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French Air Force

French Air Force
Armée de l'air
Founded Part of the French Army in 1909, an independent service arm in 1934
Country  France
Size 43,597 personnel (2015)[1][2]
627 aircraft[3]
Part of French Armed Forces
Chief of Staff of the French Air Force General Andre Lanata[4][5]

The French Air Force (French: Armée de l'air , "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 1934. The number of aircraft in service with the French Air Force varies depending on source, however sources from the French Ministry of Defence give a figure of 658 aircraft in 2014.[6][7] The French Air Force has 219 combat aircraft in service, with the majority being 124 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 95 Dassault Rafale. As of early 2015, the French Air Force employs a total of 43,597 regular personnel. The reserve element of the air force consisted of 5,187 personnel of the Operational Reserve.[2]

The Minister of Defence is responsible for execution of 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 of the French Air Force (CEMAA) determines the air force doctrines and advises the CEMA how to deploy French air assets. He is responsible for the preparation and logistic support of the air force.


  • History 1
  • Structure 2
    • Higher commands 2.1
    • Airbases 2.2
  • Bases 3
    • Northern region 3.1
    • Southern Region 3.2
    • Overseas 3.3
  • Equipment 4
    • Aircraft inventory 4.1
  • Ranks 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


French aircraft flying over German held territory, 1915.

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, Yom Kippur War, 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 the Second World War, and continues to employ its air power in Africa.

From January 1964, the French political leadership, now prioritising nuclear deterrence, put in train a complete reorganisation of the Air Force, with the creation of four air régions and seven major specialised commands, among which was the Strategic Air Forces Command (Commandement des forces aérienne stratégiques) (CoFAS).[8] The Military Air Transport Command had previously been formed in February 1962 from the Groupement d'Unités Aériennes Spécialisées. The Dassault Mirage IV, the principal French strategic bomber, was designed to strike Soviet positions as part of the French nuclear triad. Also created in 1964 was the Escadron des Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air (EFCA), seemingly grouping all FCA units.

In 1985, the Air Force had four major flying commands, the Strategic Air Forces Command, the Tactical Air Forces Command, the Military Air Transport Command, and the Commandement Air des Forces de Défense Aérienne (Air Command of Air Defence Forces).[9] CFAS had two squadrons of 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 KC-135Fs, 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 Schools Command (CEAA), and the Air Force Transmissions Command, with four squadrons and three trials units.

In 1994 the Commandement des Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air was established.

Logo until 2010.

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 Dassault 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.[10] France has also been a lead nation, alongside the United States, Great Britain and Italy in implementing the UN sponsored no-fly zone in Libya (NATO 'Odyessy Dawn'), deploying 20 fighter aircraft to Benghazi in defense of rebel held positions and the civilian population.[11]

From 2008-2010 the Air Force underwent an organisational streamlining process. This project was called Air 2010, which was the year of the deadline for all transitions. 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 to disband several commands and units.[12]

  • CDAOA (air defence and air operations command)
  • CFA (air force command)
  • CSFA (logistic command)
  • DRHAA (human resource direction)
  • SAGF (administration and finance service)

The last remaining squadron of Dassault Mirage F1s were retired in July 2014 and replaced by the Rafale.


Riflemen of the French Air Force

The Minister of Defence is responsible for execution of 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 of the French Air Force (CEMAA) determines the air force doctrines and advises the CEMA how to deploy French air 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).

Higher commands

Crotale missile-launchers of the French Air Force

The Air Force's 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).

Strategic Air Forces Command

This command controls all the air force's nuclear assets, and is responsible for the operational condition and the eventual deployment of these weapons.[13] The CFAS commanding general is currently Général de corps aérien Patrick Charaix. The CFAS is one of the two pillars of the French nuclear deterrent. CFAS has two squadrons of dual capable aircraft, one of Mirage 2000N fighter/bombers capable of carrying the nuclear Air-Sol Moyenne Portée stand-off missile (EC 2/4 at Istres Le Tube), one of Rafales (EC 1/91 Gascogne at Saint-Dizier – Robinson Air Base) and a squadron of C-135FR in-flight refueling tankers.

Air Defence and Air Operations Command (CDAOA)

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. CDAOA, based in Paris and Lyon, plans and executes all air operations. Former Commandement air des systèmes de surveillance, d'informations et de communication (CASSIC) personnel are embedded here to develop exercises and operations abroad.

