The French Air Force (French: Armée de l'Air Française[aʁme də l‿ɛʁ fʁɑ̃sɛːz]; lit.'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, and then made an independent military arm in 1934. The number of aircraft in service with the French Air Force varies depending on the source, however sources from the French Ministry of Defence give a figure of 658 aircraft in 2014. The French Air Force has 225 combat aircraft in service, with the majority being 117 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 108 Dassault Rafale. As of early 2017, the French Air Force employs a total of 41,160 regular personnel. The reserve element of the air force consisted of 5,187 personnel of the Operational Reserve.
French military aviation was born in 1909. After the approval of the law establishing it by the French National Assembly on 29 March 1912, French military aeronautics officially became part of the French Army, alongside the four traditional branches of the French Army, the infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineers.
France was one of the first states to start building aircraft. At the beginning of World War I, France had a total of 148 planes (eight from French Naval Aviation (aéronautique navale)) and 15 airships. By the time of the armistice of 11 November 1918, France had 3,608 planes in service. 5,500 pilots and observers were killed out of the 17,300 engaged in the conflict, amounting to 31% of endured losses. A 1919 newspaper article reported that the French Air Force had a 61% percent war loss.
Military aeronautics was established as a "special arm" by the law of 8 December 1922. However, it remained under the auspices of the French Army. It was not until 2 July 1934, that the "special arm" became an independent service and was totally independent.
The initial air arm was the cradle of French military parachuting, responsible for the first formation of the Air Infantry Groups (lang-fr|Groupements de l'Infanterie de l'Air) in the 1930s, out of which the Air Parachute Commandos (French: commandos parachutistes de l'air) descended.
The French Air Force maintained a continuous presence across the French colonial empire, particularly from the 1920s to 1943.
After 1945, France rebuilt its aircraft industry. The French Air Force participated in several colonial wars during the Empire such as French Indochina after the Second World War. Since 1945, the French Air Force was notably engaged in Indochina (1945–1954).
Accordingly, from 1962, the French political leadership reprioritized its military emphasis on nuclear deterrence, implementing a complete reorganisation of the Air Force, with the creation of four air regions and seven major specialised commands, among which were the Strategic Air Forces Command, COTAM, the Air Command of Aerial Defense Forces (French: Commandement Air des Forces de Défense Aérienne, CAFDA), and the Force aérienne tactique (FATac). In 1964 the Second Tactical Air Command was created at Nancy to take command of air units stationed in France but not assigned to NATO. The Military Air Transport Command had previously been formed in February 1962 from the Groupement d'Unités Aériennes Spécialisées. Also created in 1964 was the Escadron des Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air (EFCA), seemingly grouping all FCA units. The Dassault Mirage IV, the principal French strategic bomber, was designed to strike Soviet positions as part of the French nuclear triad.
CFAS had two squadrons of S2 and S-3 IRBMs at the Plateau d'Albion, six squadrons of Mirage IVAs (at Mont de Marsan, Cazaux, Orange, Istres, St Dizier, and EB 3/94 at Luxeuil), and three squadrons of C-135F, as well as a training/reconnaissance unit, CIFAS 328, at Bordeaux. The tactical air command included wings EC 3, EC 4, EC 7, EC 11, EC 13, and ER 33, with a total of 19 squadrons of Mirage III, Jaguars, two squadrons flying the Mirage 5F (EC 2/13 and EC 3/13, both at Colmar), and a squadron flying the Mirage F.1CR. CoTAM counted 28 squadrons, of which ten were fixed-wing transport squadrons, and the remainder helicopter and liaison squadrons, at least five of which were overseas. CAFDA numbered 14 squadrons mostly flying the Mirage F.1C. Two other commands had flying units, the Air Force Training Command, and the Air Force Transmissions Command, with four squadrons and three trials units.
