French Air Force

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Armée de l'Air
Logo of the French Air Force (Armee de l'Air).svg
Founded Part of the French Army in 1909, an independent service arm in 1933
Country  France
Size 47,538 personnel (2013)[1]
658 aircraft[2]
Part of French Armed Forces
Chief of Staff of the French Air Force General Denis Mercier[3]
Roundel French-roundel.svg

The French Air Force (French: Armée de l'Air (French pronunciation: ​[aʀme də lɛʀ]) (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 Ministry of Defence give a figure of 658 aircraft in 2013.[4]

French Armed Forces
Armoiries république française.svg

French Air Force
French Army
French Navy
Ranks in the French Army
Ranks in the French Navy
History of the French Military
Military History of France
La Grande Armée


The first use of a roundel on military aircraft was during the First World War by the French Air Force. It consisted of a blue-white-red design mirroring the traditional French cockade. The roundel design was adopted by their allies, the British Royal Flying Corps, as their original painted Union Flags looked too much like the German cross, as used by the Luftstreitkräfte.

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 WWII, and continues to employ its air power in Africa under peacekeeping pretext. 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.

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 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.[5] 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.[6]


The ALA is organised into three commands:

Central Command[edit]

Riflemen of the French Air Force

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).

Greater operational and organic commands[edit]

Crotale missile-launchers of the French Air Force

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)[7]

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, 246 fighter aircraft, 111 transport aircraft and 83 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).

Airbase Command[edit]

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. [8]


Air bases in Metropolitan France.

Northern region[edit]

BA117 Paris, HQ of the French Air Force
  • BA 102 Dijon airbase.[9]
  • 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 squadron 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.

Southern Region[edit]

  • 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



The French Air Force has 250 combat aircraft in service, with the majority being 144 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 87 Dassault Rafale. The last remaining squadron of Dassault Mirage F1s will be retired in September 2014 and replaced by 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.[10][11][12]

Aircraft inventory[edit]

Aircraft Photo Origin Role Version Number[2][13] Comment
Fixed-wing aircraft
Dassault Rafale Armée de l'Air Rafale.jpg  France Multirole fighter aircraft C
Procurement delayed, only 26 will be delivered from 2014 - 2016,[14] instead of original plans for 66.[15][16][17][18][19]
Dassault Mirage 2000 French Mirage 2000 finishes refueling from KC-10A 2009-12-06.JPG  France Fighter Aircraft
Fighter Aircraft
Strike Aircraft
Trainer Aircraft
Nuclear strike
Mirage 2000D to be modernised[20] according to the French White Paper 2013.[21][22]
Dassault Mirage F1 Mirage F1CR Savoie in flight 1987.JPEG  France Trainer Aircraft
Mirage F1 to be retired in September 2014 and replaced by Rafale.[23][24][25]
Boeing E-3 Sentry French E-3F Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft takes off from Avord, France.jpg  United States AWACS F 4
Transall C-160 C160 Gabriel - RIAT 2005 (3067553521).jpg  France Signals intelligence (ELINT) G 2
Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, France - Air Force JP41219.jpg  United States Aerial refueling FR 14 To be retired and replaced by Airbus A330 MRTT.
Airbus A330 MRTT New RAF Tanker Aircraft Voyager at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford MOD 45152973.jpg  France Aerial refueling 12 on order (reduced from 14).
Airbus A340 F-RAJB A340 French Air Force (5815009726).jpg  France Strategic airliner 200 2
Airbus A310 French Air Force Airbus A310-300 Watt.jpg  France Strategic airliner 300 3
Airbus A400M Atlas EC-402 - A400M - Airbus industrie - TLS - En finale sur 32L - 04550-2.jpg  European Union Tactical transport 2 50 on order[26][27]
Transall C-160 Transall C-160F, France - Air Force AN1188409.jpg  France Tactical transport R 36[28]
Lockheed C-130 Hercules Lockheed C-130H-30 Hercules, France - Air Force JP6652900.jpg  United States Tactical transport C-130H
CASA/IPTN CN-235 CASA CN-235M-300 Armée de lAir 194 62-HB - MSN 194 (9658300224).jpg  Spain Tactical transport 200
A small, medium-ranged tactical transport aircraft. Used for transporting light cargo or paratroopers.
DHC-6 Twin Otter De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter, France - Air Force JP7122660.jpg  Canada Utility Transport 300 5
Airbus A330 Airbus A330-223, France - Air Force JP7019568.jpg  France VIP Transport 223 1 Presidential plane
Dassault Falcon 7X Dassault Falcon 7X, France - Air Force JP7004045.jpg  France VIP Transport 2
Falcon 2000 Dassault Falcon 2000, Dassault Aviation JP7044686.jpg  France VIP Transport LX 2
Dassault Falcon 900 Falcon900 Clermont-Ferrand airport.jpg  France VIP Transport 2
Socata TBM 700 Socata TBM-700 Armée de lAir (FAF) 146 XR - MSN 146 (9690083978).jpg  France VIP Transport, Experimental A 15
Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet Alpha Jet - RIAT 2007 (2544737153).jpg  France Trainer Aircraft
Aerobatic aircraft
E 71
Embraer EMB 121 Xingu Embraer EMB-121AA Xingu, France - Air Force AN1394341.jpg  Brazil Trainer Aircraft AA
Jodel D-140  France Trainer Aircraft R 17
Socata TB 30 Epsilon Socata TB-30 Epsilon, France - Air Force JP6883614.jpg  France Trainer Aircraft 33
Walter Extra 300 Walter Extra 300 SC, Vigo.jpg  Germany Trainer Aircraft, Aerobatic aircraft LP/SC 3
Diamond HK36 Super Dimona Diamond HK36 Super Dimona.jpg  Austria Trainer Aircraft 5 A two-seat motor gliders.
Eurocopter EC725 Caracal Caracal2552.jpg  France Combat SAR helicopter RESCO 12
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar Eurocopter AS-532L1 Cougar, France - Air Force AN0964913.jpg  France Search and rescue helicopter (AS 332 M1 – AS 532 UL) 10
Aérospatiale SA330 Puma 110504-N-KB563-011.jpg  France Transport helicopter BA 26[28]
Eurocopter AS555 Fennec 5509 WB Aerospatiale AS.555AN Fennec EH.05.067 ALPILLES based at BA114 Istres le Tubé (3113134565).jpg  France Utility and training helicopter AN
Reconnaissance UAV 4
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper MQ-9 Reaper in flight (2007).jpg  United States Battlefield Surveillance 2 12 on order.[29]


