Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rafale on british CVF ?

CTOL CVF concept for the french Navy
AFP and The Times report that the french and british defense ministers will make a press conference next Friday to expose the possibility to share the use of one of  the british aircraft carrier currently under construction. The perimeter of this cooperation is not known yet :  It could be restricted to sailor training or extend to french rafale training to carrier operations.

Back in december 2005 the french had decided to join the CVF (Future british aircraft carrier) program in order to build a second aircraft carrier to complement the CVN Charles de Gaulle. The project was in a very advanced state (the catapults had even been ordered) when french president Sarkozy decided to postpone it until 2012 because of financial issues.

Therefore, the british started alone the construction of their 2 CVF, Queen Elysabeth and Prince of Wales, the first of which is due to enter service in 2016.
However, because of the 2009 financial crisis and shortage of public money, the Prince of Wales could be canceled.
In addition the british mod would be evaluating the possibility to switch from the very expensive STOVL F-35B to a conventional take off and landing (CTOL) aircraft such as the F-35C, F/A-18E  or Rafale M (not to mention a navy version of the Typhoon). But such a move would require extensive modifications on the CVF layout as catapults and arresting cables would be necessary for those fighters.

In this context a Bristish-french technical cooperation on the second CVF could make sense : The french branch of Thalès (Thalès UK is the designer of the CVF) has already made a lot of work on a CTOL CVF version for the french navy. This work could be used to convert the Prince of Wales to operate french Rafale M and future british CTOL fighters.

Nevertheless, if such a cooperation emerges, it will be most certainly limited to pilot and crew training for the french navy....the aircraft carrier remaining the sole property of the United Kingdom in case of a military operation.

Also read Bill Sweetman Analysis for Aviation Week

Edit 09/04/2010 : British Denfence minister Liam Fox has denied any plan to share british carrier with France. However a cooperation may happen on new tanker ships. BBC.

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