The French Air Force is expanding and replacing its aircraft inventory. The Air Force is awaiting the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, which is in development. As of November 2016, 11 A400M aircraft had been delivered to ET00.061 at Orleans-Bricy, and integration of the new Dassault Rafale multi-role jet fighter was underway, whose first squadron of 20 aircraft became operational in 2006 at Saint-Dizier.
On 13 July 2019, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a space command within the French Air Force by September 2019, and the transformation of the French Air Force into the French Air and Space Force. According to Defense Minister Florence Parly, France reserves the right to arm French satellites with lasers for defensive purposes.
The Chief of Staff of the French Air Force (CEMAA) determines French Air Force doctrines application and advises the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA) on the deployment, manner, and use of the Air Force. He is responsible for the preparation and logistic support of the French Air Force. The CEMAA is assisted by a Deputy Chief, the Major Général de l'Armée de l'Air. Finally, the CEMAA is assisted by the Inspectorate of the French Air Force (IAA) and by the French Air Force Health Service Inspection (ISSAA).
The Air Force is organized in conformity to Chapter 4/ Title II/ Book II of the Third Part of the Defense Code (French: code de la Défense), which replaced decree n° 91-672 of 14 July 1991.
Air Force headquarters is co-located, alongside the Chief of the Defence Staff's offices (EMA) as well with Army and Navy headquarters at the Ballard. It numbers 150 aviators. The new site succeeds the former Paris Air Base (BA 117), the air staff headquarters buildings, dissolved on 25 June 2015.
The French Air Force has three commands: two grand operational commands (CDAOA and CFAS) and one organic command (CFA)).
Air Defense and Air Operations Command (French: Commandement de la Défense Aérienne et des Opérations Aériennes (CDAOA)), is responsible for surveillance of French airspace, as well as all aerial operations in progress. This command does not possess aircraft. Instead it exercises operational control over units of the Air Forces Command.
Air Defence and Air Operations Staff (French: État-major de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes) composed of the:
Air Force Operational Staff (French: État-major opérationnel Air (EMO-Air)) and the
Permanent readiness command center (French: Centre de permanence Air), both situated at the Balard complex (the French Air Force main HQ)
directly reporting units:
Air Force Operations Brigade (French: Brigade aérienne des opérations (BAO)) (all units at BA 942 Lyon-Mont Verdun air base)
National Air Operations Center (French: Centre national des opérations aériennes (CNOA))
Core Joint Force Air Component HQ (Core JFAC HQ)
Operational Center for Military Surveillance of Space Objects (French: Centre opérationnel de surveillance militaire des objets spatiaux (COSMOS))
Analysis and Simulation Center for Air Operations Preparation (French: Centre d’analyse et de simulation pour la préparation aux opérations aériennes (CASPOA))
Air Force Operational Awareness and Planning Brigade (French: Brigade aérienne connaissance-anticipation (BACA))
Air Force Intelligence Center (French: Centre de renseignement air (CRA)) at BA 942 Lyon-Mont Verdun air base
National Target Designation Center (French: Centre national de ciblage (CNC)) at BA 110 Creil-Senlis air base
Satellite Observation Military Center 01.092 "Bourgogne" (French: Centre militaire d’observation par satellites (CMOS) 01.092 Bourgogne) at BA 110 Creil-Senlis air base
Land-based Electronic Warfare Squadron (French: Escadron électronique sol (EES)) at BA 123 Orléans-Bricy air base
Intelligence Training Squadron 20.530 (French: Escadron de formation au renseignement (EFR) 20.530) (Metz), training air force and naval officers, integrated in the Joint Intelligence Training Center (CFIAR) in Strasbourg
Detection and Control Center 07.927 (French: Centre de détection et de contrôle (CDC)) Tours – Cinq-Mars-la-Pile (Codename: Raki, AOR: Northwestern France)
Detection and Control Center 04.930 (French: Centre de détection et de contrôle (CDC)) Mont-de-Marsan (Codename: Marina, AOR: Southwestern France)
Detection and Control Center 05.942 (French: Centre de détection et de contrôle (CDC)) Lyon – Mont Verdun (Codename: Rambert, AOR: Southeastern France)
Detection and Control Center 05.901 (French: Centre de détection et de contrôle (CDC)) Drachenbronn (Codename: Riesling, AOR: Northeastern France) – disbanded in 2015, functions absorbed into the Lyon – Mont Verdun DCC
Air Forces Command (CFA)), Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base, as an organic command, prepares units to fulfill operational missions. From September 2013, the former organic commands CFA and CSFA were merged into CFA. CFA is organized in six brigades:
Air Force Maneuver Support Brigade (French: Brigade Aérienne d'Appui à la Manœuvre Aérienne (BAAMA)) provides the ground-based engineer and logistics personnel (including expeditionary) needed for the sustainment of air operations.
