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The Carrier Battle Group; Charles de Gaulle, March 25 & 26, 2019

Mission Clemenceau, part 1; Text and Photograph's: Alex van Noye & Joris van Boven

A Carrier Battle Group consists of an aircraft carrier and a large number of escorting vessels. A Carrier Battle Group is one of the most powerful maritime weapons of our time. During Mission Clemenceau, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and his battle group sails via the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

The chief PRO officer Michael gives a brief explanation of how the Task Force 473 and the Carrier Battle Group are built up around the Charles de Gaulle. The Task Force that sails around the Charles de Gaulle consists of several ships which have different tasks. Michael indicates that the ships that sail along are the escort of the Charles de Gaulle (CdG). The French aircraft carrier is the flagship of the Task Force 473. The ships are perfectly capable of delivering additional power during possible interventions by the Task Force. The main task of the ships around the CdG is to ensure that the aircraft carrier always has the freedom to operate with aircraft and helicopters, according to the PRO officer. This means that the CdG must have freedom of movement to be able to launch aircraft with the catapult and at the same time to be able to accommodate landing aircraft. To be able to do this, the wind must come from the right direction and the ship must maneuver in the right direction. The CdG also need to sail on the right wave to keep the ship stable for flight operations. The CdG has the capabilities and equipment on board to monitor everything that happens around the ship. It is also possible to steer all ships from the CdG when, for example, a course has to be changed. According to Michael, the entire environment is controlled both on water and under water and in the air.

A French Durance Class ship will regularly come alongside to supply the CdG. This ship will supply the aircraft carrier with food for the crew, with fuel for the aircraft and the ship and with spare parts when needed. The stock is transported by cable from one ship the other ship (horizontal replenishment). Michael says that also helicopters are deployed to lift the heavier packages to the CdG (vertical replenishment). One of the ships that sails in the Carrier Battle Group (CBG) is the Destroyer Forbin (Horizon Class D620) of the French Navy. This ship is mainly specialized in eliminating air threats. According to Michael, the Forbin has very good detection equipment to detect

air targets which can threaten the CBG. Checking what is happening in the air is not only detecting threats, but also primarily collecting Intel information which is important to the fleet. The ship is able to intervene if missiles are fired towards the fleet or, in particular, the CdG. Also the defense against enemy aircraft is one of the primary tasks of the Forbin according to the PRO officer. This ship sails just like the other ships in tactical formations around the aircraft carrier to keep the airspace closed against intruders. The formations are called the defenses layers of the fleet according to Michael. The ships can change their formation quickly when necessary to adapt to the situation around the Carrier Battle Group.

In addition to the destroyer, there is also a frigate available which is specialized in anti-submarine warfare. According to Michael de Languedoc (Aquitaine Class D653) is the ship that sails in the formation in this role. The ship is equipped with an NH90 Caiman helicopter on the rear deck. The helicopter has a so-called Flash-Sonar on board for the detection of submarines below the sea surface. According to the PRO officer, the combination of this multifunctional frigate and the deployment of the NH90 helicopter is one of the best methods to find enemy submarines in the vicinity of the CSG. The anti-submarine formation has a large search range and is also extremely effective in the elimination of these submarines. At the moment, the Languedoc has the task to act in the anti-submarine role during Mission Clemenceau. The ship is currently sailing in the CSG in the Mediterranean and will leave the formation when the CSG will sail through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean. According to Michael, the Latouche-Tréville (Georges Leygues class D646) will take over this role in the second part of the mission when the fleet enters the Indian Ocean. To defend the CSG underwater, at least one submarine sails along in the group. Michael cannot tell which ship is involved and how many there are, but they are permanently present under water to protect the ships on the surface. Michael can say that the attack submarines are of the Rubis Class. The submarines mainly gather a lot of Intel information. The ships sail often unseen far ahead of the CSG to explore the water there and report to the fleet.

In addition to all the French ships which support the CSG, the French Navy also works together in a broad international context. The PRO officer is very happy and honored that the CdG is currently being accompanied by a number of ships from other NATO member states during Mission Clemenceau. The American participation in this CSG consists of the USS Ross (Arleigh Burke-Class DDG-71). This frigate has guided missiles and has an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter on board. This frigate is an offensive weapon and can use missiles to attack targets deep in enemy territory. According to the PRO officer, the British Royal Navy participation consists of the HMS Duncan (Daring Class R37). Like the Forbin, this ship is an air defense frigate. Together with the Forbin, this ship will therefore monitor safety in the airspace in collaboration with the air operations on the CdG. To support Mission Clemenceau, the HMS Duncan has a Wildcat helicopter on board according to Michael. During the operations in the Mediterranean, a Danish ship from the Royal Danish Navy will also sail along. This ship is the HDMS Niels Juel (Iver Huitfeldt Class F363) and is used in the air defense role, just like the Forbin and the Duncan. The HDMS Niels Juel has an EH101 Merlin on board. This helicopter can be used for transport tasks, surveillance tasks and SAR tasks. In the Indian Ocean, a frigate from the Australian Navy will also join the fleet. According to Michael, the current fleet composition with the Charle de Gaulle in the center is a powerful weapon which can show the will and power of the Western world during Mission Clemenceau.

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