French Army Light Aviation

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French Army Light Aviation
Aviation légère de l'armée de terre
Insigne de l'Aviation légère de l'Armée de terre (ALAT).svg
Active22 November 1954 – present
TypeArmy aviation
Size339 aircraft (2014)
Part ofFrench Army
RoundelRoundel of France.svg

The French Army Light Aviation (French: Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre, ALAT, literally Land Army Light Aviation (the army is officially called the 'Land Army' because the air force is officially called the 'Air Army')) is the Army aviation service of the French Army. ALAT was established on 22 November 1954 for observation, reconnaissance, assault and supply duties.


French military aviation became officially part of the French Army in 1912, alongside the four traditional branches of the French Army, the infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineers. As such it played important role in WWI in support of the army : observation, artillery guidance, bombing and straffing, etc. but it also proved the air to be a battleground in itself, prompting the detachment of French Air Force from the army in 1934. After WWII, it was felt that, just like the navy, the army needed its own air branch, distinct from the air force, which led to ALAT's creation in 1954.

Since it has participated in almost all French military engagements and humanitarian aid deployments:[citation needed] the French Indochina War, the Algerian War, the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91, the Lebanese conflict, the war in Chad, the independence of Djibouti, the War in Somalia, operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Kosovo War, the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, the Operation Licorne in Cote d'Ivoire, the humanitarian response to the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the War in Afghanistan,[1] 2011 military intervention in Libya.

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The use of armed helicopters coupled with helicopter transport during the Algerian War can drop troops into enemy territory gave birth to the tactics of airmobile warfare continues today.[2] The machines of the nascent ALAT were the ones to carry out a considerable number of missions against Algerian insurgents between 1955, when the Groupe d’Hélicoptères No.2 (GH 2) was created, and 1962 when the French empire in Algeria finally came to an end. GH 2 was based at Sétif – Aïn Arnat in the east of the country, and it was equipped primarily with machines to undertake transport missions, though the Vertol H-21C, nicknamed the Banane volante (“Flying Banana”) because of its silhouette, would soon join the unit owing to concerns about the lack of machines which could both defend themselves and carry out offensive missions against the insurgents. Acquiring these machines lay in the hands of the licensee Piasecki given France's urgent need to have them on account of the circumstances. Usually, the H-21 could carry up to 18 troops, yet local operating (as well as climatic) conditions decreed that the French army examples could carry only up to around 12 troops each. In two years, GH 2 received the vast majority of the H-21s acquired by ALAT, which consisted of five squadrons by the end of 1958. A sixth squadron from the French naval air arm, the Aéronautique navale, had operated with GH 2 for little more than a year.[citation needed]

From 1955 to 1962, GH 2 took part in the major battles, which occurred near the frontier between Algeria and Tunisia, including the battle of Souk-Ahras in April 1958. The helicopters, including types such as the H-21, the Alouette II, the Sikorsky H-19 and Sikorsky H-34, together aggregated over 190,000 flying hours in Algeria (over 87,000 for the H-21 alone) and helped to evacuate over 20,000 French combatants from the combat area, including nearly 2,200 at night. By the time the war in Algeria had ended, eight officers and 23 non-commissioned officers from ALAT had given their lives in the course of their duties.[citation needed]

After the American experiments coupling attack helicopters with anti-tank missiles during the last phases of the Vietnam War, and during NATO maneuvers, the ALAT worked to create specialized units in this area to fight against the threat of armoured Warsaw Pact assaults.

In 1975, ALAT had 500 officer s, 2500 NCOs and 3500 other ranks, or 2% of the French Army. Quantitatively, its fleet is one hundred aircraft, Cessna L-19 gradually retired and replaced by helicopters and 560 helicopters (190 Alouette II, 70 Alouette III, 130 SA.330 Puma and 170 SA.341 Gazelle plus 110 SA.341 to deliver.[citation needed]

Qualitatively, after delivery of orders, there are 360 light helicopters including 170 Gazelle reconnaissance helicopters 180 anti-tank which 110 Gazelle HOT (these missiles entering service until 1978 ) and 140 utility helicopters Puma. ALAT flew 170,000 flying hours, including 11,000 at night.[3]


ALAT is currently suffering from aging equipment and inadequate training of its crews, which has caused various incidents. According to a report of the National Assembly of 2007[4] 'the potential of the primary aircraft has in fact decreased sharply since 2004, with the decline to accelerate in 2008. In 2005, after a long wait, the ALAT received its first Eurocopter EC665 Tiger. These aircraft are the first helicopters designed and developed in France specifically designed for combat. 80 aircraft have been ordered to replace cannon and Mistral-armed SA341 Gazelles, delivery of the final aircraft is expected to be in 2020.[5] On April 15, 2011, 30 helicopters were delivered to the ALAT, including 16 combat capable.[6]


Since July 2016 :

Commandement de l'Aviation légère de l’Armée de terre - Army Light Aviation Command[edit]

Based in Vélizy-Villacoublay.

  • 9e Régiment de Soutien Aéromobile ( 9e RSAM) - Aviation maintenance Regiment in Montauban.
  • Détachement avions de l'Armée de terre (DAAT) - Army Planes Detachment in Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande.
  • École de l'Aviation légère de l’Armée de terre (EALAT) - Army Light Aviation School in Le Cannet-des-Maures and Dax.

4e brigade d'aérocombat - 4th Air-Combat Brigade[edit]

Based in Clermont-Ferrand. Former 4e brigade aéromobile.

Other regiments[edit]

Other now dissolved regiments include the 2nd Combat Helicopter Regiment, the 4th Command and Maneuver Helicopter Regiment (4e Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Commandement et de Manœuvre), the 6th Combat Helicopter Regiment and the 7th Combat Helicopter Regiment.


  1. ^ Jean-Dominique Merchet (5 June 2009). "Renforts en Afghanistan : la France va envoyer trois Tigres et deux Cougars (actualisé)". Libération (in French). Retrieved 5 June 2009.
  2. ^ helicopters during the war in Algeria, Military History
  3. ^ General Andrè Martini (2005). The history of light aircraft of the Army from 1794 to 2004. Paris. p. 252. ISBN 2-7025-1277-1.
  4. ^ Notice of the National Assembly (number 280, Volume IV of the Finance Bill 2008 of 11 October 2007) ( P781_51984)
  5. ^ "White Paper on Defence and national Security," Volume 1, Part 2, p. 224.
  6. ^ Jean-Marc Tanguy (27 April 2009). "17 tiger opexables delivered on 30". the Mamouty. Retrieved 11 March 2009.