It’s Official: British Jets to Fly From French Carrier

The French Aircraft Carrier Charles De Gaulle

Wow, it actually happened. After months of discussions on the matter, Britain and France have signed a 50-year defense cooperation agreement promising to form a joint expeditionary force, share aircraft carriers and more, according to the New York Times. 

Britain and France signed defense agreements on Tuesday that promised cooperation far beyond anything achieved previously in 60 years of NATO cooperation, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force, shared use of aircraft carriers and combined efforts to improve the safety and effectiveness of their nuclear weapons.

It gets better:

The agreements envisaged a new combined force available for deployment at times of international crisis that is expected to involve about 5,000 service members from each nation, with land, sea and air components, and rotating French and British commanders. The pacts also foresee each nation alternating in putting a single aircraft carrier to sea, with the vessels operating as bases for French, British and American aircraft in times of need.

I’ll refrain from making a reference to Nelson.

The article goes on to say that while the two nations will collaborate on nuclear weapons they will absolutely retain their operational sovereignty (kind of a no-brainer when it comes to nukes). It also points out that the pact may give the two greater negotiating power in buying weapons.

The cooperation pact was set to last 50 years and could transform the way the countries project force, fight wars and compete for defense contracts with the United States. One goal appeared to be to give the two militaries greater buying power to support the struggling European defense industry.

Mr. Cameron, who has navigated deep hostilities to European integration and deep skepticism toward France in his Conservative Party, emphasized the budgetary benefits, saying the agreements would contribute savings of “millions of pounds” to Britain’s plan to make deep cuts in its $60 billion defense budget.

But don’t forget this!

Previous efforts at military cooperation between the countries have more often faltered than succeeded. In the late 1990s, Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister, and Jacques Chirac, then France’s president, promised deeper defense cooperation, but the understanding was undone by differences over the Iraq war. In both countries, there are significant political forces arrayed against anything that smacks of too close a military partnership with the age-old foe.

Well, the Brits will be training with their F-35C carrier model Joint Strike Fighters on France’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier (and U.S. carriers) while they wait for their two Queen Elizabeth class carriers to be completed over the next decade. How much extra time and money will it take to redesign the Queen Elizabeths — originally designed to carry the STOVL F-35B — with catapults and arresting gear?

To be fair, the ships were designed to accommodate cats and traps at a later date. Still, I wonder how long it will be before Britain regains its very own carrier-borne jet strike force? Modifications like those now needed for the British ships have a way of getting complicated.

Here’s the full article.

— John Reed

  • zap

    I don’t think there will be much of a problem building the carriers to operate conventional naval aircraft because the same amount of design work was done for both types , the problem is that there is no catapult , there is no steam , and the catapults were meant to be electric but nobody can make it work properly yet , so I doubt that technology will be available in just 5 years .
    As for the joint force I think it should go further , there should be much more cooperation in Europe , we should have the 3 fully operational carriers and other European nations should buy Rafale to use on them .

  • Wildcard

    Actually making the switch from STOVL to conventional catapults isn’t an issue. The ability to switch was designed in and R&D for an electromagnetic catapult system has already been undertaken.
    As far as ‘sharing carriers’, its nonsense. It’s not really different to the kinds of things that go on at the moment. French Rafales have practiced off of USN Carriers; officially allowing Brit and French pilots to do the same off each other’s isn’t a big deal.
    British Pilots are already training with USN F18′, getting used to the aircraft and CAT & TRAP, they should be able to make use of the F35 as they receive them.
    Also QE will remain the on station ‘Strike’ carrier, whilst PoW is held in ‘extended readiness’ (until the UK can afford to keep it out at sea along side the QE), so unlike the French, when the QE comes in for maintenance, the PoW is available.

  • Justin H

    I remember them saying just months ago that they would never share aircraft carriers.

  • guest

    If they share a carrier already outfitted for the Rafale with a spare parts store and experienced maintainers, why would the Brits want the f-35 with its completely different spare parts and maintenance needs?

