French Air and Space Force

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Air and Space Force
Armée de l'air et de l'espace
Logo de l'Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace.svg
  • Part of the French Army in 1909 – An independent service arm in 1934
  • 2 July 1934; 88 years ago (1934-07-02) (official)
Country France
TypeAir and space force
RoleAerial and space warfare
  • 40,500 personnel (2021)[1]
  • 917 aircraft[1]
Part ofFrench Armed Forces
Engagements Edit this at Wikidata
Chief of the Armed ForcesPresident Emmanuel Macron
Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space ForceGénéral d'armée aérienne Stéphane Mille [fr]
RoundelRoundel of France.svg
Fin flashFin Flash of France.svg
Aircraft flown
E-3 Sentry
FighterRafale, Mirage 2000
HelicopterAS532 Cougar, Fennec, EC725 Caracal
TrainerAlpha Jet, Pilatus PC-21, SOCATA TBM, Extra EA-300
TransportLockheed C-130, Airbus A310, Airbus A330, Airbus A400M, Dassault Falcon 7X, Dassault Falcon 900, Dassault Falcon 2000, Transall C-160, Boeing C-135FR

The French Air and Space Force (AAE) (French: Armée de l'air et de l'espace, lit.'Army of Air and Space') is the air and space force of the French Armed Forces. Formed in 1909 as the Service Aéronautique, a service arm of the French Army; it became an independent military branch in 1934 as the French Air Force. On 10 September 2020, it assumed its current name, the French Air and Space Force, to reflect an "evolution of its mission" into the area of outer space.[2]

The number of aircraft in service with the French Air and Space Force varies depending on the source; the Ministry of Armed Forces gives a figure of 658 aircraft in 2014.[3][4] According to 2018 data, this figure includes 210 combat aircraft: 115 Dassault Mirage 2000 and 95 Dassault Rafale.[5] As of 2021, the French Air and Space Force employs a total of 40,500 regular personnel, with a reserve element of 5,187 in 2014.[6]

The Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force (CEMAAE) is a direct subordinate of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA), a high-ranking military officer who in turn answers to the civilian Minister of the Armed Forces.


In the beginning[edit]

Establishment of the Service Aéronautique[edit]

The founding of the Service Aéronautique began in 1909, when the French War Minister approved the purchase of a Wright Biplane. The following year, another Wright biplane, a Bleriot, and two Farmans were added to the lone acquisition. On 22 October 1910, General Pierre Roques was appointed Inspector General of what was becoming referred to as the Cinquieme Arme, or Fifth Service.[7]

In March 1912, the French parliament enacted legislation to establish the air arm. It was projected to consist of three distinct branches based on aircraft missions—reconnaissance, bombing, or countering other aircraft.[7]

Inventing the fighter plane[edit]

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.[8] In August 1914, as France entered World War I, French airpower consisted of 24 squadrons (escadrilles) supporting ground forces, including three squadrons assigned to cavalry units. By 8 October, expansion to 65 squadrons was being planned. By December, the plans called for 70 new squadrons.[7]

Meanwhile, even as procurement efforts scaled up, inventive airmen were trying to use various light weapons against opposing airplanes. Roland Garros invented a crude method of firing a machine gun through the propeller arc by cladding his propeller with metal wedges deflecting any errant bullets. After destroying three German airplanes, Garros came down behind enemy lines on 18 April 1915. His secret weapon was thus exposed, and Anthony Fokker came up with the synchronization gear that by July 1, 1915, that turned airplanes into flying gun platforms.[9]

"Company of aviators", September 1914, by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont
French aircraft during World War I, flying over German held territory (1915)
Nieuport-Delage NiD.29 C.1 fighter used in the early post-WWI period.

Founding fighter formations[edit]

On 21 February 1916, the Verdun Offensive began. New weapons demand new tactics. Commandant Charles de Tricornet de Rose was the original French pilot, having learned to fly in March 1911. This experienced flier was given a free hand to select pilots and airplanes for a new unit tasked with keeping German observation craft from over the French lines. The ad hoc unit commandeered all available Morane-Saulniers and Nieuport 11s, as well as the 15 best pilots regardless of posting. This ad hoc unit patrolling the skies over Verdun was the first French Groupement de Chasse. The Groupement was successful despite Tricornet's death in a mishap. Under the leadership of new commander Captain Auguste de Reverand, such flying aces as Georges Guynemer, Charles Nungesser, and Albert Deullin began their careers.[10]

