situation that develops, the French do bring a unique, complementary capability to a U.S. carrier air wing that could definitely assist us in strengthening our regional and our maritime capability.”

“We have the same mission set, so the tactics may be slightly different, but as far as the overall mission it’s very similar,” he said. Most importantly, though, he said the two sets of crews were part of an exclusive brotherhood and sisterhood of naval aviators.

“Some things are the same, some things are different, and we all have the common experience of the terrifying night trap (landing) when the weather is bad, trying to find the boat, pitching deck – we all have that common experience we can share,” Baker said.

A French Rafale and an American F/A-18E-F Super Hornet fly above USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) as part of exercise Chesapeake 2018. USNI News photo.

Richardson told USNI News that that bond and that ability to work seamlessly at the tactical level opens up options for him at the strategic level, where the world has more demands for naval presence than the U.S. Navy alone can provide.

“As we continue to get more and more capable at sort of the operational tactical level, then it kind of builds that level of confidence – sometimes we take it for granted how hard it is to do strike group operations on an aircraft carrier, even for our navy. It takes a lot of training and a lot of practice. Now you bring in a completely different team, another nation’s team – okay, so that takes a lot of practice together, and overcoming language barriers, operational differences,” the CNO said.
“But once you do that, now you can start to think about, okay, I have a very good sense of their proficiency, I know at a real detailed level what each of us can do. And as you start to think about the entire spectrum of missions and challenges that are on the plate, you can start to more effectively – and particularly if you’re working at a strategic level, you can say, okay, now we can really think of this as one larger team, a coalition of allies and partners upon whom we can really rely and we know, because we’ve operated with them and talked to them. The French have been really strong allies. As I mentioned, [French carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) has served as] the command of Task Force 50, that’s a really big thing. We gave them a Meritorious Unit Citation, a U.S. Navy citation, and so that’s a high degree of trust, and that trust comes from knowing that they can do this at a real high-degree of proficiency.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and his counterpart, Chief of Staff of the French Navy Adm. Christophe Prazuck, address sailors in the forecastle of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on May 14, 2018. USNI News photo.

Asked if there was a follow-on project for the U.S. and French navies to tackle to build on the interoperability they’re achieving during this exercise Chesapeake 2018, Richardson said, “what I want to do actually is get out of the ‘project’ phase of our relationship and move into a more habitual interactive phase where it’s much more easy to stitch things together and we’re operating together kind of as a matter of habit. … Rather than these big events, we can think of high-end exercises as an event, but in between these continuing to work at sort of a lower level of activity, but still very meaningful.”

  • D. Jones

    The French need a new carrier. Nice to train with allies.

    • H__K

      Why do they need a new carrier?

      Their current one works just fine and has very high availability. They’ve proven that they can do long deployments (AFG/IRQ), no-notice deployments (Libya, Syria), lead NATO CVBGs or integrate into USN CVBGs. CdG spends 35% of her time at sea, which is pretty darn good.

      Sure there’s the issue of dockings every 8 years. Same goes for any CV unfortunately, nuclear or not.

      • Bryan

        Why do they need any carriers? Big daddy America will protect them.

        Can they do a no notice deployment right now? No. But hey they didn’t go into debt to buy another carrier. We did…

        • H__K

          They need a carrier because they have an operational requirement for one.

          Their defense strategy calls for the ability to project power against a high end opponent on any continent. This requires a balanced naval task force with nuke subs, cruise missiles, maritime patrol aircraft… and a well defended carrier with AEW, deep strike assets, SAMs etc. The kind of task force that could operate in the South China Sea, for example.

          Others have 2 carriers but unbalanced capabilities, like the RN and Italians. They have chosen to basically become irrelevant. Whereas even one part-time but full-strength CVBG provides a continuous deterrent effect (fleet-in-being). Which helps the US most of the time, bar a disagreement every 15-20 years.

