Why deploying the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is a really big deal

Deploying France’s one aircraft carrier to the Middle East is a big commitment. Here’s the historical and military context to help you understand why–plus, some French vocabulary.

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The HMS Coventry takes a missile during the 1982 Falklands war between the United Kingdom and Argentina.  Picture source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2146731/Miranda-Harts-father-relives-terrifying-Falklands-ordeal-30-years-ship-HMS-Coventry-sank-war.html
The HMS Coventry takes a missile during the 1982 Falklands war between the United Kingdom and Argentina. Picture source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2146731/Miranda-Harts-father-relives-terrifying-Falklands-ordeal-30-years-ship-HMS-Coventry-sank-war.html

I was a young sailor during the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina in 1982.  We all watched in silence when footage came on the news of the HMS Coventry taking an Argentinian surface-to-surface missile–it was obvious that despite the US Navy’s excellent firefighting training, not many people would be walking away from a hit like that on one of our ships.

The last time two fleets within sight of each other shot cannons at each other was early in World War II.  Since then, naval battles have consisted of the opponents launching planes or missiles against each other.  Aircraft carriers are the primary source of naval power today, and the purpose of most other ships is to protect or support the aircraft carriers.

Screen source from the BFMTV iPhone app.  Picture source: me.
Screen shot from the BFMTV iPhone app. Picture source: me.

So, it’s a big deal that France just deployed its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, back to the Middle East.  The cruise was announced on November 5, 2015, but after the 13/11 attacks in Paris, the destination was changed from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean, in order to be better able to hit Daesh (Islamic State) targets in Syria.  Deploying your aircraft carrier (France only has one) is endangering your aircraft carrier.  It’s also committing to a theater of operations–being off the coast of Syria means not being off the coast of West Africa, where France also has strong commitments and heavy involvement.  Things to think about while you watch the news today…  Here’s some vocabulary from the story about the current Charles de Gaulle deployment that showed up on my cell phone today.  Definitions from WordReference.com.

  • le chasseur-bombardier: fighter-bomber.
  • la rafale: gust (of wind); burst (of gunfire); barrage, torrent, succession.  The Rafale is France’s main fighter jet these days.
  • le porte-avions: aircraft carrier.  See above.
  • le déploiement: deployment; roll-out; spreading, extension (e.g. of wings)
  • le navire: ship, boat, vessel.

 

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