By Peter Stevens
Despite a number of disbandments and reorganisations, which took place following the end of the Cold War, the French Air Force (Armée de l' Air) is still a very sizeable air force equipped with modern aircraft.
A major restructuring took place in March 1994 when all flying units under the AdlA were organised under five different commands. As a result of this restructuring all Escadres were disbanded with all assigned Escadrons becoming fully autonomous units operating. The Commandement de la Force Aérienne de Combat (CFAC) which has control over all tactical combat aircraft which are organised in fourteen Escadrons de Chasse, two Escadron de Reconnaissance and one Escadron de Electronique. Commandement de la Force Aériennes Stratégiques (CFAS) which controls the French nuclear forces including three Escadrons operating the Mirage 2000N as well as three Escadrons operating the C-135FR, Mirage 4P and C-160H in strategic roles. The Commandement de la Force Aérienne de Projection (CFAP) is responsible for tactical airlift, VIP transport, liaison, SAR and CSAR tasks operating a variety of transport aircraft and helicopters at a large number of bases in both France as well as locations overseas. Training units are assigned to the Commandement des Ecoles de l' Armee de l'Air (CEAA) another major command is the Commandement Air des Systemes de Surveillance, d'Information et de Communication (CASSIC) which is responsible for all C3 assets within the French Air Force. The only flying unit under the CASSIC is EDCA36 at Avord operating the E-3F Sentry in the AEW role. One independent unit is the Centre des Expérimentations Aériennes Militaires (CEAM) at Mont de Marsan, which is tasked with evaluation and standardisation tasks of new aircraft and munitions.
The past decade saw the delivery of large numbers of Mirage 2000B, C, D and N models replacing most of the Mirage F1's as the countries prime air defence fighter and the venerable Mirage 3E in the tactical and nuclear strike role with EC3 and EC4 respectively. 55 surplus Mirage F1C-200's were converted to Mirage F1CT's for tactical operations replacing the Mirage 5F as well as most of the Jaguar As. The very last squadron with the Jaguar, of eight squadrons in the glory days, has been replaced by the first of the Rafales. Additional Mirage F1CR's of which 64 were received in the early 80's are operated in the reconnaissance role with EC30 at Reims. This unit is also operating the Mirage F1B for training purposes. EC 4.30 'Vexin' based in Djibouti has trade his Mirage F1 for the Mirage 2000. Modifications on existing aircraft include further upgraded on the Mirage 2000N fleet as well as the Mirage 2000D for which the final aircraft, the 86th, was recently delivered. In addition 37 Mirage 2000C's have recently being upgraded to Mirage 2000-5F standard equipping EC2 at Dijon. The AdlA has entered a new era in 2005 when the first Rafale squadron has become operational with EC7 at St.Dizier. 134 Rafale B/C's are currently on order. Deliveries will probably continue through 2015. Elementary training is being conducted on the Grob 120A-F and the TB30 Epsilon with EPAA315 at Cognac under a contract with the civil EADS followed by the EMB 312F Tucano with GI312 at Salon de Provence, which replaced the CM 170 Magister in this role. Fast jet pilots then continue on the Alpha Jet with EAC314 at Tours for advanced jet training and afterwards with ETO8 at Cazaux for weapons training. After receiving their wings, new pilots will complete their training with the OCU's of the type to which they will be posted. Transport pilots go to EAT319 at Avord for multi engine training on the EMB 121 Xingu. For its transport tasks the AdlA relies heavily on the C160 Transall, which is due to be replaced by the A400M around the end of the decade. Approximately 65 Transalls serve in the transport role with four Escadrons at Orléans-Bricy and Evreux-Fauville. The latter is also operating the type in the refuelling role. Evreux is also the home of EA1/59 'Bigorre' which operates four C160H ASTARTEs for communications with the countries nuclear ISBM equipped submarines. Other Transalls are in use with units based overseas as well as two C160G, which operate in the ELINT role with EEA54 at Metz-Frescaty where it replaced the Noratlas in the late 80's. Additional transport aircraft in service with the AdlA are fourteen C-130 Hercules which are in use with ET2/61 at Orleans as well as fifteen CN235's which serve with ETL1/62 at Creil-Senlis, the old home base of the Mirage 3C and F1C equipped EC10 which was disbanded in the mid 80's. The C-135FR's Stratotanker is the air forces main refuelling platform. Additional types such as the TBM700, A310, A340, EMB121, DHC6 and Falcon 50 are in use for VIP and liaison duties. Helicopters serve with six squadrons of Escadre d'Hélicoptéres 67 based in France as well as seven ETOMs and EHOMs based overseas. CIEH341 at Metz is conducting rotary wing training for the AdlA. Helicopter types currently in service include the AS332 Super Puma, AS532 Cougar, AS555 Fennec, AS355 Ecureuil. and the EC725 for combat SAR.
