US, Spanish, Italian warships start drills with French aircraft carrier off Toulon

Ships form the navies of Spain, Italy, and the US got underway from the French naval base in Toulon on February 3 to join the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle and ships form its carrier strike group on their final pre-deployment exercise.

The carrier is on the final leg of deployment preparations after completing an 18-month mid life refit and returning to the fleet in November 2018.

The exercise is named FANAL19 and is joined by US destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), Spanish frigate ESPS Cristóbal Colón and an unidentified Italian warship. USS Donald Cook joined the exercise while underway on a forward-deployed patrol in the US 6th Fleet area of operations. ESPS Cristóbal Colón is taking part in the Mediterranean Sea drill after spending three and a half months as part of NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2.

Once FANAL concludes, FS Charles de Gaulle will deploy to the Indo-Pacific where it is expected to join the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) for exercises in the Indian Ocean among other activities. The exercise was announced during the visit of Japanese defense officials to France last month during which the two sides agreed on a new bilateral framework on maritime security cooperation.

In August 2018, Denmark’s defense ministry announced a possible deployment of a Royal Danish Navy Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate with the French aircraft carrier. Denmark said the frigate would spend three to four months with the carrier in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean providing air defense commander capabilities for the carrier strike group.

FS Charles de Gaulle is France’s sole aircraft carrier and has been adapted for a new carrier air wing, with a transition to “all-Rafale” operations after the modernized Super Etendard were withdrawn from service in March 2016. During the overhaul, the ship also received a new combat system, improved IT networks and communications systems, and is now ready for additional 25 years of service with the Marine Nationale.

Photo: US destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) departs Toulon, France, Feb. 3, for the start of exercise FANAL19. Photo: US Navy

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