The Tonnerre (L9014) serves as an amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier of the modern French Navy. The vessel makes up a portion of the Mistral-class, a group of three strong surface ships designed to support amphibious operations - that is, in support of allied forces going into hostile territory from the sea. The class is led by the Mistral and completed by sister ship Dixmude. Tonnerre (translating to "Thunder") was completed as two distinct sections before final assembly - the fore portion built by Cnatiers de Saint-Nazaire and the aft portion by Arsenal de Brest. The ship was launched on July 26th, 2005 to undertake her requisite sea trials and was formally commissioned in December of 2006. The Tonnerre makes her homeport out of Toulon.
While technically an aircraft "carrier", the air wing of the Tonnerre is comprised solely of rotary-wing systems (helicopters) in light, medium and heavy classes. The vessel can support up to 35 of the light class types and up to 16 of the larger, heavier class machines. Two powered hangar elevators serve the flight deck and the vessel can launch/recall up to six helicopters simultaneously. Additionally, in support of amphibious operations, Tonnerre is equipped to carry a full battalion of French Leclerc Main Battle Tanks and up to 70 military vehicles. The Tonnerre supports a staff of 100 officers and 60 additional crew and can become home to some 400 personnel (900 in extreme circumstances). She measures 200 meters from bow to stern and 32 meters across the beam (width) while realizing a draught of 6.3 meters. She is designed for deep ocean water travel as well as shoreline operations, capable of being called to serve anywhere in the world.
Externally, the Tonnerre follows well-established carrier design including an island superstructure offset to the starboard side (ahead of midships). All three Mistral-class vessels share the same configuration. This provides the open lanes for aircraft launch and retrieval along the port side from stern to bow. The bow is well-shaped to cut through the ocean while the stern is squared off and serves to launch amphibious hovercraft into action. A heavy duty powered crane is identified aft of the island superstructure and serves in resupply and moving heavy deck items about. All important communications, tracking, search and fire control functionality is concentrated at the island superstructure as is the bridge. The aviation section is headquartered in an outcropping at the island superstructure rear with unfettered views of the flight deck. Of note concerning the Tonnerre's design approach is the use of broad-area surfaces about the aircraft sides - intended as a stealthy measure consistent with modern warships elsewhere in the world.
The Tonnerre relies on a modern propulsion system made up of 2 x Mermaid electric motors in protruding nacelles under the stern coupled to 4 x Wartsila diesel alternators with 1 x Wartsila Vasaa auxiliary diesel alternator. A propulsor is located at the bow for exact positioning when docking. Retractable stabilizers are noted under the waterline at amidships. This supplies the vessel with a top speed of nearly 19 knots in ideal conditions and an operational range out to nearly 20,000 kilometers when maintaining a cruise speed of 15 knots.
While called to transport and ultimately unload her precious cargo, the Tonnerre is not designed for frontline combat. Her armament suite is rather reserved for a military ship and consists of a defensive-minded arrangement. This includes 2 x MBDA "Mistral" Simbad infrared homing surface-to-air missile launchers and up to 4 x 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine guns for close-in defense. One Simbad unit is installed at the extreme front right corner with the second unit installed at the rear left corner. While not installed, the vessel can also support up to 2 x 30mm Breda-Mauser autocannons. This limited armaments array requires that the Tonnerre be fielded with supporting warships/aircraft for additional protection.
Tonnerre was called to her first action in support of the United Nations commitment in Ivory Coast following the local civil war. This was as part of Operation Unicorn spanning April 10th, 2007 into July 24th, 2007 which saw the vessel launch light and medium helicopters into action. Come 2008, Tonnerre was committed to humanitarian assistance in the Gulf of Guinea to help curtail illegal drug smuggling. During the Libyan Civil War of 2011, Tonnerre launched her helicopters in support of severla major operations centered around protection of Libyan civilians and the toppling of dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power.
As of this writing (2013), the Tonnerre remains in active service with the French fleet.
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