Encouraged by the success of their original Groupement, the French massed several squadrons for the Battle of the Somme. The burgeoning French aircraft inventory afforded the formation of Groupement de Combat de la Somme under Captain Felix Brocard. The Groupement was formed on 1 July 1916 with a posting of four Nieuport squadrons: Squadron N.3, N.26, N.73, and N.103. Three other squadrons--Squadron N.37, N.62, and N.65 were temporarily attached at various times.[10]

On 19 October 1916, three fixed Groupes de Combat were established, each to consist of four squadron. Numbered 11, 12, and 13, they were only the first three Groupements.[10]

Concentrating airpower[edit]

During March 1917, Groupe de Combat 14 and Groupe de Combat 15 were formed. Again, each new Groupe was assigned four Nieuport fighter squadrons; again, each was sent to support a different French field army.[10]

On 10 January 1918, Groupe de Combat 16 was formed from four SPAD squadrons. In February, five more Groupe de Combats were founded from SPAD squadrons: Groupes de Combats number 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21. The various Nieuport models were now being phased out as the new SPADs filled the inventories of the French.[11]

With the Groupes success, the French were encouraged to amass airpower into still larger tactical units. On 4 February 1918, Escadre de Combat No. 1 was created out of Groupe de Combat 15, Groupe de Combat 18, and Groupe de Combat 19. It was followed by Escadre de Combat No. 2, formed on the 27th from Groupe de Combat 11, Groupe de Combat 13, and Groupe de Combat 17. Each groupe would be stocked with 72 fighters.[12]

The escadres were not the end of the French accumulation of air power. On 14 May 1918, they were grouped into the Division Aerienne. As bombing aircraft were also being concentrated into larger units, the new division would also contain Escadre de Bombardement No. 12 and Escadre de Bombardement No. 13. The bombing units were both equipped with 45 Breguet 14 bombers. The last addition to the new division was five protection squadrons, operating 75 Caudron R.11 gunships to fly escort for the Breguets.[12]

On 25 June 1918, Groupe de Combat 22 was founded. Groupe de Combat 23 followed soon thereafter. A couple of night bombardment groupes were also founded.[13]

Committing the Division Aerienne[edit]

Then, on 15 July 1918, the Division was committed to the Second Battle of the Marne. From then on, whether in whole or in part, the Division Aerienne fought until war's end. By the time of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the French could commit 27 fighter squadrons to the effort, along with reconnaissance and bombing squadrons. The 1,137 airplanes dedicated to the battle were the most numerous used in a World War I battle.[14]

When the 11 November 1918 armistice came, French air power had expanded to 336 squadrons, 74 of which were SPAD fighter squadrons. France had 3,608 planes in service.[8] Confirmed claims of 2,049 destroyed enemy airplanes included 307 that had been brought down within French lines. French airmen had also destroyed 357 observation balloons.[14] However, 5,500 pilots and observers were killed out of the 17,300 engaged in the conflict, amounting to 31%.[15] A 1919 newspaper article reported that the French Air Force had suffered losses of 61%.[16]

Interwar period[edit]

Dewoitine D.510 monoplane fighters from the mid-1930s

Military aeronautics was established as a "special arm" by the law of 8 December 1922.[17] 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 (Groupements de l'Infanterie de l'Air) in the 1930s, out of which the Air Parachute Commandos (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.

World War II[edit]

The French Air Force played an important role in WWII, most notably during the Battle of France in 1940. The Vichy French Air Force had later a significant presence in the French Levant.

The engagement of the Free French Air Forces from 1940 to 1943, and then the engagement of the aviators of the French Liberation Army, were also important episodes in the history of the French Air Force. The sacrifices of Commandant René Mouchotte and Lieutenant Marcel Beau illustrated their devotion.


A North American T-28 Trojan, used against guerrillas during the Algerian War

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).

The French Air Force was active in Algeria from 1952 until 1962 and Suez (1956), later Mauritania and Chad, the Persian Gulf (1990–1991), ex-Yugoslavia and more recently in Afghanistan, Mali and Iraq.

From 1964 until 1971 the French Air Force had the unique responsibility for the French nuclear arm via Dassault Mirage IV or ballistic missiles of Air Base 200 Apt-Saint-Christol on the Plateau d'Albion.

Mirage IIIC of EC 2/10 "Seine" pictured in 1980 armed with a Matra R.530

Accordingly, from 1962, the French political leadership shifted its military emphasis to 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 (Commandement Air des Forces de Défense Aérienne, CAFDA), and the Force aérienne tactique (FATac).[18] In 1964, the Second Tactical Air Command was created in 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.

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 CAFDA (air defence).[19]

A 1986 view of a Mirage F1 from the Escadron de Chasse 2/30 Normandie-Niemen and another from the Escadron de Chasse 3/30 Lorraine, both armed with Matra R.530 missiles. Squadron insignias are visible on the two aircraft.

