France sent its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to Libya on March 20 to bolster the West's air campaign against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
The French Navy's flagship set off from the southern naval port of Toulon at 1210 GMT, with 20 warplanes, most them Rafale and older Super Etendard combat jets, as well as helicopters and two E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.
Tugs pulled it from the wharf as dozens of onlookers watched it depart.
"The aircraft carrier is 24 hours by sea from the Libyan coast but will take 36 to 48 hours to get there, to take the time to load on the fighter jets that will participate in the operations and to hold some landing exercises," a military source said.
The aircraft carrier was to be escorted by three frigates - the anti-submarine Duplex, the anti-air Forbin and the multi-mission stealth Aconit - and the oil tanker La Meuse, military officials said.
The French naval group was to be protected by a nuclear attack submarine, they added.
French warplanes also continued sorties over Libya early March 20 as part the West's biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Saturday, French jets spearheaded the West's assault with four air strikes in Libya, destroying several armored vehicles of forces loyal to the embattled Libyan strongman.
Those strikes came before U.S. warships and a British submarine fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya against Gadhafi's anti-aircraft missiles and radar batteries.
The intervention was mandated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorized the use of force to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Gadhafi loyalists.
Gadhafi, in a brief audio message on Saturday night also broadcast on state television, fiercely denounced the attacks as a "barbaric, unjustified Crusaders' aggression."
He vowed retaliatory strikes on military and civilian targets in the Mediterranean, which he said had been turned into a "real battlefield.