France Makes Bold Show of Navy Power as Signal to Russia, US

French navy Mistral class helicopter carrier in Toulon harbour

The Mediterranean Sea Akila expedition was a first for the French navy.

The entry of the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier under NATO’s operational authority caused a political upheaval in Paris. The carrier can carry up to 2,000 personnel and can cruise 1,000 kilometers per day.

Another first: French Rafale Marine fighter planes crossed Europe for the first time, completing a six-hour, four-thousand-kilometer journey from the Ionian Sea to the Baltic Sea. They were air-refueled by a French tanker plane above Poland.

As part of the Akila mission, the French military participated in the Neptune Strike 2024 exercise to demonstrate to its other NATO members that it intends to play a significant role in the alliance and send a message to Russia. For any French endeavor to project force, the Charles de Gaulle—the navy’s armored fist—is indispensable. The ship, which is 261 meters long, can carry nuclear weapons; it also has steam-powered catapults that the United States (and soon China) may use to launch planes.

Neptune Strike and similar exercises have become an integral aspect of NATO’s strategy to strengthen cooperation with partners and discourage possible adversaries in the wake of the altered security landscape brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Eleven NATO nations’ ships, including the Charles de Gaulle, participated in the exercise, which lasted from April to May.

The French destroyer carried a plethora of NATO armament, machinery, weaponry, and vehicles. The French carrier strike group also comprised a refueling tanker, a French nuclear-powered attack submarine, and five frigates from France, Greece, Portugal, and Italy.

Paris focused its military efforts, particularly its ground forces, on France’s former African colonies until the conflict in Ukraine. As part of its NATO effort, France is now leading an alliance battlegroup in Romania.

An additional objective of the drill was to demonstrate the continued presence of NATO ships in the Mediterranean.