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 - Saint-Sauveur Air Base), 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.

Dassault Aviation led the way mainly with delta-wing designs, which formed the basis for the Dassault Mirage III series of fighter jets. The Mirage demonstrated its abilities in the Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, Falklands War, and Gulf War, becoming one of the most popular jet fighters of its day and being widely sold.

In 1994, the Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air command was reestablished under a different form.

Mirage 2000 in flight
Logo between 1989 and 2010

The French Air Force entered a phase of inventory replacement and expansion. The Air Force ordered the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, then in development. By November 2016, 11 had already been delivered to ET00.061 at Orleans-Bricy, and integration of the new Dassault Rafale multi-role jet fighter was underway; the first 20-aircraft squadron became operational in 2006 at Saint-Dizier.

In 2009, France rejoined the NATO Military Command Structure, having been absent since 1966.[20] France was a leading nation, alongside the United States, Great Britain and Italy in implementing the UN sponsored no-fly zone in Libya (NATO Operation Unified Protector), deploying 20 fighter aircraft to Benghazi in defense of rebel-held positions and the civilian population.[21]

The last remaining squadron of Dassault Mirage F1s retired the aircraft in July 2014 and replaced them with Dassault Rafales.

Logo between 2010 and 2020

On 13 July 2019, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a space command, which would come into being within the French Air Force by September 2019, and the transformation of the French Air Force into the French Air and Space Force.[22] According to Defense Minister Florence Parly, France reserves the right to arm French satellites with lasers for defensive purposes.[23]

The official renaming occurred on 24 July 2020, with the new Air and Space Force logo unveiled on 11 September 2020.[2]


Général d'armée aérienne André Lanata, former chief of staff of the French Air Force

The Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force (CEMAAE) determines French Air and Space Force doctrines application and advises the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA) on the deployment, manner, and use of the Air and Space Force. They are responsible for the preparation and logistic support of the French Air and Space 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 and Space Force (IAA) and by the French Air and Space Force Health Service Inspection (ISSAA).

The Air and Space Force is organized in accordance with Chapter 4, Title II, Book II of the Third Part of the French Defense Code (French: code de la Défense), which replaced decree n° 91-672 dated 14 July 1991.

Under the authority of the Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force (CEMAAE) in Paris, the Air and Space Force includes:

The Air and Space Force headquarters, employing 150 personnel, are located alongside the Chief of the Defence Staff's offices (EMA) and the Army and Navy headquarters at the Balard armed forces complex in Paris. The new site replaced the former Paris Air Base (BA 117) which served as air staff headquarters until 25 June 2015.


The French Air and Space Force has had three commands: two grand operational commands (CDAOA and CFAS) and one organic command (CFA).