          Of course 2 carriers would be nice, but not at the expense of the other capabilities to maintain a balanced force. So who pays for carrier #2? Europe is ruled by deficit hawks who actually walk the walk, unlike in DC…

          • Bryan

            You do realize we are training French pilots and deck crews? How much more irrelevant can one get? Again, I’m with you about the deficit hawk. That’s my point. We need to balance our budget. We can start by allowing French to project power in their backyard.

            That should happen now. Of course it won’t. It will happen when we go the way of the Soviets and spend all our available funds trying to keep our many reactors from melting down.

            If we did push away from France they would do one of two things, project power in a different way thus removing their one carrier. Or they would get a second carrier.

            U.S. leadership isn’t about doing the job for the French or U.K people. It’s coordinating with them. There is nothing wrong with France and U.K. doing most of the heavy lifting in and around the Med. But they won’t until we give them some tough love. As I said above, that will happen but it will not be controlled. It will be a crisis.

            Europe is way ahead of the U.S. in requiring a second language. While most in Europe are focused on Russia I would strongly suggest the Med countries take up Mandarin.

          • H__K

            So you’re saying having an allied CVBG available to deploy anywhere in the world (including potentially against China) is irrelevant? They already do project power in their backyard, even if it’s with US and UK help.

            Not sure I get the argument.

          • Bryan

            I tried it nice. Let me wake you up a bit….honestly not trying to troll you.

            The French are trying to project power against China on OUR carrier. Their one and only carrier is in the shop for 18 months. Hello? It isn’t as though any enemy of France doesn’t understand this. They are projecting weakness right now as we speak. Yet their president has the balls to come to our Congress and eloquently complain that we are not protecting his country or the world properly.

            One carrier is worthless. Two is a minimum. If a country can’t or won’t afford two then they should choose another way to project power. The carrier isn’t the end all be all of power. But if you’re going to pay for one and it’s airwing it would make sense to make sure you can afford two. Otherwise the country just wasted billions. Which is what France did.

          • H__K

            Yes for 18 months every 10 years the French are relegated to being just like Germany or Japan.

            But for 100 months every 10 years they have a full CVBG available to sail on short notice (48h to 4-6 weeks depending) and already forward deployed to the Med (much like the USN’s permanent CVBG in Japan). Or already at sea 40% of the time.

            The Brits have shown that 2 CVs are worth even less if you can’t fund the rest of a balanced fleet: no deep strike, no fixed wing AEW, no maritime patrol, no dedicated air wing, glaring gaps in ships’ AA/ASW defenses, insufficient anti-ship platforms etc.

          • Bryan

            No. The French carrier had it’s first refueling after 6 years. It took 15 months. That is about what it’s been doing over it’s lifetime. Their reactor is built that way. It’s not every 10 years.If I recall correctly I think it did a 4 year refuel once also.

            Again, that doesn’t matter. France is free to do what they feel is best for them. My argument is we need to put their actions in perspective when we deal with them. They are not a special relationship sort of ally. We should not be training their Navy. We don’t have the money anymore. Tell them no. Let them feel the pain of having to play catch up when their carrier is out of the shop. Let Darwin take it’s course.

            Let’s give real leadership before it becomes a crisis.

          • H__K

            No their cycle is 10 years: 8+ years of operations (>40% of which is spent at sea) followed by ~18 months docking. This is designed to provide max. readiness, much like the forward deployed USN CVN is Japan.

            1st refueling: Sept. 2007, 8.5 years after CdG’s sea trials began in spring 1999

            2nd refueling: Jan. 2017, 8 years after coming out of refit Dec. 2008

            Anyway training them aboard a USN CVN costs almost nothing except for aviation fuel which they may pay for anyway. It’s a great ROI for the US taxpayer.

          • Bryan

            Okay, so a bit less than every ten years. So during that year and a half France has a problem implementing its defense. That’s a very real problem for a country that wants to play a part in the game of power projection. Again, that’s fine for France. They should not expect for other countries to take them seriously when they begin to talk about how the world order is being conducted. That is simply not realistic.

