In September 1980, the French government approved the construction of two ɴucʟᴇᴀʀ-powered aircraft carriers to replace its two conventionally powered Clemenceau class carriers that date back to the 1950s. However, the French CVN programme has been bedevilled by political opposition and technical problems, both with the vessel and the aircraft. The first ship of the class, Charles de Gaulle was laid down in April 1989 and launched in May 1994 but not commissioned until May 2001. Repeated budget cuts delayed work but so did a number of errors in its construction. Thus, even in 2003 the Charles de Gaulle was non-operational and still lacked a proper air group. This vessel is the flagship of the French Navy. Ship is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle. It is the only ɴucʟᴇᴀʀ-powered aircraft carrier, built outside US.
As completed the Charles de Gaulle was unable to operate E-2C Hawkeye aircraft as critical dimensions were wrongly measured. Between 1999-2000, the angled flight deck was lengthened accordingly, and additional radiation shielding was also added. Currently this aircraft carrier operates navalized Rafale multi-role fighters. Previously it operated an air group comprising 20 Super Etendards.
There were prospects for a second (perhaps conventionally-powered) ship of the Charles de Gaulle class. The navy has pressed for one (to be called Richelieu or, possibly, Clemenceau). However it was never built due to insufficient funding. At the time the second aircraft carrier had no political and popular support for such an expensive investment.
The Charles de Gaulle is equipped with a hangar for 20-25 aircraft (around half the air group) and carries the same reactor units as the Le Triomphant class ballistic missile submarine: this permits five years of continuous steaming at 25 knots before refueling. Seakeeping behavior is improved through the fitting of four pairs of fin stabilizers.
There were recent plans to build a French aircraft carrier, similar to a new British Queen Elizabeth class. However these plans were eventually abandoned.