photo Marine Nationale
December 25, 2011: STRATEGY PAGE
The French nuclear aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, put in an epic performance of sustained combat air operations off Libya this year. From March to August France was one of the major contributors to the effort, flying 25 percent of the air sorties and contributing many of the warships off the coast of Libya. The 4,500 French air sorties put their aircraft in the air for 20,000 hours. About 30 percent of French sorties were flown from the de Gaulle and over half the French strike sorties were flown from the de Gaulle. Most (62 percent) of the carrier sorties were combat missions (usually bombing). The de Gaulle averaged 11.25 sorties per day when it was conducting air operations. The de Gaulle spent 120 flying days off Libya, in one case 63 straight days conducting combat operations. Aircraft operating from the de Gaulle spent 3,600 hours in the air and conducted 2,380 catapult takeoffs and carrier landings.
French warplanes carried out 35 percent of the bombing missions, using 950 smart bombs. These included 15 French made SCALP missiles and 225 Hammer GPS guided bombs. French helicopter gunships flew 90 percent of NATO helicopter attack missions, using 431 HOT missiles and thousands of cannon rounds. French warships fired over 3,000 rounds of 100mm and 76mm naval gun rounds at sea and land targets off the Libyan coast.
During the Libyan operations, the de Gaulle carried 25 aircraft and helicopters. Sixteen of the aircraft were bombers (ten Rafales and six Super-Etendards), and these carried out the 840 bombing missions. Carrier aircraft also carried out 390 Rafale recon missiles, 120 E-2 radar aircraft missions and 240 refueling missions.
These six months of operations provided France with an opportunity to test their carrier aviation under intense combat situations. Although land based aircraft flew most of the missions, the de Gaulle was worked harder than ever before, and performed well. The Rafale fighter, which France has been trying to export, experienced 98 percent availability and carried out most of the bombing missions. France also got to give its new smart munitions a heavy workout under combat conditions. While many of these weapons have been used in Afghanistan, air operations there are much less intense than they have been over Libya.
The 42,000 ton de Gaulle is much smaller than the 100,000 ton American carriers. The U.S. ships carry three times as many aircraft and normally conduct at least three times as many aircraft operations per day.