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.

de Gaulle vs. Kuznetsov

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65 ), the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, steams alongside the smaller French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaul (R 91), in the Mediterranean Sea. (US Navy photo)

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?

de Gaulle vs. Kuznetsov

The 55,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov. But size doesn’t matter in a carrier battle, the air wing does. (Russian Ministry of Defense photo)

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.

de Gaulle vs. Kuznetsov

A French F-2 Rafale fighter lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during combined French and American carrier qualifications. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew DeWitt)

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.

de Gaulle vs. Kuznetsov

A Sukhoi Su-33, arguably Russia’s best carrier fighter, isn’t quite good enough to beat a Rafale. (Kremlin photo)

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.