These last two brigades belonged until 2013 to the Air Force Support Command (CSFA), which maintained the arms systems, equipment, information and communication systems (SIC) as well as infrastructure; the CSFA supported the human element, the military logistics (supply and transport), wherever forces of the French Air Force operated or trained; these two brigades are now subordinated to the CFA.
All air regions were disestablished on 1 January 2008. In the 1960s, there were five air regions (RA). The number was then reduced to four by a decree of 30 June 1962 with the disestablishment of the 5th Aerial Region (French North Africa). The decree of 14 July 1991 reduced the air regions to three: « RA Atlantic », « RA Mediterranean » and « RA North-East ». On 1 July 2000 was placed into effect an organization consisting of « RA North » (RAN) and « RA South » (RAS). The territorial division was abolished by decree n°2007-601 of 26 April 2007.
From 2008 to 2010 the French Air Force underwent the "Air 2010" streamlining process. The main targets of this project were to simplify the command structure, to regroup all military and civil air force functions and to rationalise and optimise all air force units. Five major commands, were formed, instead of the former 13, and several commands and units were disbanded.
The Directorate of Human Resources of the Air Force (DRH-AA) recruits, forms, manages administers and converts personnel of the French Air Force. Since January 2008, the DRH-AA groups the former directorate of military personnel of the French Air Force (DPMMA) and some tasks of the former Air Force Training Command. The directorate is responsible for Air Force recruitment via the recruiting bureau.
French joint defence service organisations, supporting the air force, include:
The " Air Commissariat " (French: " Commissariat de l'Air ") between 1947 and 2007, then " Financial and General Administration Service " (French: " Service de l'Administration Générale et des Finances " (SAGF)) from 2008 until 2009, and finally the " Commissariat Service of the Armed Forces " (SCA) (French: Service du Commissariat des Armées) since 2010, have successively been designated as administrative services of the French Air Force. The Commissioners as well as Civilians of this service carry out: operations support, individual legal rights, judicial, internal control accountability, financial and purchase executions, and support and protection of the combatant.
Commanded by a Lieutenant-colonel or Colonel, the Escadre is a formation that assembles various units and personnel dedicated to the same mission. The designation of " Escadre " was replaced with that of regiment in 1932 and was designated until 1994, a unit grouping:
units (escadrons or groups) generally equipped with the same type of aircraft or at least assuring the same type of mission
units of maintenance and support.
Escadres (wings) were dissolved from 1993 as part of the Armées 2000 reorganisation, were reestablished in 2014. The problems caused by having the aircraft maintenance units not responsible to the flying squadrons they supported eventually forced the change.
Four Escadres were reformed in the first phase:
The squadrons have retained the designations of the former Escadres disbanded during the 1990s. For instance: Transport Escadron 1/64 Béarn (French: escadron de transport 1/64 Béarn) (more specifically Transport Escadron 01.064 Béarn), which belonged to the 64th Transport Escadre (French: 64e Escadre de Transport) during the dissolution of the later (recreated on August 2015). Not all escadrons (Squadrons) are necessarily attached to an Escadre.
