French Air Force
|Armée de l'Air|
|Founded||Part of the French Army in 1909, an independent service arm in 1933|
|Size||49,827 regular personnel1
|Part of||French Armed Forces|
|Chief of Staff of the French Air Force||Général Denis Mercier|
The French Air Force (French: Armée de l'Air (ALA), literally Army of the Air) is the air force of the French Armed Forces. It was formed in 1909 as the Service Aéronautique, a service arm of the French Army, then was made an independent military arm in 1933. The number of aircraft in service with the French Air Force varies depending on source, however sources from the French Department of Defence give a figure of 609 aircraft in 2012.1
The French took active interest in developing the air force from 1909 and had the first World War I fighter pilots. During the interwar years, however, particularly in the 1930s, the quality fell after they compared with the Luftwaffe, which crushed the French during the Battle of France.
In the post–World War II era, the French made a successful effort to develop a domestic aircraft industry. Dassault Aviation led the way mainly with delta-wing designs, which formed the basis for the Mirage series of jet fighters. The Mirage demonstrated its abilities in the Six-Day War, War of Yom Kippur, the Falklands War and the Gulf War, becoming one of the most popular jet fighters of its day, with a high quantity of sales. The French Air Force participated in several protracted colonial wars in Africa and Indochina after WWII, and continues to employ its air power in African peacekeeping. During the 1960s, France pursued a policy of nuclear armament, to deter Soviet aggression. The Dassault Mirage IV, the principal French strategic bomber, was designed to strike Soviet positions as part of the French nuclear triad.
Currently, the French Air Force is expanding and replacing aircraft inventory. The French are awaiting the A400M military transport aircraft, which is still in developmental stages, and the integration of the new Rafale multi-role jet fighter, whose first squadron of 20 aircraft became operational in 2006 at Saint-Dizier.
After an absence lasting several decades, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed that France will rejoin the NATO integrated command.3 France has also been a lead nation, alongside the USA, Great Britain and Italy in implementing the UN sponsored no-fly zone in Libya, deploying 20 fighter aircraft to Benghazi in defense of rebel held positions and the civilian population.4
The ALA is organised into three levels:
The President of France is Chief of the armed forces, responsible for the overall defence policy. The Prime Minister is responsible for national defence and the Minister of Defence is responsible for the execution of the military policy.
He is advised by the Chief of Staff of the Armies (CEMA) in regard to the use of forces and the control of military operations. The Chief of Staff-Air Force (CEMAA) determines the air force doctrines and advises the CEMA how to deploy French aerial assets. He is responsible for the preparation and logistic support of the air force. The CEMAA is assisted by the air force staff and by its subordinate services. Finally, the CEMAA is assisted by the inspection of the air force (IAA) and by the air force health service inspection (ISSAA).
In the ALA the responsibilities are separated in two main types of commands: operational commands (direct responsible for force deployment) and organic commands (in charge of conditioning and logistic support). These commands are subject to change before 2010 (see Future).
- CFAS—Strategic Air Command (Commandement des Forces Aériennes Stratégiques)5
All the air forces nuclear assets are placed in this command which is responsible for the operational condition and the eventual deployment of these weapons. The CFAS is one of the two pillars of the French nuclear deterrent. CFAS has 3 squadrons of dual capable Mirage 2000N fighter/bombers capable of carrying the nuclear Air-Sol Moyenne Portée stand-off missile and a squadron of C-135FR in-flight refuelling tankers at its disposal to carry out their missions. The commanding CFAS general is responsible for the execution of the mission.
- CDAOA—Air Defence and Air Operations Command
This overall command is responsible for all air operations in peacetime serving the public, for the defence of the French airspace and for all offensive and defensive air operations at war.
- CFA—Joint Air Command
A new command which has been inaugurated in 2006. It is responsible to ensure and to maintain the operational condition of all branches of the air force now and for the future. At present day the CFA consists of
- 16 fighter squadrons and 25 air defence squadrons
- 1 electronic warfare squadron
- simulator and instruction centres
On its airbases in Europe and abroad the CFA has 16,000 personnel, 279 fighter aircraft, 122 transport aircraft and 85 helicopters.
- CASSIC—Air Surveillance, Information and Communication Systems Command
This command has already been dissolved and the 8,100 personnel, working in the former CASSIC have been transferred to the other existing air force commands and to the DIRISI, the interim joint defence communication and intelligence organisation.
CDAOA, based in Paris and Lyon, plans and executes all air operations. ex-CASSIC personnel are embedded here to develop exercises and operations abroad.
CFA prepares the forces. Since 2007, 38% ex-CASSIC personnel rejoined the airspace control brigade which also controls all ground-air defence units.