  • Commandement de la Défense Aérienne et des Opérations Aériennes (English: Air Defense and Air Operations Command (CDAOA)), is responsible for surveillance of French airspace, as well as all aerial operations in progress. It does not possess aircraft. Instead it exercises operational control over units of the Air Forces Command (CFA).
    • 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 and Space Force main HQ)
      • direct 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)
          • 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
          • 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 and space force and naval officers, integrated in the Joint Intelligence Training Center (CFIAR) in Strasbourg[25]
        • Air Force Brigade for Permanent Aerial Security Readiness (Brigade aérienne de la posture permanente de la sûreté aérienne (BAPPS)), based at BA 942 Lyon-Mont Verdun air base, created at the end of 2020 and in charge of air policing[26]
        • detection and control centers:
          • Detection and Control Center 07.927 (French: Centre de détection et de contrôle (CDC)) ToursCinq-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)
  • Strategic Air Forces Command (CFAS)), is responsible for the air force's nuclear strike units (Dassault Rafale B armed with ASMP-A missiles), as well as the tanker / strategic transport aircraft (C-135FR, Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker).
    • Command HQ (Commandement des CFAS), based at Vélizy-Villacoublay Air Base (BA 107)
    • 4th Fighter Wing (4e Escadre de chasse (4e EC)), based at Saint-Dizier – Robinson Air Base (BA 113)
      • Wing Command (Commandement d'escadre 00.113)
      • Fighter Squadron 01.004 "Gascogne" (Escadron de chasse 01.004 Gascogne), tactical nuclear strike fighter squadron, flying Rafale B variant
      • Fighter Squadron 02.004 "La Fayette" (Escadron de Chasse 02.004 La Fayette), tactical nuclear strike fighter squadron, flying Rafale variant
      • Rafale Conversion Squadron 03.004 "Aquitaine" (Escadron de transformation Rafale 03.004 Aquitaine), joint air force - navy OCU flying Rafale B/C/M variants
      • Aeronautical Technical Support Squadron 15.004 "Haute-Marne" (Escadron de soutien technique aéronautique 15.004 Haute-Marne)
    • 31st Aerial Refuel and Strategic Transport Wing (31e Escadre aérienne de ravitaillement et de transport stratégiques (31e EARTS)), based at Istres-Le Tubé Air Base (BA 125).
      • Wing Command (Commandement d'escadre 00.113)
      • Aerial Refuel and Strategic Transport Squadron 01.031 "Bretagne" (Escadron de ravitaillement en vol et de transport stratégique 01.031 Bretagne), flying the Airbus A330 MRTT
      • Operational Conversion Squadron 03.031 "Phénix" (Escadron de transformation Phénix 03.031 Landes), A330MRTT OCU
      • Aerial Refuel Squadron 04.031 "Sologne" (Escadron de ravitaillement en vol 4/31 Sologne), winding down operations of the C-135FR
      • Transport Squadron 03.060 "Esterel" (Escadron de transport 3/60 Esterel), presidential air transport with the Airbus A330
      • Aeronautical Technical Support Squadron 15.031 "Camargue" (Escadron de soutien technique aéronautique 15.031 Camargue)
      • Specialised Technical Support Squadron 15.093 (Escadron de soutien technique spécialisé 15.093)
  • 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:
    • Fighter Brigade – (French: Brigade Aérienne de l'Aviation de Chasse (BAAC)), is responsible for all air defense, air-to-ground and reconnaissance aircraft (including Dassault Rafale, Mirage 2000-5F, Mirage 2000B/C/D, Transall C-160 Gabriel). In February 2016 it was commanded by Brigadier General (Air) Philippe Lavigne.[27]
    • Projection and Support Air Force Brigade (French: Brigade Aérienne d'Appui et de Projection (BAAP)), is responsible for all tactical transport and liaison aircraft (aircraft and helicopters: Transall, C-160, Hercules C-130, A310/319, Dassault Falcon 50/900, Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, Eurocopter Fennec, Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma, SOCATA TBM);
    • Airspace Control Brigade (French: Brigade Aérienne de Contrôle de l'Espace (BACE)), is responsible for (Airborne early warning and control aircraft, and ground radar, ground-based air defense systems and missile defence, communication networks) airspace surveillance, constituting the Système de Commandement et de Conduite des Opérations Aérospatiales). Since 2007 the command, control and information systems network of the air and space force have been is integrated into the Joint Directorate of Infrastructure Networks and Information Systems (DIRISI))
      • airborne airspace surveillance units:
        • 36th Airborne Command and Control Wing (36e escadre de commandement et de conduite aéroportés (36e EC2A)), based at Avord Air Base (BA 702)
          • 36th Airborne Command and Control Squadron "Berry" (36e escadron de détection et de contrôle aéroportés Berry), flying the Boeing E-3F Sentry
      • ground-based airspace surveillance units:
        • GRAVES System
        • 3 surveillance and air defence radar installations equipped with the Ground Master 406 radar: années 2010 trois Ground Master 406, le premier installé en Guyane, le second sur la base aérienne de Nice en 2017 et le troisième sur la Base aérienne 942 and at Lyon-Mont Verdun Air Base (BA 942) in 2019.
        • 12 surveillance and air defence radar installations equipped with the Ground Master 403T radar in metropolitan France, re-equipped in the 2019 - 2022 period.
      • airspace controle of military air bases:
        • units for local aerospace surveillance of the immediate environs of air bases (CLA) ;
        • approach radars and landing aide systems
      • surface-to-air missile units (each ADSA squadron is composed of two batteries of SAMP/T and one battery of Crotale NG SAMs):
        • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Wing - 1st Air Defence Artillery Regiment (Escadre sol-air de défense aérienne - 1er régiment d'artillerie de l'air), based at Avord Air Base (BA 702)
          • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Squadron 02.950 "Sancerre" (Escadron de défense sol-air 02.950 "Sancerre")
          • Technical Support Surface-to-Air Squadron (Escadron de soutien technique sol-air 2E.950)
          • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Training Center (Centre de formation de la défense sol-air 14.950)
        • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Squadron 01.950 "Crau" (Escadron de défense sol-air 01.950 "Crau") (Base aérienne 125 Istres-Le Tubé)
        • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Squadron 05.950 "Barrois" (Escadron de défense sol-air 05.950 "Barrois") (Base aérienne 113 Saint-Dizier-Robinson)
        • Air Defence Surface-to-Air Squadron 12.950 "Tursan" (Escadron de défense sol-air 12.950 "Tursan") (Base aérienne 118 Mont-de-Marsan)
      • surface-to-air signals units in metropolitan France (METEOR system, in process of replacement by the SRSA system)
    • Air Force Special Forces Brigade (Brigade des forces spéciales air (BFSA)). In the 2020 - 2021 period the French Air and Space Force overhauled the force structure of its security and firefighting and rescue units, which were previously grouped together in the Air Force Security and Intervention Forces Brigade (French: Brigade Aérienne des Forces de Sécurité et d'Intervention (BAFSI)).[28]
      • aerial units:
      • air force commando units:
        • Air Force Parachutist Commando 10 (CPA n°10) - the Air Force's primary special operations unit, based at Orléans – Bricy Air Base
        • Air Force Parachutist Commando 30 (CPA n°30) - previously the Air Force's primary combat search and rescue unit, refocused to special operations, based at Orléans – Bricy Air Base
      • force protection units:
        • Air Force Parachutist Commando 20 (CPA n°20) - the Air Force's primary security unit. Composed of two operational companies and a reserve platoon for a total of up to 400 personnel: Compagnie Bretagne (protection force), Compagnie Normandie (protection force) and Section de réservistes (protection force reservists and instructors).
        • Escadrons de protection (EP).
      • specialised training units:
        • Air Force Parachute Training Center 51.566 (C.A.S.V. 51.566 Le Centre Air de Saut en Vol), based at Orléans – Bricy Air Base
        • Operational Training Center for Air Force [Land] Combatants (Centre de Préparation Opérationnel des Combattants de l'Armée de l'air (CPOCAA)) - training unit for the CPA 10 and 30, based at Orange-Caritat Air Base
          • Detachment (détachement du CPOCAA), based at Orléans – Bricy Air Base
        • le Centre de formation à la survie et au sauvetage (CFSS) ;Centre de formation à la survie et au sauvetage 61.566 (CFSS). base aérienne 120 de Cazaux.
        • Detachment for officer training for land combat (détachement CFA) at the École de l'air et de l'espace
    • Air Force Firefighters Brigade (Brigade des pompiers de l’air (BPA)), formed in 2021. It brings together the rescue and firefighting personnel (called incident technicians and grouped into squadrons of company size) of the Air Force into 25 units of around 1 500 personnel. HQ is in Cazaux Air Base (BA 120);[29]
    • Air Force Aerial Weapon Systems Brigade (French: Brigade Aérienne des Systèmes d'Armes Aériens (BASAA)) provides the maintenance and repair of aerial weapons and target systems.
    • 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.[30], based at Bordeaux–Mérignac Air Base (BA 106):
      • Expeditionary Command and Control Air Force Wing 00.550 (Escadre aérienne de commandement et de conduite projetable 00.550 (EAC2P 00.550)), based at Évreux-Fauville Air Base (BA 105) and formed on August 27, 2015 on the basis of the former Groupement tactique des systèmes d’information et de communication (GTSICAéro).
        • Wing Command (Commandement d'escadre 00.550)
        • Tactical Telecommunications Systems Squadron 11.550 (Escadron des systèmes de télécommunication tactiques 11.550)
        • Tactical Surveillance Systems Squadron 12.550 (Escadron des systèmes de surveillance tactiques 12.550)
        • Tactical Information Systems Squadron 13.550 (Escadron des systèmes d’information tactiques 13.550)
        • Tactical Training and Expertise Squadron 14.550 (Escadron d'expertise et d'instruction tactiques 14.550)
      • Operational Support Air Force Wing 00.513 (Escadre aérienne d'appui aux opérations 00.513 (EAAO 00.513)), based at Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base (BA 106) and formed on November 24, 2021 on the basis of the former Groupement aérien d’appui aux opérations (GAAO).
        • Wing Command (Commandement d'escadre 00.513)
        • Operational Infrastructure Squadron 11.513 (Escadron d'infrastructure en opérations 11.513)
        • Operational Infrastructure Squadron 13.513 (Escadron d'infrastructure en opérations 13.513)
        • Operational Infrastructure Squadron 15.513 (Escadron d'infrastructure en opérations 15.513)
        • Expeditionary Training Squadron 17.513 (Escadron d'instruction au déploiement 17.513)
      • 25th Air Force Engineer Regiment (25ème Régiment du Génie de l’Air), army regiment permanently attached to the air force. Based at Istres-Le Tubé Air Base (BA 125).
        • 2nd Operational Air Force Engineer Company (2e Compagnie opérationnelle du génie de l’air (2e COGA)), based at Mont-de-Marsan Air Base (BA 118).
        • 4th Operational Air Force Engineer Company (4e Compagnie opérationnelle du génie de l’air (4e COGA)), based at Avord Air Base (BA 702).
      • Aeronautical Installations Air Force Groupment (Groupement aérien des installations aéronautiques (GAIA)), based at Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base (BA 106)
  • French Space Command (French: Commandement de l'espace (CDE))[31], HQ at Toulouse Space Centre
    • Operational Preparation and Employment Division (Division préparation opérationnelle et emploi (DPOE)), Hexagone Balard, Paris
    • Space Operations Air Force Brigade (Brigade aérienne des opérations spatiales (BAOS)), based at Toulouse Space Center. By 2025 the CMOS and the COSMOS will relocate to Toulouse Space Center as well. In preparation for this the French Air and Space Force has formed the military installation FA 101 (Formation administrative (FA 101)) on the premises of the space center.[32]
      • Space Operations Command and Control Center (Centre de Commandement et de Contrôle des opérations spatiales (C3OS)), based at Toulouse Space Center
      • Satellite Observation Military Center 01.092 "Bourgogne" (French: Centre militaire d’observation par satellites (CMOS) 01.092 Bourgogne), based at Creil-Senlis Air Base (BA 110)
      • Operational Center for Military Surveillance of Space Objects (French: Centre opérationnel de surveillance militaire des objets spatiaux (COSMOS)), based at Lyon – Mont Verdun Air Base (BA 942)

