France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier sets off for Asia

Toulon (France) (AFP) –


French aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle set sail on Tuesday from the Mediterranean port of Toulon following two years of refurbishments and upgrades for a deployment that will see it travel to the Indian Ocean and Singapore.

"There are departures that leave a bitter taste in one's mouth, but not yours. Yours already has the taste of victory," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told crew on board.

In November, the ship completed an 18-month mid-life refit which included upgrades to its radars and communications systems, combat systems and a refuelling of its two nuclear reactors, which should allow it to stay in service for another 20 years.

Before heading to the Indo-Pacific region, the group will spend one month in the Mediterranean taking part in French operations against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The carrier group is then scheduled to sail to Singapore via the Suez Canal to arrive in time for the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual international Asian security summit which begins on May 31, 2019.

During its deployment, the battle group is expected to participate in maritime exercises with the Egyptian navy, the Indian navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.

France under President Emmanuel Macron has sought to strengthen its alliances with Asian democracies India, Japan and Australia amid rising tensions in the region caused by territorial disputes and China's rise.

The Charles de Gaulle does not plan to enter the South China Sea, the epicentre of the territorial disputes, according to the French ministry of defence.

The carrier battle group includes two frigates, a supply ship, a nuclear attack submarine, and a rotating cast of allied ships from Portugal, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and the United States.