As of early 2013, the French Air Force employs a total of 47,538 regular personnel.[30] The reserve element of the air force consists of; 4,737 personnel of the Operational Reserve and 5,618 personnel of the Citizens Reserve.


Flag officers
général d'armée aérienne 
général de corps aérien 
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 


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.[31]

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


Fighter aircraft[edit]

Transport aircraft[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Key defence figures 2013" (in (French)). 
  2. ^ a b "World Air Forces 2013"., December 11, 2012.
  3. ^ (French) Livre Blanc 2013 : le chef d'état-major de l'armée de l'air s'exprime. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  4. ^ "Annuaire statistiques de la défense 2012-2013" 04 June 2013 (in French)
  5. ^ "Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO’s integrated command" 17 June 2008
  6. ^ "Report Hubert Védrine" 12 November 2012 (in English)
  7. ^ Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  8. ^ "France faced with developments in the international and strategic context" 03 April 2012 (in English)
  9. ^ Scramble. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  10. ^ Livre blanc défense et sécurité nationale 2013 29 April 2013 (in French)
  11. ^ "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013-Twelve key points" 29 April 2013
  12. ^ "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013" 29 April 2013 (in English)
  13. ^ "Lancement du nouveau standard du programme Rafale" 10 January 2014 (in French)
  14. ^ "Le programme Rafale 2014" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  15. ^ "LPM 2014-2019" 02 August 2013 (in French)
  16. ^ "PLF 2014" 10 October 2013 (in French)
  17. ^ " Projet de loi de finances pour 2014 : Défense équipement des forces" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  18. ^ French budget plan applies brakes to Rafale, A400M deliveries. (2013-08-08). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  19. ^ 225 avions de combat... pas plus !. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  20. ^ "La rénovation à mi-vie du Mirage 2000D" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  21. ^ Zone Militaire » Blog Archive Les Mirage 2000-5 seront rĂŠnovĂŠs - Zone Militaire. (2013-06-25). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  22. ^ "Mirage 2000N" 24 September 2013 (in French)
  23. ^ F1#xtcr=5"Fin pour les Mirage F1" 5 February 2014 (in french)
  24. ^ (French) Baltic 2013 : première mission de desserrement pour le détachement air. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  25. ^ (French) Baltic 2013: mission d’identification pour les Mirage F1CR. (2013-06-27). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  26. ^ Delivery of First A400M. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  27. ^ "Airbus A400M Atlas" 19 September 2013 (in French)
  28. ^ a b Flight Global World Air Forces 2014 10 December 2013
  29. ^ "La DGA réceptionne le système Reaper français" 10 January 2013 (in French)
  30. ^ "Bilan social 2012" 08 July 2013 (in French)
  31. ^ "The Military Balance 2013"., 14 March 2013.

External links[edit]