The Clemenceau-class of conventionally-powered aircraft carriers were developed for the French Navy in the crucial post-World War 2 (1939-1945) period - which now ushered in the Cold War (1947-1991) with the Soviet Union becoming the common enemy to the West. The class ultimately consisted of two warships, FS Clemenceau and FS Foch, and these were constructed by Arsenal de Brest and Chantiers de l'Atlantique (Saint Nazaire), respectively. The French Navy originally planned to acquire as many as six during talks in the late-1940s but plans were ultimately scaled back to just three units by 1953. Eventually this goal was scaled back further to just the two ships known to naval history.
Foch was ordered during 1955 and saw its keel laid down on November 15th, 1957. She was launched on July 23rdm 1960 and formally commissioned on November 15th, 2000, carrying the identifier of "R99".
Her appearance was consistent with aircraft carriers of the period, showcasing the island superstructure offset to the starboard side, a straight-through section of flight deck running from bow-to-stern and an angled flight deck reaching from starboard-stern to portside. In this way, the warship could launch and land aircraft simultaneously - a critical quality under combat conditions. Deck elevators allowed aircraft to be moved from the hangar areas below for resupply and maintenance. Aboard was a crew strength up to 1,920 men which included the air wing. Sensors and processing systems were made up of the DRBV-23B air-search radar, the DRBV-50 low-altitude / surface-search radar, the NRBA-50 approach radar and the DRBI-10 tri-dimensional air-search radar.
The warship displaced 24,200 tons under standard load and up to 32,800 tons under full load. Dimensions included a running length of 869.4 feet with a beam of 168 feet and a draught down to 28.2 feet. Installed power was from 6 x Indret boiler units feeding 4 x Steam turbines developing 126,000 horsepower to 2 x Shafts under stern.
Standard armament originally consisted of 8 x 100mm turrets ideal for air defense work. 5 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns provided a very-close-range solution. The armament suite was eventually modernized / upgraded in the 1990s to include 2 x SACP "Crotale" EDIR point-defense Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems (replacing four of the 100mm fits). To this was added 2 x Sadral launchers for six "Mistral" missiles further increasing her anti-aircraft prowess at range.
Up to forty aircraft could be embarked by Foch, this being a mix of fixed-wing and helicopter types ranging from the Dassault Super Etendard fighter-bomber, Dassault Etendard IVP and Vought F-8 "Crusader" to the Breguet Alize, Dauhpin Pedro and Aerospatiale "Super Frelon".
Commissioned in 1963, Foch was part of Alfa Force and the French period of experimentation with nuclear power in the Pacific Ocean during 1966. In 1978, she was deployed to the Red Sea during Operation Saphir II during the Independence of Djibouti. Foch entered a period of refit that took her from 1981 to 1982 and the changes allowed her to support tactical nuclear weapons aboard (AN52 15kT tactical nuclear bombs for her Super Etendard aircraft). For 1983, she was deployed off the coast of Lebanon as part of Operation Olifant and took turns with Clemenceau on station supporting peacekeeping efforts there. In 1984, she was given a SATellite COMmunications (SATCOM) capability and additional modernization led to a new catapult system being installed as well as a laser-based landing system. From 1993 into 1999, Foch was a regular participant of actions over the former-Yugoslavia as part of the United Nations and NATO peacekeeping efforts. With more modifications coming to her deck design between 1995 and 1996, the warship test-launched / retrieved the new, all-modern Dassault Rafale multirole fighter for a time. Her final deployment was in 2000 as part of Task Force 473, a tour which took her around the world over the period of four months.
Despite her seemingly capable design, Foch was never unable to field an entire air group so the responsibility was ultimately shared between her and lead-ship Clemenceau. Foch, however, was spared the scrapman's torch and was instead sold off to Brazil to serve as the NAe Sao Paulo, detailed elsewhere on this site. Acquired in 2000, Sao Paulo has since been demobilized and is being arranged for decommissioning.