CSFA, based in Bordeaux, guards the technical and logistical assets. Since 2006 it has taken over many ex-CASSIC projects.
- CEAA—Air Force Training Command
Responsible for training all new air force personnel as well as on the technical and on the job training of the other air force personnel, as well as the officers and NCO training. CEAA is also responsible for all schools and training facilities.
- CFPSAA—Operational Support Command
This command is responsible for the operational readiness and the deployment of all base protecting squadrons, dog-handlers, fire brigades, paratroopers and NBC and decontamination personnel. In 2007, the CFPSAA has been renamed BAFSI (Brigade Aérienne des Forces de Sécurité et d'Intervention).
The air base command levels are the combat assets of the ALA. An airbase commander has authority over all units stationed on his base. Depending on the units tasks this means that he is responsible for approximately 600 to 2500 personnel.
Flying activity in France is carried out by a network of bases, platforms and French air defence radar systems. It is supported by bases, which are supervised and maintained by staff, centres of operations, warehouses, workshops, and schools.
Both in France and abroad, bases have almost similar infrastructure to provide standardised support. This operational mode allows fast and easy creation of air bases outside of France.
Overseas, fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters allow quick response to any request for assistance that falls within international agreements. On average, a base platform, made up of about 1500 personnel (nearly 3500 people including family), provides a yearly economic boost to its area of about 60 million euros. Consequently, determining the sites for air bases constitutes a major part of regional planning. 6
- BA 102 Dijon airbase.7
- BA 105 Évreux airbase. Command, operational and logistic support.
- BA 107 Villacoublay airbase. Helicopter and heavy air transport units.
- BA 110 Creil airbase. Heavy air transport units with Casa CN-235/100 for short distance and with Airbus A310-300.
- BA 113 Saint-Dizier airbase. Transition sqn for the new Dassault Rafale C.
- BA 116 Luxeuil airbase. Air defence squadrons equipped with Mirage 2000-5.
- BA 117 Paris airbase. Central command.
- BA 123 Orléans airbase. Former CFAP and CASSIC command location. CFPSAA operational command.
- BA 133 Nancy Ochey airbase. Fighter squadrons Mirage 2000D, SAM sqns.
- BA 217 Brétigny. Personnel officer/nco selection and logistic units.
- BA 279 Châteaudun airbase. Airplane storage base.
- BA 702 Avord airbase. CFAS nuclear strike stockpile. AWACS Boeing E-3 Sentry unit. Inflight refueling KC-135 unit
- BA 705 Tours airbase. Fighter pilot training school.
- BA 901 Drachenbronn. Air defence radar command reporting centre.
- BA 921 Taverny. Strategic Air Command (CFAS)
- DA 273 Romorantin air detachment. Logistic unit.
- DA 922 Doullens air detachment. Disbanded command reporting centre.
- BA 101 Toulouse airbase. Instruction air transport unit Transall C-160 NG and Puma SA 330.
- BA 106 Mérignac airbase. Transport support base for the air staff.
- BA 115 Orange airbase. Air defence squadrons Mirage 2000C and transition squadron Mirage 2000B.
- BA 118 Mont de Marsan. Home of CEAM, the Air Force military experimentation and trials organisation, Air defence radar command reporting centre, instruction centre for air defence control.
- BA 120 Cazaux airbase, situated South-west of the port city of Bordeaux. Air force airplane stockpile.
- BA 125 Istres airbase. CFAS nuclear strike stockpile. Strike squadron equipped with Mirage 2000N. Transall C-160 G strategic communication flight. Inflight refueling unit with C-135RF. CEAM, the Air Force military experience centre.
- BA 126 Ventiseri-Solenzara Air Base. Fighter gunnery range. SAR unit.
- DA 277 Varennes-sur-Allier. French Airforce Stock. Known for its strategic position in the middle of France.
- BA 278 Ambérieu airbase. Logistic support base.
- BA 701 Salon de Provence. Officer instruction school. Enlisted instruction school.
- BA 709 Cognac airbase. Basic flight training school.
- BA 721 Rochefort-Saint-Agnant. NCO school.
- BA 942 Lyon Mont-Verdun. Air defence radar command reporting centre. CNOA location. National Air Operations Command.
- DA 204 Mérignac. Logistic detachment.
- EETAA 722 Saintes. Air force electronic, technical instruction also as Military basic Bootcamp.
- EPA 749 Grenoble. Air force child support school
- BA 160 Dakar, Africa. Mixed units.
- BA 181 Réunion (French department), Indian Ocean. Mixed units.
- BA 188 Djibouti, Africa. Mixed units.
- Air elements Libreville/Gabon.