    It would make sense for the Brits and French to standardize on the Rafale if you ask me…which of course nobody is.

    • Wildcard

      Brits want a steathly strike aircraft for their carriers.

      Interoperability was demonstrated in June of this year when Rafales operated from the Nimitz, they even managed to remove and refit the engines. Did not lead to the USN operating Rafales all in the never ending quest for standardisation.

    • Adrian_Wainer

      The problem with the Rafale is that it is not a Stovl aircraft. For Britain to maintain an independent fixed wing carrier capability, the Royal Navy needs three carriers, the only way of operating three carriers at reasonable cost, is for them to be light carriers operating Stovl aircraft.

      • Wildcard

        The Royal Navy IS NOT, I repeat, IS NOT, purchasing the F35B. They plan to purchase the C variant. The C variant takes off like, the FA-18 and lands like the FA18, there is no vertical landing.

        Why three carriers?

  • Thunder350

    One step closer to the entire EU doing the samething?

    • Picard

      Lets bloody well hope not, the EU is the most disjointed joke in the world and under pressure would crack in days, perhaps even hours. NATO is little better with each member state worried about its own self interests more than that of any so called alliance.

  • Wildcard

    Royal Navy is no longer purchasing the F35B, they are set for the C, hence the move to cataputs, and pilot training on USN FA-18s. So if the Italians ditch the B, then the US Marines would be the sole operator of the B.

  • Donnell

    Thats all interesting but what happens as in the case of the Iraq war when one country is for military action and the other is against it. Can someone please answer that.

    • paul

      In the case of Iraq war, it is easy to answer, the Brits had the US carriers to rely on. In a “Falkands”War”that is more difficult. But I trust both leaders forsaw that kind of case.
      Maybe the Brits learned from the Falklands that a “go -alone” war is to much expensive.
      Something that the French with the Indochinan and Algerian Wars, already knew.

  • Jacob

    I still don’t see how this is going to work out. If Britain goes to war against some country in the future and their planes are taking off from a French carrier, doesn’t that mean that France is by definition getting involved in the conflict as well?

    • Picard

      Yes it does, another reason to scrap this idiotic idea. Lets say the carrier with both French and UK aircaft if half way around the world and the UK is suddenly involved in a conflict that France is against. The UK goverment wants that carrier to go to destination X to carry out airstrikes but the French say no way. What happens then? Seriously what the hell happens in a situation like that? Do the UK aircraft then fly off and make their way to destination X by hopping from one land base to another, do the French blockade the flight deck in protest? To many things that can and will go wrong.

  • Dave

    Sweet, now the French can learn all the secrets of the F-35 program and make a nice profit off that knowledge

    • Picard

      Yes sweet indeed, for the French.

  • Picard

    It’d be a smart move IF we both (UK and France) had the same aircraft, but the fact we don’t operate the same types will cause huge logistical headaches with regard to spare parts and weapons meaning mission rates will sink lower than they should be for both Rafale and F-35C. Then we get to the fact that the French are quite possibly the worst ally a nation could ask for! This is a terrible blunder by both countries.

    • Curt

      So, since the French operate the E-2C, Rafale, and Super Entendard off the Cdg. readiness sucks? The US operates F-18s, EA-6B, and E-2Cs as well. Previously we somehow managed to operate F-14s, A-6s, A-7s or F-18s, S-3s, EA-6Bs, as well as SH-3Hs all without serious issues. So operating two different aircraft will somehow be beyond the UK and France? Now the allies thing is a different question all together.

      • Riceball

        The problem is that space on a carrier, as large as they are, is limited and the DeGaulle is no Nimitz class which means that it has even less room. What problems I foresee is that they either carry half of the spares needed and normally carried for either aircraft so that their stores carries spares for both Rafales and F-35 so that when they switch places their spares are already onboard or they store full sets of spares for just one aircraft at a time and take more time in port switching out spares when they switch out aircraft.