The Aviation Navale of the Marine Nationale is currently undergoing an extensive modernisation. Some ageing aircraft types were retired during the past years such as the F-8P Crusader, the Etendard IVP and the Br1050 Alizé as well as the aircraft carrier Foch which was recently replaced by the new carrier Charles de Gaulle.
The backbone of the Aviation Navale is the Super Etendard which will soldier on until at least 2010. Most of the surviving aircraft were recently upgraded to Super Etendard Modernisé (SEM) standard. After the SEM modernisation the aircraft is also capable of performing reconnaissance tasks resulting in the retirement of the dedicated Etendard IVP which served the French navy for forty years and the disbandment of 16F at Landiviseau. The Super Etendard is serving with two squadrons at Landiviseau after 14F was disbanded some years ago. 12F (ex Crusader) has reformed as the first Rafale M unit with 10 aircraft. 11F and 17F will follow from 2010. The current Rafale order is for 38 Rafale Ms. A type which was withdrawn from service in late 2000 was the Br1050 Alizé. The last unit operating the Alizé was 6F at Nimes-Garons which disbanded. The other Alizé unit was 4F at Lann-Bihoué which received the first of three E-2C Hawkeyes in December 1998. A fourth aircraft is on order.
Two Flottiles operate the Atlantique II which replaced the Atlantic I during the second half of the 80's and early 90's. A total of 28 aircraft have been delivered. 21F at Nimes Garons and 23F at Lann-Bihoue each have eight aircraft on strength with the remainder being placed in storage or away for maintenance. Additional fixed wing aircraft in use with the Aviation Navale are the N262 which is in use for inshore patrol tasks. Another type which is in use for surveillance is the Falcon 20G Gardian which is being operated by 25F at Nouméa-La Tontouta and Tahiti-Faa. The latest aircraft to enter service in this role is the Falcon 50SURMAR of which four are on order. EMB121 Xingus and Falcon 10MERs are in use for liaison duties. Two fixed wing types are operated for training including the CAP10B and MS880 Rallye.
A variety of helicopters are operated by the French navy in various roles at two bases being Hyeres for the units assigned to the Mediterranean fleet and Lanvéoc-Poulmic for those assigned to the Atlantic fleet.The main ASW helicopters are the Lynx which serves two Flottiles and the AS565 Panther which serves one Flottile. SA365 Dauphins and Alouette III's are in use as SAR helicopters. The helicopters of 31F, 32F and 34F will be replaced by NH90s. A total of 27 NH90s were ordered in 2000. In 2009 the first two will be delivered, in 2010 another four to replace the Super Frelon. IN 2009 and 2010 two NH90s will be delivered while the remaining sixteen will be delivered after 2015. Of the 29 lynxes now in operation, 15 will remain in service after 2015. St Mandrier has closed in 2005 and the helicopters are based at Hyères - La Palyvestre. In 2002 28F moved from Hyères to Nîmes with its N262s as a replacement of 56S which was disbanded in september 2002.
Following the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the Aviation Légère de L'Armée de Terre (ALAT) was dramatically reorganized during the course of the 1990's. These reorganisations saw the disbandments of many units and the remainder realigned. Among these were all helicopter units based in Germany supporting the 1st, 3rd and 5th Armoured Division and their bases at Trier-Föhren, Friedrichshafen-Löwenheim (2RHC) and Baden Baden-Oos closed. Other major units which disbanded in France were the 7 Regiment Hélicoptères de Combat (7RHC) at Nancy-Essey and a number of smaller Light Helicopter Groups (Groupe d'Hélicoptères Légères (GHL). The ALAT saw its mission being shifted from one with a major anti-tank mission caused by massive Soviet tank armies based in the former German Democratic Republic to a flexible airmobile force capable of operating anywhere in the world at short notice.
