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France cleared to buy electromagnetic catapults for its new aircraft carrier

PANG aircraft carrier graphic
Photo: French defense ministry

The US State Department has approved the possible sale of aircraft launch and recovery technology to France that would bring the country’s next-generation aircraft carrier with the US Navy’s Ford-class.

According to a US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) statement from December 21, France has received green light to buy the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which is currently replacing the steam-powered catapults found on US Navy Nimitz-class carriers, and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system.

The systems and related equipment would have an estimated cost of $1.321 billion.

Both EMALS and AAG are novel technologies, even for the US Navy, which has spent the past few years testing the systems aboard the lead ship of the new Ford-class of aircraft carriers. In June last year, the navy said USS Gerald R. Ford had conducted 3,480 catapult launches and arrested landings with EMALS and AAG.

France is currently working on its next-generation aircraft carrier under a program known as PANG (Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation – next-generation aircraft carrier in English). Work officially started in December last year, and a completely new aircraft carrier is expected to be designed and built by 2038, when the FS Charles de Gaulle, the country’s current sole aircraft carrier, is expected to decommission.

Another interesting detail in the DSCA announcement is the fact that the configuration of the EMALS France requested was a two-launcher one, which seemingly settles debates on whether the carrier will be capable of launching two or three aircraft from its flight deck simultaneously.

PANG will be nuclear-powered and 30 FCAS fighter aircraft as part of its airwing, in addition to helicopters and the E-2D Airborne Early Warning Aircraft.

As the largest warship ever built in France, PANG will be almost twice as big as its predecessor, in terms of displacement. For comparison, the current fleet flagship measures 261 meters in length and displaces over 42,000 tons at full load. The next-generation carrier will measure 300 meters in length (just 32 meters shy of the US Nimitz-class) and displace 75,000 tons. The UK’s recently-built Queen Elizabeth-class conventionally-powered aircraft carriers are 280 meters long and displace 65,000 tons.