Command of Air Forces (CFA)

A new command which was inaugurated in 2006. Its headquarters is at Metz. It is responsible for ensuring and to maintain the operational condition of all branches of the air force now and for the future. Today the CFA consists of 16 fighter, 25 air defence squadrons, one electronic warfare squadron, and simulator and instruction centres. At its airbases in Europe and abroad the CFA has 16,000 personnel, 246 fighter aircraft, 111 transport aircraft and 83 helicopters. The command is divided into:

  • Brigade aérienne de l'aviation de chasse (BAAC, the Air Brigade of Fighter Aviation) which is responsible for all conventional combat and air defence aircraft, d'assaut et de reconnaissance (Rafale, Mirage 2000-5F, Mirage 2000B/C/D, Mirage F1-CR, Mirage F1-CT, Transall Gabriel). This brigade was the former Command of Combat Air Forces (CFAC).
  • Brigade aérienne d'appui et de projection (BAAP, the Air Brigade of Assistance and Projection) which is responsible for all transport and liaison aircraft (Transall C-160, Hercules C-130, A310/319, Falcon 50/900, Puma, Fennec, Cougar, TBM700 etc.).
  • Brigade aérienne de contrôle de l'espace (BACE, the Air Brigade of Space Control), which is responsible for the airborne means (AWACS E-3F) and land means (ground-based radars, systèmes de défense sol-air and antimissile, communications networks) of airspace surveillance. Since 2007 information networks are under control of the Joint Directorate of Infrastructure Networks and Information Systems (DIRISI), the interim joint defence communication and intelligence organisation. Since 2007, 38% ex-CASSIC personnel have joined the brigade, which also controls all ground-based air defence units.
  • Brigade aérienne des forces de sécurité et d'intervention (BAFSI). This was the former CFPSAA, the Security and Protection Forces Command, renamed in 2007.[14] This command was 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 was renamed BAFSI (Brigade Aérienne des Forces de Sécurité et d'Intervention).

Circa 2013 the CFA and the former commandement du soutien de la force aérienne (CSFA) merged.[15] CSFA, based in Bordeaux, directed the technical and logistical assets. Since 2006 it had taken over many ex-CASSIC projects.

Commandement des Écoles de l'Armée de l'Air (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.


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. [16]


Air bases in Metropolitan France.

Northern region

BA117 Paris, HQ of the French Air Force
  • DA 273 Romorantin air detachment. Logistic unit.

Two bases have recently been closed; DA 922 Doullens air detachment, a disbanded command reporting centre, and Taverny Air Base, the former Strategic Air Forces Command headquarters.

Southern Region



The French Air Force has 219 combat aircraft in service, with the majority being 124 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 95 Dassault 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.[18][19][20]

Aircraft inventory

Aircraft Origin Role Version Number[21][22] Comment
Combat aircraft
Dassault Rafale France Multirole fighter aircraft C
Only 10 Rafale B will be delivered between 2015 and 2016.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] Two Rafale Bs have been severely damaged by the 2015 Los Llanos Air Base crash.[30]
Dassault Mirage 2000 France Fighter aircraft 5F
Mirage 2000C, B will be retired within 2020 and replaced by Dassault Rafale.
Dassault Mirage 2000N/2000D France Strike aircraft D
55 Mirage 2000D to be modernised according to the French White Paper 2013.[31] Mirage 2000N is a nuclear strike aircraft and will be replaced by Dassault Rafale within 2020.
Special mission
Boeing E-3 Sentry USA AEW&C F 4
Transall C-160 Gabriel France Signals intelligence G 2 ELINT
Tanker and transport
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker USA Tanker aircraft FR 14 To be retired and replaced by Airbus A330 MRTT.
Airbus A400M Atlas Spain as assembler Transport aircraft 7 50 on order[32][33]
Transall C-160 France/Germany Transport aircraft R 27 To be retired and replaced by Airbus A400M Atlas.
Lockheed C-130 Hercules USA Transport aircraft C-130H
To be retired and replaced by Airbus A400M Atlas.
CASA/IPTN CN-235 Spain Transport aircraft 200
A small, medium-ranged tactical transport aircraft. Used for transporting light cargo or paratroopers.
Airliner and utility transport
Airbus A340 France Airliner 200 2 To be retired and replaced by Airbus A330 MRTT.
Airbus A310 France Airliner 300 3 To be retired and replaced by Airbus A330 MRTT.
Airbus A330 France Airliner (VIP) 223 1 Presidential plane
Dassault Falcon 7X France Airliner (VIP) 2
Falcon 2000 France Airliner (VIP) LX 2
Dassault Falcon 900 France Airliner (VIP) 2
Socata TBM 700 France Utility transport A 15 A number of aircraft are also used for experimental purposes.
DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada Utility transport 300 5
Trainer aircraft
Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet France Trainer aircraft E 63 Some used for experimental purposes.
Embraer EMB 121 Xingu Brazil Trainer aircraft AA
Jodel D-140 France Trainer aircraft R 17
Socata TB 30 Epsilon France Trainer aircraft 33
Diamond HK36 Super Dimona Austria Trainer aircraft 5 A two-seat motor glider.
Aerobatic aircraft
Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet France Aerobatic 12 Patrouille de France
Walter Extra 300 Germany Aerobatic LP/SC 3
Eurocopter EC725 Caracal France Search and rescue RESCO 11
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar France Search and rescue (AS 332 M1 – AS 532 UL) 10
Aérospatiale SA330 Puma France Transport helicopter BA 18
Eurocopter AS555 Fennec France Utility helicopter AN
41 Used primarily in a training role.
EADS Harfang Israel
Reconnaissance 4
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper USA Reconnaissance 3[34] 12 on order in total.


