Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). The ship is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.
The 38,000t, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle was constructed at the DCN Brest naval shipyard in Brittany. The ship was launched in May 1994 and commissioned in September 2000, following sea trials that began in January 1999. As a result of trials, the landing deck has been lengthened by 4.4m to enable the E-2C to land and clear the deck quickly. The De Gaulle in many ways closely mirrored the American Nimitz Class supercarriers in its capabilities, but at little over 40,000 tons was less than half the size of the American platforms and had far more limited capabilities. The carrier remains to this day the only warship in the world outside the United States equipped with a catapult launch system – a steam system similar to that of the Nimitz Class which allows it to launch heavier fixed wing aircraft by providing them with more energy to compensate for the short carrier runway.
The ship can operate a fleet of up to 40 aircraft: Rafale M (range 3,340km), Super Etendard (range 1,682km) and three E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. The ship also supports Dolphin PEDRO, AS 565 Panther or NH 90 helicopters. The main deck consists of a main runway angled at 8.5° to the ship’s axis and an aircraft launch area forward of the island. These are each equipped with a USN-type C13 catapult, capable of launching one aircraft a minute. The runway is 195m long and the whole deck measures 260m x 64m. The carrier is fitted with the Sagem Defense Sécurité (formerly EADS Defence and Electronics) DALAS laser landing aid.
The ship is armed with two surface anti-air missile (SAAM) () system, developed by Eurosam (set up by MBDA and Thales) for defence against hostile aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The system uses the Aster 15 surface-to-air missile and entered operational service in November 2002, with the first firing of the missile from the Charles de Gaulle. The ship is also equipped with eight Nexter (formerly Giat) 20F2 20mm guns, which fire 0.25kg shells at 720 rounds/min to a range of up to 8km.