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, previously, forces of the French Air and Space Force operated or trained. These two brigades are now subordinate to the CFA.

The official designation of the service was changed in July 2019 from Air Army (Armée de l'Air) to Air and Space Army (Armée de l'air et de l'espace), when the previous joint Inter-Service Space Command (Commandement interarmées de l'espace (CIE)) under the French General Staff was transformed into the Space Command (Commandement de l'espace (CDE)) and absorbed into the Air and Space Force as its fourth command.

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.[33][34]

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.[35]

Support services[edit]

The Directorate of Human Resources of the Air and Space Force (DRH-AAE) recruits, trains, manages, administers, and converts personnel of the Air and Space Force. Since January 2008, the DRH-AAE groups the former Air Force directorate of military personnel (DPMMA) and some tasks of the former Air Force Training Command. The directorate is responsible for Air and Space Force recruitment via the recruiting bureau.

French joint defence service organisations, supporting the air and space force, include:[24]


Commanded by a Lieutenant-colonel or Colonel, the Escadre is a formation that assembles various units and personnel dedicated to the same mission. In 1932, the "regiment" designation was replaced with "Escadre", which until 1994 was a unit consisting of the following:

  • 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.[37] 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:[37]

In the second phase, the French Air Force announced in August 2015 the creation of six additional wings:[37]

Also established was the Escadre Aérienne de Commandement et de Conduite Projetable at Évreux-Fauville Air Base on 27 August 2015.

The French Air and Space Force announced in August 2015 that unit numbering, moves of affected aircraft, and the transfer of historic material (flags, traditions and names) would be completed in 2016.[37]

Another air force wing was added on September 5, 2019:

Squadrons and flights[edit]

Commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, the Escadron is the basic operational unit. This term replaced that of Group as of 1949 with the aim to standardize usage with the allies of NATO who were using the term 'squadron'. However, the term Group did not entirely disappear: the term was retained for the Aerial Group 56 Mix Vaucluse, specialized in Special Operations or Group – Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 02.091 Bretagne (French: Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 02.091 Bretagne) which is still carrying the same designation since 2004.[citation needed]

A fighter squadron (escadron) can number some twenty machines, spread in general in three Escadrilles. A Transport Escadron (Escadron de Transport) can theoretically count a dozen Transall C-160, however, numbers are usually much less for heavier aircraft (three Airbus A310-300 and two Airbus A340-200 for the Transport Escadron 3/60 Estérel (French: Escadron de Transport 3/60 Estérel)).[citation needed]

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 in August 2015). Not all escadrons (Squadrons) are necessarily attached to an Escadre.[citation needed]

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 ESTA (Aeronautic Technical Support Escadrons) came into being, material devices and the mechanics have been assigned directly to the base then put at disposition of the based Escadrons.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air[edit]

The Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air comprise:[38]

  • 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.

Air bases[edit]

Air bases in Metropolitan France

Flying activity in France is carried out by a network of bases, platforms and French air and space defence radar systems. It is supported by bases, which are supervised and maintained by staff, operational centres, warehouses, workshops, and schools. Both in France and abroad, bases have similar infrastructure to provide standardised support.