- Air elements N’djamena/Chad. Mixed units.
- BA 190 French Polynesia (Overseas collectivity). Mixed unit.
- BA 365 Martinique (French department), West Indies. Mixed unit.
- BA 367 French Guiana (French department), South America. Mixed units.
- BA 376 New Caledonia (special collectivity of France), Pacific Air defence radar command BA 376 New Caledonia, Air defence squadrons Mirage 2000D and transition sqn Mirage 2000B, training facility
- BA 104 Abu Dhabi
The French Air Force has 243 combat aircraft in service, with the majority being 159 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 69 Dassault Rafale. The last remaining squadron of Dassault Mirage F1s will be retired in the next coming months as it is replaced by more Rafale. The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security allows for only 225 combat aircraft in service with both the French Air Force and the French Naval Aviation by 2019. With a split of around 180 in the air force and 45 in the navy.89
|Dassault Rafale||France||Multirole fighter||B and C||69||An additional 58 on order (confirmed).10|
|Dassault Mirage 2000||France||Multirole fighter
|Majority of the fleet to be retired over the next decade and replaced by Rafale.|
|Dassault Mirage F1||France||Reconnaissance||CR||16||Soon to be retired and replaced by Rafale.11|
|Boeing E-3 Sentry||United States||AEW&C||4|
|Transall C-160||France||Signals intelligence (ELINT)||2|
|Transport and Aerial refueling|
|Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker||United States||Aerial refueling||14||To be retired and replaced by Airbus A330 MRTT|
|Airbus A330 MRTT||France||Aerial refueling||12 on order (reduced from 14).|
|CASA/IPTN CN-235||Spain||Tactical transport||24||A small, medium-ranged tactical transport aircraft. Used for transporting light cargo or paratroopers.|
|Lockheed C-130 Hercules||United States||Tactical transport||14|
|Transall C-160||France||Tactical transport||39|
|Airbus A400M Atlas||France||Tactical transport||50 on order12|
|Airbus A340||France||Strategic airliner||2|
|Airbus A310||France||Strategic airliner||3|
|Caracal||France||Search and rescue helicopter||4|
|Eurocopter AS532 Cougar||France||Search and rescue helicopter||5|
|Eurocopter AS555 Fennec||France||Utility and training helicopter||40|
|Aérospatiale SA330 Puma||France||transport helicopter||26|
|Utility and VIP transport|
|DHC-6 Twin Otter||Canada||Utility Transport||4|
|SOCATA TBM||France||VIP Transport||15|
|Airbus A330-200 (modified)||France||VIP Transport||A330-223||1||#F-RARF|
|Dassault Falcon 7X||France||VIP Transport||2|
|Dassault Falcon 900||France||VIP Transport||2|
|Dassault Falcon 50||France||VIP Transport||2|
|Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet||France||Advanced trainer||77|
|Embraer EMB 121 Xingu||Brazil||Trainer||23|
|Walter Extra 300||Germany||Trainer||3|
|EADS Harfang||Israel France||Reconnaissance UAV||4|
|Dassault Mirage 2000||France||Multirole fighter||8|
|Dassault Rafale||France||Multirole fighter||5|
|Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet||France||Advanced trainer||3|
As of early 2012, the French Air Force employs a total of 49,827 regular personnel. The reserve element of the air force consists of; 4,737 personnel of the Operational Reserve and 6,706 personnel of the Citizens Reserve.1
Like most modern defence organisations the French air force is reorganising its commands, units and assets. This project to streamline the forces is called Air 2010, which is the year of the deadline for all transitions. The main targets of this project are to simplify the command structure, to regroup all military and civil air force functions and to rationalise and optimise all air force units. The solution to reach these aims seems to be changing the organisation into five major commands, instead of the former 13, and to disband several commands and units.13
- CDAOA (air defence and air operations command)
- CFA (air force command)
- CSFA (logistic command)
- DRHAA (human resource direction)
- SAGF (administration and finance service)
Alpha Jet Patrouille de France
- "Key defence figures 2012" (in (French)). Defense.gouv.fr.
- "World Air Forces 2013". Flightglobal.com, December 11, 2012.
- "Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO’s integrated command" June 17, 2008
- "Report Hubert Védrine"
- Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
- "France faced with developments in the international and strategic context"
- 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security29 April 2013
- "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013-Twelve key points"
- "Projet de loi de finances pour 2013 : Défense équipement des forces" 22 November 2012
- "French army expects first A400M airlifter by 14 July 2013"
- "The Military Balance 2013"., March 14, 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Air force of France|
- (French) Official website
- (English) Official website
- (French) List of air bases, appendix of the budget bill for 2006, French Senate