Flag officers
général d'armée aérienne 
général de corps aérienne 
général de division aérienne 
général de brigade aérienne 
aspirant non-élève 
aspirant EOPN 
aspirant élève 
élève officier 
Non-commissioned officers
Enlisted personnel
aviateur de première classe 
aviateur de deuxième classe 

See also


  1. ^és2015FR.PDF
  2. ^ a b (HTML Version)
  3. ^ Flightglobal - World Air Forces 2015 (PDF),
  4. ^ "Biography General Denis Mercier"
  5. ^ (French) Livre Blanc 2013 : le chef d'état-major de l'armée de l'air s'exprime. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  6. ^ "Annuaire statistique de la défense 2013-2014" 10 July 2014 (in French)
  7. ^ "Annuaire statistiques de la défense 2012-2013" 4 June 2013 (in French)
  8. ^ Décree 6446 du 14 janvier 1964 créating the Commandement des Forces aériennes stratégiques (CoFAS)
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO’s integrated command" 17 June 2008
  11. ^ "Report Hubert Védrine" 12 November 2012 (in English)
  12. ^ The Military Balance 2013"., 14 March 2013.
  13. ^ Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  14. ^ Le Commandement des forces aériennes (CFA) stationné à Metz a absorbé en 2007 le CASSIC et en 2008 le Commandement des forces de protection et de sécurité de l'Armée de l'air (CFPSAA), ces deux anciens commandements devenant des brigades under the orders of the general commanding CFA/CSFA.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "France faced with developments in the international and strategic context" 3 April 2012 (in English)
  17. ^ Scramble. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  18. ^ Livre blanc défense et sécurité nationale 2013 29 April 2013 (in French)
  19. ^ "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013-Twelve key points" 29 April 2013
  20. ^ "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013" 29 April 2013 (in English)
  21. ^ "Chiffres clés de la Défense 2014" 28 August 2014 (in French)
  22. ^ "Lancement du nouveau standard du programme Rafale" 10 January 2014 (in French)
  23. ^ "Le programme Rafale 2014" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  24. ^ "Dassault Rafale 2014" 25 July 2014
  25. ^ "LPM 2014-2019" 2 August 2013 (in French)
  26. ^ "PLF 2014" 10 October 2013 (in French)
  27. ^ " Projet de loi de finances pour 2014 : Défense équipement des forces" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  28. ^ French budget plan applies brakes to Rafale, A400M deliveries. (2013-08-08). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  29. ^ 225 avions de combat... pas plus !. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  30. ^
  31. ^ "La rénovation à mi-vie du Mirage 2000D" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Airbus A400M Atlas" 19 September 2013 (in French)
  34. ^

Further reading

  • 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 French Air Force since the 18th century to the present], Toulouse, Privat, 2014, 552 p.
  • Thomas-Durell Young, Command in NATO After the Cold War: Alliance, National and Multinational Considerations, U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, June 1997

External links

  • (French) Official website
  • (English) Official website
  • (French) List of air bases, appendix of the budget bill for 2006, French Senate
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