The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has played a central role in carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in the Middle East. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
So, as other countries join in military action against extremists in the world’s hot spots, can’t they send their own carriers into action?
Well, they could if they had any. But, aside from the 10 American giants, there’s currently only one big carrier in the whole world that can handle such a job — and it doesn’t belong to Britain, Russia or even China.
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It’s the Charles de Gaulle, the flagship and pride of the French Navy, and it’s been dispatched several times to join the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and in Libya. The carrier’s strike group performed so well in pounding the militants in the region that the United States Navy awarded it a Meritorious Unit Commendation in June. And President François Hollande of France announced on July 13 that the Charles de Gaulle would be redeployed to the Middle East this fall.
Though it is nuclear-powered, the Charles de Gaulle isn’t quite a supercarrier — it’s shorter and much lighter, and doesn’t pack the same punch. But neither does it rate down among the small escort carriers and helicopter carriers that a number of navies employ. It is considered a medium-size fleet carrier, and these days, it has that category practically to itself.
Russia has the Admiral Kuznetsov, but that ship has been plagued with mechanical problems and doesn’t leave port often. A partially completed sister carrier was sold to China, but it has yet to complete trials. India has an older Russian castoff that rarely sails, and Brazil’s 50-year-old French-built fleet carrier, the São Paulo, is being refitted.
Britain, which got out of the fleet carrier game years ago for cost reasons, is getting back in: A newly built carrier, which is larger than the Charles de Gaulle, is expected to be commissioned next year. Another will follow several years after that.
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