The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
How NOT to Build an Aircraft Carrier
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
December 7, 2003
France is considering joining with Britain to buy a new carrier of British design. Actually, the French had planned to built a second nuclear powered carrier, but they are having so many problems with the first one that they are quite reluctant about building a second like the troubled "Charles de Gaulle". Britain is building two 50,000 ton conventionally powered carriers, at a cost of $2.5 billion each. Under the proposed plan, France would order a third of this class, and bring down the cost of all three a bit. This project might not come off, because France wants a lot of the work to be done in French shipyards.
The new French nuclear carrier "Charles de Gaulle" has suffered from a seemingly endless string of problems since it was first conceived in 1986. The 40,000 ton ship has cost over four billion dollars so far and is slower than the
steam powered carrier it replaced. Flaws in the "de Gaulle" have led it to using the propellers from it predecessor, the "Foch," because the ones built for "de Gaulle" never worked right and the propeller manufacturer went out of business in 1999. Worse, the nuclear reactor installation was done poorly, exposing the engine crew to five times the allowable annual dose of radiation. There were also problems with the design of the deck, making it impossible to operate the E-2 radar aircraft that are essential to defending the ship and controlling offensive operations. Many other key components of the ship did not work correctly, including several key electronic systems. The carrier has been under constant repair and modification. The "de Gaulle" took eleven years to build (1988-99) and was not ready for service until late 2000. It's been downhill ever since. The de Gaulle is undergoing still more repairs and modifications. The government is being sued for exposing crew members to dangerous levels of radiation.
The cause of the problems can be traced to the decision to install nuclear reactors designed for French submarines, instead of spending more money and designing reactors specifically for the carrier. Construction started and stopped several times because to cuts to the defense budget and when construction did resume, there was enormous pressure on the builders to get on with it quickly, and cheaply, before the project was killed. The result was a carrier with a lot of expensive problems.
So the plan is to buy into the new British carrier building program and keep the "de Gaulle" in port and out of trouble as much as possible. The British have a lot more experience building carriers, and if there are any problems with the British designed ship, the French can blame the British.