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It’s Official: British Jets to Fly From French Carrier

by John Reed on November 3, 2010

The French Aircraft Carrier Charles De Gaulle

Wow, it actually happened. After months of discussions on the matter, Britain and France have signed a 50-year defense cooperation agreement promising to form a joint expeditionary force, share aircraft carriers and more, according to the New York Times. 

Britain and France signed defense agreements on Tuesday that promised cooperation far beyond anything achieved previously in 60 years of NATO cooperation, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force, shared use of aircraft carriers and combined efforts to improve the safety and effectiveness of their nuclear weapons.

It gets better:

The agreements envisaged a new combined force available for deployment at times of international crisis that is expected to involve about 5,000 service members from each nation, with land, sea and air components, and rotating French and British commanders. The pacts also foresee each nation alternating in putting a single aircraft carrier to sea, with the vessels operating as bases for French, British and American aircraft in times of need.

I’ll refrain from making a reference to Nelson.

The article goes on to say that while the two nations will collaborate on nuclear weapons they will absolutely retain their operational sovereignty (kind of a no-brainer when it comes to nukes). It also points out that the pact may give the two greater negotiating power in buying weapons.

The cooperation pact was set to last 50 years and could transform the way the countries project force, fight wars and compete for defense contracts with the United States. One goal appeared to be to give the two militaries greater buying power to support the struggling European defense industry.

Mr. Cameron, who has navigated deep hostilities to European integration and deep skepticism toward France in his Conservative Party, emphasized the budgetary benefits, saying the agreements would contribute savings of “millions of pounds” to Britain’s plan to make deep cuts in its $60 billion defense budget.

But don’t forget this!

Previous efforts at military cooperation between the countries have more often faltered than succeeded. In the late 1990s, Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister, and Jacques Chirac, then France’s president, promised deeper defense cooperation, but the understanding was undone by differences over the Iraq war. In both countries, there are significant political forces arrayed against anything that smacks of too close a military partnership with the age-old foe.

Well, the Brits will be training with their F-35C carrier model Joint Strike Fighters on France’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier (and U.S. carriers) while they wait for their two Queen Elizabeth class carriers to be completed over the next decade. How much extra time and money will it take to redesign the Queen Elizabeths — originally designed to carry the STOVL F-35B – with catapults and arresting gear?

To be fair, the ships were designed to accommodate cats and traps at a later date. Still, I wonder how long it will be before Britain regains its very own carrier-borne jet strike force? Modifications like those now needed for the British ships have a way of getting complicated.

Here’s the full article.

– John Reed

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