        • Curt

          Yes, but the CdG is still the CdG. They currently operate 2 totally different aircraft (Rafale and Super Entendard) without any real issues. Not seeing the problem. They operated more, less reliable, aircraft before without issues. Just because the CdG is smaller doesn’t mean it can’t carry sufficient spares to support both type of aircraft adaquetely. I would guess they will normally support a pure French Airwing and as required bring on spares for the F-35. A more interesting questions will be weapons because the F-35 and Rafale will use different weapons so you will have administrative issues of who owns what magazines etc, However, nothing should be real difficult to resolve, especially since I would anticipate that most of the cooperation will be in training pilots.

  • STemplar

    I’ll grant some credit for creative thinking. The talk out of the Pentagon is just talk though in regards to leaning on our allies for capability though. The UK and France are trying to find a way to maintain relevance. We need to take a queue from that and think about lowering our costs while maintaining our own presence. Frankly I think we could expand our presence if we were a little more creative and a little less top heavy on gold plated options. They are old a true allies and I wish them the best, but at the end of the day if one wants a seat at that geo-political table it costs money.

  • AyeGuy

    “Well, the Brits will be training with their F-35C carrier model Joint Strike Fighters”

    Huh? When did this happen? I thought they were buying the B model.

    • Wildcard

      The SDSR ditched the B model for the C, the Carriers will be refitted accordingly.

    • Adrian_Wainer

      Cameron has decided to cancel the order for the F-35B and buy a smaller number of cat and trap F-35Cs. The Stovl F-35B is the best aircraft for the UK’s particular needs. The best policy would be to acquire the F-35B and attempt to sell the two supercarriers to India or Japan and then build thee light fleet carriers.

  • Brian

    This is a bit of a constant theme in European history. Some combination of the french/germans/british nations gang together for security reasons. They soon find out pat way into the deal that they can’t trust the other side and break whatever pact they had. Seeing as this has been going on for a couple of thousand of years, there is no reason to see why it should stop now. The idea that the current government can negotiate a 50 year agreement that will be adhered to for more than say 3-4 for years is laughable.

    If the british would swallow their pride a bit, they could have this kind of agreement with the US, and know it would do what it supposed to do, increase overall security for the UK.

    • Ross

      neither britain nor france have been states for a couple of thousand years. England has been around for arguably over a thousand. France a similar length, Germany has been around a grand total of 140 years give or take a few.

      I assume u refer to Prussia and Austria – which would mean around 400 years of it. Far less than a couple of thousand Brian :P but admittedly for as long as these states have existed heh.

      • Brian

        Are referring to the geopolitical groups more than a particular nation. Prussians have been Prussians, francs francs, and since the Romans colonized England 2k years ago English. Same people different names

    • Adrian_Wainer

      Tell me Brian, how many fighter squadrons of the United States Army Air Force fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940 ?

  • jhm

    It would be funny to see what would happen if Britain goes to war somewhere(like the Falklands) and the French arent interested and deny usage of the carriers. Since they are so dependent on sharing carriers, if one of the brits eliz carriers was under refit, GG

  • Adrian_Wainer

    This concept does make sense as either Britain or France could fall in to an Arab Muslim orbit. Why would say an Islamist France want to provide an anti-Islamist Britain with use of it’s carrier ?

  • Wildcard

    If the F35′ date slips further, it might be useful to see if SAAB’ Sea Gripen could be brought in time for the carriers hitting the water. RAF’ Empire Test Pilots School has been training and using Gripens sonce… 2005.

  • Rob

    I wonder if the recently turn of the events of British deciding their goign go-all-the-way with STOL configuration for their Carriers will messed up this Joint-Operation with the French.

  • Igore

    Well find out soon , The arresting gear is n/p Usa as we speak is 1/2 way through the electromagnetic cats NO MAIN STEAM , Narrow Groove Main Coolant cres , save $ on the plant oh genius lol, it’s lighter , doubt the FA/18 SH will be on board , think all are trying the35 C’s ‘ CVN 78 / CVN-79 ! st USS Ford , trying 2 build electromagnetic now …… no HY all HSLA, lots of Nitro 60 BS … lol