Currently the ALAT is undergoing yet another restructuring which is due to be completed in 2002. Due to these reorganisations the exact current structure of the units under the ALAT is still not completely clear to us. All operational combat assets are currently organised under the 4 Brigade Aéromobile which was formed in July 1999. Three regiments are reporting to this brigade being the 1 Regiment Hélicoptères de Combat (1RHC) at Phalsbourg, 3 Regiment Hélicoptères de Combat (3RHC) at Etain-Rouvres and 5 Regiment Hélicoptères de Combat (5RHC) at Pau. Regiments are composed of flights specialized in carrying out various missions such as reconnaissance, anti-tank, escort and transport. Typically the first flight is the Escadrille d'Hélicoptères Reconnaissance (EHR) equipped with eight SA341F Gazelles. One or two Escadrille d'Hélicoptères d'Appui Protection (EHAP) are tasked with fire suppression and anti helicopter missions and equipped with eight SA341F2 Gazelles Canon or eight SA342ML1 Gazelle ATAM (Air to Air Missile) which is armed with four AATCP short range air to air missiles. The Escadrille d'Hélicoptères d'Attaque (EHA) is equipped with either ten SA342M Gazelle HOT or with ten upgraded SA342M1 Gazelle Viviane's. As a direct result of the decreased tank threat, the number of EHA's has decreased from twelve in 1989 to just four nowadays.
There are 68 NH90s on order which will replace the unmodified Pumas, while the 45 modified Pumas will remain in service until all NH90s are in service. The SA330s of DOAS will be replaced by 7 EC725 for combat SAR. All SA341 Gazelles will be decommissioned in the next years while the SA342 Gazelles will be replaced by the Tigres
At least two escadrilles are operating nine SA330Ba Puma or AS532U2 Cougar helicopters. These units are designated as Escadrille d'Hélicoptères de Manoeuvre. 1RHC also has the control of the Escadrille d'Hélicoptères Horizon (EH HOR). The EH HOR operates a small number of AS532's equipped with the HORIZON Battlefield surveillance radar. It is noteworthy that the 1RHC will be transformed into a specialised intelligence gathering regiment. In addition to the EH HOR, in 2002 the regiment will consist of two Puma flights, a Gazelle Viviane flight, a Gazelle Canon flight and possibly some Gazelle ATAM's. The unit will lose its three attack helicopter flights with its 30 SA342M's in the process.
Another main part of the ALAT is the Ecole d'Application de l'Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre (EA ALAT) which is responsible for the basis training of all French military helicopter pilots. In addition also students of some friendly foreign countries are being trained with the EA ALAT. Training is spread over two locations being Dax and Le Luc. Basic training is undertaken at Dax on the SA341F. ALAT pilots then proceed to Le Luc for their tactical training.
Other units exist to support additional commands in the French Army. The Escadrille d' Hélicoptères de 'l Armée de Terre (EHADT) is a dedicated VIP flight based at Compiègne operating the AS555 Fennec. The Escadrille d'Haute Montagne is based at Gap supporting the 27th Brigade d'Infanterie Montagne. The units Alouette III's have been replaced by a number of Gazelles. Another unit called the Détachement ALAT d'Opérations Spéciales (DAOS) has two escadrilles. One EHM is reportedly equipped with Puma's and Cougars. A EHAP is operating the Gazelle Canon and the Gazelle ATAM. The Groupement Aéromobile de la Section Technique de 'l Armée de Terre (GAMSTAT) at Valence is the test and evaluation unit of the ALAT. The unit is currently involved in the NH90, Cougar HORIZON and Tigre attack helicopter. The Escadrille Avions de l' Armée de Terre (EAAT) is the fixed wing unit of the ALAT and equipped with a number of TBM700's and Cessna F406 Caravan II's. The Etablissement Réserve Générale de Matériel ALAT (ERGM) at Montauban is operating two Pilatus PC6 Turbo Porters in support of the Montauban logistics centre. Various detachements are supporting French army units based abroad operating mainly Puma's and Gazelles