The Escadrille (flight) has both an administrative and operational function, even of the essential operational control is done at the level of the Esacdron. A pilot is assigned to the Escadrille, however the equipment and material devices, on the other hand, are assigned to the Escadron. Since the putting into effect of the ESTA (Aeronautic Technical Support Escadrons), material devices and the mechanics are assigned directly to the base then put at disposition of the based Escadrons.
The Escadrilles adopted the traditions of the prestigious units out of which most (SPA and SAL),[note 1] are those traditions of the First World War.
Protection squadrons (French: Escadrons de protection) (EP)
Air Parachute Commando 10 (French: Commando parachutiste de l'air) (CPA 10)
Air Parachute Commando 20 (CPA 20)
Air Parachute Commando 30 (CPA 30)
Protection Squadrons protect airbases inside and outside the national territory, and in exterior operations as well.
The CPAs carry out common missions, as well as specialized tasks; including intervention and reinforcement of protection at the profit of sensible points " air " inside and outside the national territory.
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 similar infrastructure to provide standardised support.
The French Air Force has, as of 1 August 2014:
Within the metropolitan territory of France, 27 airbases, out of the which 18 aeronautical platform with perceived runways and 5 Bases non-platform, two schools, 3 air detachments and " one attached air element " (EAR).
Beyond the metropole/Europe, 7 Aerial Bases or permanent detachments in overseas or country.
Some French air bases house radar units (e.g. Lyon, Mont-Verdun, Drachenbronn, Cinq-Mars-la-Pile, Nice, Mont-Agel) to carry out air defence radar surveillance and air traffic control. Others house material warehouses or command posts. Temporary and semi-permanent foreign deployments include transport aircraft at Dushanbe (Tajikistan, Operation Héraclès), and fighter aircraft in N'Djamena (Tchad, Opération Épervier), for instance.
As swift as the French Air Force operates, the closure of aerial bases is more constant and immediate, having known a strong acceleration since the 1950s. 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.
On average, a base, 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.
Air Base 118 Mont-de-Marsan Air Base. The base is home to two squadrons Rafale B and Rafale C. Home of CEAM, the Air Force military experimentation and trials organisation, Air defence radar command reporting centre, instruction centre for air defence control.
3 more on order One of the original 6 crashed in Niger. The drone lost in the Sahel in November 2018 is replaced by a Reaper rented, for two years, to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (for the annual sum of $1)
Since the end of the Algerian War, the French Air Force has comprised about 17 to 19% of the French Armed Forces. In 1990, at the end of the Cold War, numbers reached 56,400 military personnel under contract, out of which 36,300 were part of conscription and 5,400 civilians.
In 2008, forecasts for personnel of the French Air Force were expected to number 50,000 out of which 44,000 aviators on the horizon in 2014.
In 2010, the number personnel of the French Air Force was reduced to 51,100 men and women (20%) out of which: 13% officers; 55% sous-officier; 29% air military technicians (MTA); 3% volunteers of national service and aspirant volunteers; 6,500 civilians (14%). They form several functions:
↑ Designations of Escadrilles composed of the identifying number of material devices (for instance SPA for escadrille equipped with SPAD, N for Nieuport, SAL for Salmson, etc.) and an order number.
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↑ Michel L. Martin, Le déclin de l'armée de masse en France. Note sur quelques paramètres organisationnels, Revue française de sociologie, volume 22, number 22-1, year 1981, pages 87–115 0035-2969 1981 num 22 1 3390
↑ Bilan social 90, Editor: Direction de la fonction militaire et du personnel civil, 1990, total pages 62, passage 6 to 8 format=PDFArchived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine
Olivier, Jean-Marc, (ed.), Histoire de l'armée de l'air et des forces aériennes françaises du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours" [History of the Air Force and French aerial forces since the 18th century to the present], Toulouse, Privat, 2014, 552 p.
Diego Ruiz Palmer, "France's Military Command Structures in the 1990s," in Thomas-Durell Young, Command in NATO After the Cold War: Alliance, National and Multinational Considerations, U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, June 1997