French Carrier Charles De Gaulle Leaves on Deployment

April 24, 2024 2:58 PM - Updated: April 25, 2024 7:21 AM

French aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91) departed its home port of Toulon for an operational deployment to the Mediterranean called Akila, which will see the French Carrier Strike Group (CSG) for the first time under NATO control for two-weeks.
In a press briefing on Apr. 11 to announce the deployment, Rear Adm. Jacques Mallard, Commander of the French CSG, stated that the names of French Navy warships and submarines in the group would not be announced as part of an ongoing experiment by the French Navy to obscure the identity of its warships. Mallard stated this is quite effective and “leads to a certain confusion among our competitors,” though he also stated that the Navy would release the classes of ships involved. The French CSG commander also said they could not disclose the specific names of the partner nations’ ships and aircraft involved, until the respective countries publicly released the information themselves.

During the briefing, Mallard released a slide showing Charles De Gaulle would carry an embarked airwing of 18 Rafale M fighters, two E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWEC) and two Dauphin helicopters, while a land-based Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft will support the French CSG. French Navy ships in the CSG are a Horizon-class air defense frigate, a FREMM-class multipurpose frigate, an attack submarine and fleet oiler BRF Jacques Chevallier (A725). The French Navy has since disclosed that the Horizon-class frigate is FS Chevalier Paul (D621).

The slide also showed that surface ships, land-based aircraft and a submarine integrating with the French CSG will come from Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United States, though so far only the Portuguese Navy has publicly disclosed its participation. with the frigate NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F333). Italian Navy frigate ITS Carabiniere (F593), however, was seen departing with the CSG from Toulon.

Mallard also provided a rough time frame of the deployment, stating that the CSG would operate for a short fortnight under NATO command, then would be under the direction of the French Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, for a period to execute national taskings and then participate in the Italian exercise Mare Aperto 24.1, co-organized by France. Mare Aperto would be the last activity before concluding the deployment, the French CSG commander stated, though he also said this could change with a possible option to enter the Red Sea in support of operations there. He also stated that there were no plans currently for the CSG to deploy to the Indo-Pacific.

NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Marie-Doha Besancenot stated that the French CSG will be under the command of STRIKFORNATO (Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO Maritime Staff) from Apr. 26–May 10. In a release on Apr. 18, NATO’s Joint Force Command Naples stated that the French CSG will participate in NATO’s annual Neptune Strike exercise held in the Mediterranean. The exercise demonstrates the alliance’s ability to integrate joint high-end maritime strike capabilities of allied aircraft carriers and expeditionary strike groups to support the defense of the NATO alliance, according to the release.

On Tuesday, the French Navy announced Charles De Gaulle and Chevalier Paul carried out successful firings of Aster surface-to-air missiles a few hours after departure for deployment. A French Ministry of Armed Forces release stated that Chevalier Paul, as the CSG air defense commander, neutralized an air threat at long range using an Aster 30 missile, while Charles De Gaulle fired an Aster 15 missile hitting its target as well. The targets were remotely piloted vehicles that simulated an antiship missile and a reconnaissance drone. Earlier on Apr. 18, the French Navy carried out a synchronized dual firing of the Naval Cruise Missile (MdCN) by frigate FS Aquitaine (D650) and a Suffren-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN). The frigate was located off the coast of Brittany in northwest France, while the submarine was in the Bay of Biscay between the west coast of France and northern coast of Spain. A single missile was fired each by the frigate and submarine at a target located at the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) missile test center in Landes, southwest France. Both missiles simultaneously hit the target. The French Navy stated in a news release that the firing was carried out in a manner resembling operational conditions. “The French Navy thus demonstrates its ability to synchronize strikes against land in depth, from different units, and on a single target,” said the release.

The French CSG is not the only French Navy task group on deployment. The French Navy Jeanne D’Arc deployment has been ongoing since Feb. 19 . The Jeanne D’Arc task group consisting of amphibious assault ship FS Tonnerre (L9014) and frigate FS Guépratte (F714) is a combined training and operational mission carrying embarked French Navy cadets along with a French Army battlegroup. The task force wrapped up a three-day exercise with the Brazilian Navy and Brazilian Marine Corps with a joint amphibious landing on the Brazilian island of Marambaia, according to a Brazilian Navy release. Brazil Navy helicopter carrier Atlantico (A140) and frigate Liberal (F-43) took part in the drills and conducted at-sea drills with the two French ships prior to the amphibious landing.

In other developments, the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Tromp (F803) completed its deployment in the Red Sea on Tuesday and is now heading to the Indo-Pacific, with its first stop being in India, according to a Netherlands Ministry of Defence release. Tromp is expected to participate in the U.S. Navy-led Rim of the Pacific 2024 exercise held in summer around Hawaii. The MOD release stated that Tromp will return home in September via the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Multipurpose support ship HNLMS Karel Doorman (A833) is now on its way to the Red Sea to replace Tromp, with a Netherlands MOD release stating there was a need for logistic support ships and medical capability in the region and the deployment would address this as Karel Doorman has an embarked medical team and a Cougar helicopter for the medical requirement.


Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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