The French Air and Space 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.
A French Air and Space Force Dassault Rafale B at RIAT in 2009
Crotale missile-launchers of the Air Defense Ground-to-Air Squadron of the French Air and Space Force

Some French airbases 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), among others.

As swift as the French Air and Space Force operates, the closure of aerial bases is more constant and immediate, having known a strong acceleration since the 1950s. An air base commander has authority over all units stationed on their base. Depending on the units' tasks, this means that they are 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.[39]


More than ten bases have been closed since 2009. Doullens Air Base (BA 922) was a former command and reporting centre; Toulouse - Francazal Air Base (BA 101), was closed on 1 September 2009; Colmar-Meyenheim Air Base (BA 132) was closed on 16 June 2010; Metz-Frescaty Air Base (BA 128) was closed on 30 June 2011; Brétigny-sur-Orge Air Base (BA 217), closed 26 June 2012; Cambrai - Épinoy Air Base (BA 103), was closed on 28 June 2012; Reims – Champagne Air Base (June 2012); Drachenbronn Air Base (BA 901) closed on 17 July 2015; Dijon Air Base (BA 102), was vacated on 30 June 2016;[41] Creil Air Base (BA 110) vacated on 31 August 2016; and Taverny Air Base (DA 921), the former Strategic Air Forces Command headquarters.



A Mirage 2000D in flight
An Boeing E-3F Sentry AEW&C aircraft in flight
A Boeing C-135FR over Fairford

The inventory of the French Air and Space Force include:[42]

Aircraft Origin Type In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Rafale B/C France multirole 102 46 additional Rafale M in naval service[5][43]
Replaced the Mirage 2000N in pre-strategic nuclear strike roles
Mirage 2000D France multirole 68 55 will be modernized to MLU by 2025
Mirage 2000-5F France multirole 24
Boeing E-3F Sentry United States AEW&C 4 All fitted with the newer CFM56-2 engines
Transall C-160 France
Beechcraft Super King Air 350 United States ISTAR 2
Boeing KC-135E Stratotanker United States aerial refueling 11 Will be phased out & replaced by A330 MRTT
Airbus A330 MRTT Europe aerial refueling/transport 10 5 more on order[44][45]
KC-130J United States aerial refueling/transport 2 Joint squadron with German Air Force
Airbus A400M Atlas Europe transport 21 29 more on order[46]
Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules United States transport 2 Joint squadron with German Air Force
Lockheed C-130 Hercules United States transport 14
Airbus A330-200 Europe VIP transport 4 1 for presidential transport
Dassault Falcon 2000 France VIP transport 2
Dassault Falcon 7X France VIP transport 2
Dassault Falcon 900 France VIP transport 2
Socata TBM 700 France VIP transport 15
Aérospatiale SA330 Puma France transport 18 Being replaced by H225M Caracal
Eurocopter H225M Caracal France transport 26 8 more ordered[47]
Eurocopter AS555 Fennec Europe transport 40
Trainer aircraft
Mirage 2000B-S5 France jet trainer 7 Based at Orange-Caritat: EC 2/5 Ile-de-France
Diamond HK36 Super Dimona Austria trainer 5
Embraer EMB 121 Xingu Brazil trainer 22
Extra EA-300 Germany trainer 3
Pilatus PC-21 Switzerland trainer 26
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper United States UAV 12

Several Alpha Jet remain in use for Patrouille de France Acrobatic Team.

Air defense[edit]

A SAMP/T system

The air defense inventory of the French Air and Space Force include:

Name Origin Type In service Notes
SAMP/T France
surface-to-air missile system 10 Aster 30 incorporated into a land-based mobile surface-to-air and anti-ballistic missile systems
Crotale NG France surface-to-air missile system 12


Side cap of the French Air and Space Force personnel

Since the end of the Algerian War, the French Air and Space Force has comprised about 17 to 19% of the French Armed Forces.[48] 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.[49]

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:

Non-flying personnel

Non-navigating personnel of the French Air and Space Force include and are not limited to : Systems Aerial Mechanics (French: mécanicien système aéronautique), Aerial Controllers (French: contrôleur aérien), Meteorologists (French: météorologue), Administrative Personnel, Air Parachute Commandos (French: Commandos parachutistes de l'air), in Informatics, in Infrastructures, in Intelligence, Commissioner of the Armies (French: Commissaire) (Administrator Task).

Flying personnel

Pilots, Mechanical Navigating Officer (French: Mécanicien Navigant), Navigating Arms Systems Officer (French: Navigateur Officier Système d'Armes) (NOSA), Combat Air Medic (French: Convoyeur de l'Air) (CVA).