            The article suggests that we are making one team. I’m sure that is true on the military level. France for decades has had a very good carrier program. But on the country to country level, nothing could be further from the truth. If France wants to be arrogant and act otherwise we should make sure to promptly ignore them. They have decided not to be a partner in the international order. They have decided to help, “When they can” or “When they want.”

            We don’t need their carrier to join us like they did the last cruise. We need France and U.K. to up their game so they can relieve us and us them. That is where our budget is at. That is how partners work. That is how true allies work.

          • The British will not and do not want to operate their carrier strike groups like the USN. Never.

          • Just Bill

            We need to meet each other. The Ford has cost 1.4 carriers and the elevators do not work. If you want to really project power let a Virginia class submarine do an emergency surface blow 500 yards from any enemies beach resort if water depths provide for it. The 21st century navy should be one that is unseen.

          • Bryan

            Oh don’t get me wrong. As I mentioned, the carrier isn’t the only way to project power. I don’t believe it’s as useful as it once was. Carriers are still a powerful way to win battles although it is getting tougher. In a few years when French ships have to bump gunwales with the Chinese in the eastern Med they will wish they had air cover close by to call upon.

            Same goes for subs. Great way to win battles, but they are not the only thing needed. Over time the subs get killed. Just like WWII. Subs certainly don’t project much power over and above a reminder. Our enemies have them too.

            This carrier thing is just one example of an overall problem with France. If we met you would quickly realize I am not in favor of having super carriers forward stationed. Action beats reaction at the start of any battle. That means our enemies could sink a carrier if they desire. They also could time it to sink one at the same time one is in port in Japan. They could hit that one too. Sinking/mission killing 20% of the fleet at the start of a war sounds good to our enemies.

            We need less carriers . Those should be further back from our enemies. Waiting for the second day of war. It’s not like a PLAN general is going to one day say, “Hey I haven’t seen a super-carrier in a year. Get the plans out, we’re going to attack Japan.” That’s just strategically infantile thinking. Personally I’m all for peacetime carriers forward deployed. You know what the U.S. calls large deck amphibs.

            I personally like a version of CSBA’s deterrence/maneuver force.

          • Just Bill

            A carrier is no more than a very large target and even though I am against carriers in general there’s a movement there and stateside to get muslims in all military branches and I mean squeaky clean ones lot like the one on Texas base that went but wild shooting fellow soldiers but the brass in their wisdom restricted carrying side arms. You need to quit the jargon and bring commonsense front and center.

          • H__K

            Yes of course. A very fashionable statement.

            That must be why there are more carriers being built right now than at any point since WW2!

          • Just Bill

            Is that your argument?? More carriers being built equals in your mind must mean it’s good? That’s the rationale my grandson used the other day when he asked if all the Orioles in the yard this year meant Baltimore would win this year.

          • Bryan

            Just fyi France, like the U.K. had/has a requirement for 2 carriers. France just cut the second.

    • Secundius

      According to the French Newspaper “L’Opinion”, a New French Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier is being proposed for construction in 2020 to be completed in 2035. Approximately Half-Again as Large as the “Charles de Galle”, but powered by Three K15 Nuclear Reactors instead of Two. Tentatively known as the “Porte-Avions Nucleaire Colbert – R92″…

  • Curtis Conway

    In this Allied Interoperability environment we should do it seamlessly every opportunity we get. The countries with F-35Bs should do the same thing with the ARG.

  • Bryan

    It is good to train with allies. But we do have to remember that not all allies are they same. The French have a way of being the best allies in the world when it suits them. When not, they take their marbles and go home, deny flyover rights, etc.

    As the flowery words flow between the military’s it would be wise to remember that our respective military’s are not in charge. Their values sound like our values. But they are applied often to the opposite ends. One day we may find their carrier standing between us and our objective.

    • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

      The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that?

    • TomD

      Re your first paragraph: that’s just the way of the world. No surprises there.

