UUNDER AN AZURE sky in the western Mediterranean, two aircraft carriers are sailing east in tandem. One, the Charles de Gaulle, a French nuclear-powered ship, has 20 years of service behind it. The other, HMS reine Elizabeth, Britain’s new flagship, is on its first operational tour. For the first time, the two carriers are participating in three days of joint exercises. Codenamed “Gallic Strike”, it involves war games and simulated sea-to-land strikes by 15 ships and 57 fighter jets, including ten American fighter jets and two destroyers.
Far from recent political positions off Jersey, the French and British navies are busy with the old-fashioned job of working together. On board of Charles de Gaulle, who that day serves a hamburger fries to his 1,200 sailors, Rear Admiral Marc Aussedat points out the “historical dimension” of the exercises. British Admiral Tony Radakin, head of the Royal Navy, evokes “bold steps towards ever greater interoperability” after meeting his French and American counterparts. The three naval bosses declare a “shared commitment in this great partnership of the navies”.
An aircraft carrier is not just about war. Florence Parly, French Defense Minister, described the Charles de Gaulle ‘s successor, expected in 2038, as “75,000 tons of diplomacy”. The huge ship, she said, is “an instrument of power and sovereignty.” Britain would agree. the HMS reine Elizabeth heads out to the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a maritime demonstration of ‘World Britain’. The French, for whom “global France” requires no slogan, regularly patrol the South China Sea. This year they sent a nuclear submarine there.
An unaffordable vanity project? Or an offer of two mid-size powers to stay relevant? Large aircraft carriers, of which only 18 are in service worldwide, remain controversial. But for three days in June, rivalry and gestural politics are put aside. The training ended, the British aircraft carrier continued its route east. the Charles de Gaulle, after a four-month tour off Syria and the Persian Gulf, turns around and returns home.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Found at sea”