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French Air Force / Armée de l'Air

The French Air Force, in the context of the evolution of national defence ensures the evolution of its know-how. In 2000 the air force decided to modernize its structures which had become very complex as a result of successive reforms enacted over the years since 1934. As a result, it engaged in a profound transformation to improve operational coherence, in accordance with in a global vision of defence and security, as well as greater joint, multinational, and interdepartmental synergy.

According to the 2013 White Paper, the air force will continue to ensure, at all times, the airborne component of the nuclear deterrence mission and the protection of the national airspace and its approaches. They will continue their modernization in order to have at their disposal a fleet of multipurpose aircraft of the best kind, assuring it of capabilities pertaining to forcible entry, assessment, interoperability, deep penetration, strategic and tactical transport, and to support of ground maneuvers adapted to a major conflict. They will also retain a sufficient number of aircraft, by extending the use of older, but high-level and specialized aircraft, specifically to in order to fullfil the missions of territory protection or crisis management.

Operational readiness will be differentiated; a particular effort being made to have a first circle of highly-reactive employable forces for all spectrum of operations. This approach will be supported upstream by a renovation of fighter pilots' training. Relying on a permanent command and control center and interoperable with our Allies, the air forces will include notably 225 fighter planes (air and navy), as well as some 50 tactical transport aircraft, 7 early warning and surveillance aircraft, 12 multi-role refuelling aircraft, 12 theatre surveillance drones, light surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and 8 medium-range ground-to-air systems.

According to the 2008 White Paper, the deployable air component was to be based on a single pool of modern combat aircraft (Mirage 2000 and Rafale, operated by the Air Force or the Navy). The standing objective is a force projection capability of the order of 70 combat aircraft capable of sustained highintensity operations during a coercive operations phase, followed by operations at lower intensity during a stabilisation phase. Air assets must also have the capability to project a force of 1,500 soldiers over a distance of 7,000 to 8,000 kilometres in a few days, complete with command, control, detection and air traffic control resources, as well as the necessary air bases. The air component will also The air component will also retain rapid, independent force projection capability consisting of some 10 combat aircraft on permanent operational alert.

The air combat component will be modernised to provide a uniform fleet of 300 multi-role aircraft such as the Rafale and Mirage 2000 D, of which 270 will be on line. It will provide for implementation of the airborne deterrent component, with two squadrons of nuclear-capable aircraft and an associated refuelling capability, in addition to the assets aboard the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle. In addition to deterrence, the air forces will also provide permanent surveillance and control of the air approaches to the national territory (Metropolitan France and the DOM-COM, in particular French Guyana), and will have the necessary aircraft and AWACS radar infrastructure.

They will be capable of reinforcing the permanent security posture, up to 6 operational patrols plus 4 operational patrols specialising in combating low-speed aircraft, and of arming protection systems at the time of major events (two or three air defence “bubbles”). The air forces, both air force and naval air arm, contribute to gathering the intelligence necessary for operations, surveillance of the territory, of its approaches and of space. For the purposes of prevention, a force will be maintained in Africa, in Djibouti in particular, and in the Gulf.

Should France be involved in a major conflict outside national territory, the air forces will need to be able to project to a theatre 7,000 to 8,000 kilometres distant an airborne combat force of the order of 70 combat aircraft, including naval air arm aircraft, plus the associated operational support aircraft. This force must be capable of sustained high-intensity operations during a coercive operations phase, followed by operations at lower intensity during a stabilisation phase. It must also be able to project command, control, detection and air traffic control resources, as well as the number of projectable air bases necessary, up to a maximum of two major bases simultaneously. At the same time, an autonomous response capability on permanent alert must be deployable for ad hoc operations such as the evacuation of French nationals, retaliatory action or a humanitarian operation.

The overall size of the air forces, in a 50,000-man format, will also enable them to take command of a Joint Forces Air Component (Joint Forces Air Component Command or JFACC); and project the emergency echelon of a force (1,500 soldiers with equipment) over a distance of 7,000 to 8,000 km in five days, supplied to operate autonomously.

Modernisation efforts will focus on strategic and tactical mobility capability, which will extend to a range of 7,000 to 8,000 km, on ground force support capability (precision, protection, permanence over zone and all-weather capability) and on deep-strike capability. The capability of tactical and extended-life drones will also be strengthened, both for surveillance and intelligence purposes and to provide support to ground forces by armed drones. Air Force and Navy combat aircraft would be combined under the operational command of the Chief of the Defence Staff into a single fighters fleet which would ultimately consist exclusively of Rafale and modernised Mirage 2000 aircraft, under Air Force management. The Air Force will ensure, in liaison with the Navy, that the maximum possible synergies are achieved in terms of the organisation, support and readiness of these forces. In addition, the Air Force will be tasked by the Joint Space Command with the surveillance of outer space, and will be given extended powers to implement space-based capabilities. To fulfil all these missions, the Air Force will field the following resources:

  • 300 modern combat aircraft (Rafale and modernised Mirage 2000-D), including Navy fighter aircraft;
  • 4 AWACS systems;
  • A fleet of refuelling tanker and transports aircraft comprising some 14 MRTT-type aircraft and some 70 transport aircraft.



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