Training of personnel[edit]

Students of the École de l'air (Air School) during the military parade of July 14th in 2007 on the Champs-Élysées

Officers, within their recruitment and future specialty, are trained at:

Officers of the French Air and Space Force are spread in three corps:

Non-commissioned officers (Sous-Officiers) are trained at:

Military Air Technicians (French: militaires techniciens de l’air) having been trained until 1 July 2015 at the Center of Elementary Military Formation (French: " Centre de formation militaire élémentaire ") of the Technical Instruction School of the French Air and Space Force (French: École d'enseignement technique de l'Armée de l'air) of Saintes. Since 1 July 2015, training has taken place at Orange-Caritat Air Base, within the " Operational Combatant Preparation Center of the Air Force " (French: Centre de préparation opérationnelle du combattant de l'Armée de l'air).

Air traffic controllers are trained at the Center of Instruction Control and Air Defense (French: Centre d'Instruction du Contrôle et de la Défense Aérienne).


NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
France French Air and Space Force[50]
France-Airforce-OF-9 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-8 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-7 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-6 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-5 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-4 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-3 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-2 Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-1b Sleeve.svg France-Airforce-OF-1a Sleeve.svg French Air Force-aspirant.svgFrench Air Force-aspirant élève.svg French Air Force-élève officier.svgFrench Air Force-aspirant EOPN.svg
Général d´armée aérienne Général de corps aérien Général de division aérienne Général de brigade aérienne Colonel Lieutenant-colonel Commandant Capitaine Lieutenant Sous-lieutenant Aspirant Élève-officier
NATO code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
France French Air and Space Force[50]
French Air Force-major.svg French Air Force-adjudant-chef.svg French Air Force-adjudant.svg French Air Force-sergeant-chef.svg French Air Force-sergeant.svg French Air Force-caporal-chef.svg French Air Force-caporal.svg French Air Force-aviateur de première classe.svg French Air Force-aviateur.svg
Major Adjudant-chef Adjudant Sergent-chef Sergent Caporal-chef Caporal Aviateur 1e classe Aviateur 2e classe

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.


  1. ^ a b "Chiffres clés de l'Armée de l'air et de l'espace". (in French). Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b "France: Goodbye Air Force, hello Air and Space Force". 12 September 2020.
  3. ^ "Annuaire statistique de la défense 2013–2014" (in French). 10 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Annuaire statistiques de la défense 2012–2013". Archived 1 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine (in French). 4 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Dassault Aviation Group: Order intake, deliveries and backlog in units as of December 31st, 2018" (PDF). Dassault Aviation. 7 January 2019. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 January 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  6. ^ "Key defence figures 2014" (PDF) (in French). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 December 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, p. 84
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  9. ^ Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, pp. 84–85
  10. ^ a b c d Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, p. 85
  11. ^ Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, pp. 85–86
  12. ^ a b Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, p. 86
  13. ^ Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, pp. 86–87
  14. ^ a b Over the Front: The Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918, p. 87
  15. ^ Les hydravions Georges Lévy Archived 5 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Hydroplanes Georges Lévy, Gérard Hartmann, 2011, The Schneider cup and veteran hydroplanes.
  16. ^ "French Airmen Suffered Most". The Washington Herald. Library of Congress. 21 December 1919. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  17. ^ Journal Officiel de la République Française of 9 December 1922 Archived 31 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Law on the creation of the Aeronautics Arm on 8 December 1922 published in JO on 9 December 1922, BNF-Gallica,
  18. ^ Young(ed),"Command in NATO after the Cold War", 96.
  19. ^ Isby, David; Kamps, Charles (1985). Armies of NATO's Central Front. London: Jane's Publishing Company. pp. 168–170. ISBN 978-0-7106-0341-8.
  20. ^ "Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO's integrated command" 17 June 2008
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  23. ^ 'May the force be with vous’: France unveils space weapons plan
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  30. ^ dit, Le 25e Génie de l’Air sur les Champs-Élysées avec un soldat de métier (8 March 2014). "Les bâtisseurs de la Brigade aérienne d'appui à la manœuvre aérienne". soldat de métier (in French). Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  31. ^ "Les opérations spatiales militaires". CDE (in French). 9 August 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
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  37. ^ a b c d Nouvelles escadres aériennes : une cohérence opérationnelle accrue, des valeurs renforcées Archived 26 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Site de l'Armée de l'air accessed 16 November 2015.
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Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Pither, Tony (1998). The Boeing 707 720 and C-135. England: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85130-236-2.
  • 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

External links[edit]