What happens in a fight between French and Russian carriers
While the Nimitz- and Ford-class nuclear-powered supercarriers operated by the United States Navy tend to grab everyone’s attention, there are other carriers out there. France, India, China, and Russia, for example, all operate aircraft carriers — though only France’s uses the same catapult-launch system as the Americans’. France’s carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is also the only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in service outside the United States Navy.
As tensions flare, it’s fun to hypothesize how some of these vessels would perform against one another. So, how would the Charles de Gaulle fare against Russia’s Kuznetsov?
The Charles de Gaulle, which entered service in 2001, weighs in at 37,600 tons. This carrier has a top speed of just over 25 knots and can carry 32 Dassault Rafale M multi-role fighters, along with three E-2C Hawkeyes and four helicopters.
Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov is larger, weighing 55,000 tons. It doesn’t have nuclear power and, while it can reach a speed of 29 knots, her boiler-based propulsion system isn’t the most reliable. The carrier has a host of other problems, too. The carrier reportedly can carry 18 Su-33 Flankers or MiG-29K Fulcrums, four Su-25 Frogfoot trainers, 15 Ka-27 Helix anti-submarine helicopters, and two Ka-31RLD Helix airborne early warning helicopters. She also packs 12 SS-N-19 Shipwreck long-range anti-ship missiles.
While both carriers have surface-to-air missiles, this fight would ultimately be determined by who has the better air wing — that’d be the de Gaulle. Not only is the Rafale slightly more advanced than the Su-33 Flanker and MiG-29K, the de Gaulle operates 32 of them. The Kuznetsov’s Flankers will fall to a barrage of Mica air-to-air missiles. Then, the Rafales will switch to carrying AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles.
It would take waves of attacks, but the Kuznetsov would, eventually, be put on the bottom.