      • Bryan

        Absolutely, and we should not take the flowery language to heart. That is not the way of the world with the U.K./U.S. relationship. So integrating the French on a carrier, other than practice is folly. We would expect them to be ordered by their government to not fly during a time of crisis. They would refuse to help. If we were to have the same agreement with the U.K. they would simply ask, “When is briefing.”

        It’s not about the way of the world. It’s about the French, not being as much of an ally as we might wish. Not all allies are the same. So why help them? To keep their pilots up to speed while they build a second carrier? No. Not at all. To keep them up to speed while they put their only carrier in the yard.

        Of course that means other countries are off the coast of France projecting power. But have no fear their politicians will arrive in Washington just in time to complain about our foreign policy. At that point they are not an ally. They are just another drain on the American tax payer and the debt we are placing on our children.

        From the U.S. side, that should not be the way of the world. Sadly we make it so, to the detriment of our children.

        • publius_maximus_III

          They did deny our guys a flyover of French airspace on their way from the UK down to Libya to teach Brother Gaddafi a lesson in 1986.

          But looking at that situation from their perspective, they had a whole lot more to lose than we did, having much closer ties with North Africa going all the way back to the colonial period, plus a sizeable population from those countries already living in France. Still do. I think our last interest in that region had been with the Barbary Pirates, excluding WW-II of course.

          Suffice it to say, we are both sovereign nations with our own agendas and priorities, but that will never stop us from being friends. Even friends have quarrels sometimes, eh Mon Ami?

          • Bryan

            My problem isn’t so much that France can and will do what it will do. It’s our pretending to be a, “Leader of the world” by protecting everyone. We need to stop doing that. When France or any country makes a bad decision we should allow the pain to develop before we, “Save them”.

            Much of the western free world hasn’t learned a darned thing since WWII except that the U.S. is willing to spend itself into bankruptcy to be the leader.

            So using your example of Libya… wouldn’t it be a shame if next time France is in trouble we not so kindly explain to them that…”Hey look at if from our perspective, you’re a rich country that pissed away it’s freedom twice and you want more gravestones with U.S. names on them? No.”

            Again, that’s not leadership. That’s creating a crisis that will end up in a world war. Will we actually tell France no? Certainly not. But we might find ourselves a wee bit broke at the time they and others need us most.

            Empires don’t go on forever. But they do usually crash due to their own weight. That’s where we are running to right now. We need real leadership. Part of that is telling France to pony up to the bar if they want to play as an equal. Because we darned sure need them to. If not we must tell them to shut up and go our own way. When you look at it that way, we perhaps should allow their navy to play catch up when they become a carrier nation again. That would be a bit of pain.

            Does that require pain from France and it’s budget? You bet. Just like the U.K. is going through now. Together we can, as partners, keep the world order moving along as a relatively even pace. France isn’t pulling it’s weight but does give eloquent speeches to it’s betters.

          • publius_maximus_III

            No crepes for you. 😉

  • Eyes open

    Love it! Could help alleviate aircraft shortage on carriers, both foreign and domestic.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Can we refuel the Rafales, and they refuel the Super Hornets? Sounds like AWACs coverage is the same from either one.

    • H__K

      Yes. Super Hornets have buddy refuelled Rafales.

      Less sure about the reverse – no reason why Rafales couldn’t buddy refuel Hornets, but the French use a different pod and they may not yet have tried yet.

  • Just Bill

    France was never a great ally in WW11, Korean, and ran out of Vietnam War leaving us to train folks that were a lot braver than anyone from France.
    They train well but the last time they actually helped us was in 1775.
    France watched as Hitlers goons dragged Jewish families of the street and not a peep out of them. I will say the French Resistance did what they could during WW11, but a minority of the population they surely were.

  • Ed L

    How about a generic nato aircraft carrier.

  • muzzleloader

    I wonder if the French Navy will start serving sliders at their mess decks, and the Bush’s galley serve baguettes and Brie?