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Armée de l'Air
Logo of the French Air Force (Armee de l'Air)
Founded Part of the French Army in 1909, an independent service arm in 1933
Country Flag of France 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

The French Air Force (French (French pronunciation: ​[aʀme də lɛʀ]), 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 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 WWII, 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).[5] 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 (fr:CoTAM), and the Commandement Air des Forces de Défense Aérienne (Air Command of Air Defence Forces).[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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


French Armed Forces

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 DSC00866

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[10]

This command controls all the air force's nuclear assets, and 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 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. The CFAS commanding general is responsible for the execution of the mission.

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.[11] 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.[12] 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. [13]



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[]

  • Air Base 101 Toulouse. Instruction air transport unit Transall C-160 NG and Puma SA 330.
  • BA 106 Mérignac airbase. Transport support base for the air staff.
  • Air Base 115 Orange-Caritat. Air defence squadrons Mirage 2000C and transition squadron Mirage 2000B.
  • Air Base 118 Mont de Marsan at 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.
  • Air Base 120 Cazaux, situated South-west of the port city of Bordeaux. Air force airplane stockpile.
  • Air Base 125 Istres. 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.
  • Air Base 126 Solenzara. Fighter gunnery range. SAR unit.
  • DA 277 Varennes-sur-Allier. French Airforce Stock. Known for its strategic position in the middle of France.
  • Air Base 278 Ambérieu. Logistic support base.
  • BA 701 Salon de Provence. Officer instruction school. Enlisted instruction school.
  • Air Base 709 Cognac. Basic flight training school.
  • Air Base 721 Rochefort. Located at Rochefort-Saint-Agnant. Home of the NCO school, the École de formation des sous-officiers de l'armée de l'air.
  • Air Base 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


  • BA 160 Dakar, Africa. Mixed units.
  • BA 181 Réunion (French department), Indian Ocean. Mixed units.
  • BA 188 Djibouti, Africa. Mixed units.
  • Air elements Libreville/Gabon.
  • Air elements N’djamena/Chad. Mixed units.
  • BA 190 French Polynesia (Overseas collectivity). Mixed unit.
  • BA 365 Martinique (French department), West Indies. Mixed unit.
  • BA 367 French Guiana (French department), South America. Mixed units.
  • BA 376 New Caledonia (special collectivity of France), Pacific Air defence radar command BA 376 New Caledonia
  • BA 104 Abu Dhabi


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.[15][16][17]

Aircraft inventory[]

Aircraft Photo Origin Role Version Number[2][18] Comment
Fixed-wing aircraft
Dassault Rafale File:Armée de l'Air Rafale.jpg Flag of France France Multirole fighter aircraft C
Procurement delayed, only 26 will be delivered from 2014 - 2016,[19] instead of original plans for 66.[20][21][22][23][24]
Dassault Mirage 2000 French Mirage 2000 finishes refueling from KC-10A 2009-12-06 Flag of France France Fighter Aircraft
Fighter Aircraft
Strike Aircraft
Trainer Aircraft
Nuclear strike
Mirage 2000D to be modernised[25] according to the French White Paper 2013.[26][27]
Dassault Mirage F1 Mirage F1CR Savoie in flight 1987 Flag of France France Trainer Aircraft
Mirage F1 to be retired in September 2014 and replaced by Rafale.[28][29][30]
Boeing E-3 Sentry French E-3F Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft takes off from Avord, France United States AWACS F 4
Transall C-160 C160 Gabriel - RIAT 2005 (3067553521) Flag of France France Signals intelligence (ELINT) G 2
Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, France - Air Force JP41219 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 Flag of France France Aerial refueling 12 on order (reduced from 14).
Airbus A340 F-RAJB A340 French Air Force (5815009726) Flag of France France Strategic airliner 200 2
Airbus A310 French Air Force Airbus A310-300 Watt Flag of France France Strategic airliner 300 3
Airbus A400M Atlas EC-402 - A400M - Airbus industrie - TLS - En finale sur 32L - 04550-2 Flag of Europe European Union Tactical transport 2 50 on order[31][32]
Transall C-160 Transall C-160F, France - Air Force AN1188409 Flag of France France Tactical transport R 36[33]
Lockheed C-130 Hercules Lockheed C-130H-30 Hercules, France - Air Force JP6652900 United States Tactical transport C-130H
CASA/IPTN CN-235 CASA CN-235M-300 Armée de lAir 194 62-HB - MSN 194 (9658300224) Flag of Spain 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 Flag of Canada Canada Utility Transport 300 5
Airbus A330 Airbus A330-223, France - Air Force JP7019568 Flag of France France VIP Transport 223 1 Presidential plane
Dassault Falcon 7X Dassault Falcon 7X, France - Air Force JP7004045 Flag of France France VIP Transport 2
Falcon 2000 Dassault Falcon 2000, Dassault Aviation JP7044686 Flag of France France VIP Transport LX 2
Dassault Falcon 900 Falcon900 Clermont-Ferrand airport Flag of France France VIP Transport 2
Socata TBM 700 Socata TBM-700 Armée de lAir (FAF) 146 XR - MSN 146 (9690083978) Flag of France France VIP Transport, Experimental A 15
Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet Alpha Jet - RIAT 2007 (2544737153) Flag of France France Trainer Aircraft
Aerobatic aircraft
E 71
Embraer EMB 121 Xingu Embraer EMB-121AA Xingu, France - Air Force AN1394341 Flag of Brazil Brazil Trainer Aircraft AA
Jodel D-140 Flag of France France Trainer Aircraft R 17
Socata TB 30 Epsilon Socata TB-30 Epsilon, France - Air Force JP6883614 Flag of France France Trainer Aircraft 33
Walter Extra 300 Walter Extra 300 SC, Vigo Flag of Germany Germany Trainer Aircraft, Aerobatic aircraft LP/SC 3
Diamond HK36 Super Dimona Diamond HK36 Super Dimona Flag of Austria Austria Trainer Aircraft 5 A two-seat motor gliders.
Eurocopter EC725 Caracal Caracal2552 Flag of France France Combat SAR helicopter RESCO 12
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar Eurocopter AS-532L1 Cougar, France - Air Force AN0964913 Flag of France France Search and rescue helicopter (AS 332 M1 – AS 532 UL) 10
Aérospatiale SA330 Puma 110504-N-KB563-011 Flag of France France Transport helicopter BA 26[33]
Eurocopter AS555 Fennec 5509 WB Aerospatiale AS.555AN Fennec EH.05.067 ALPILLES based at BA114 Istres le Tubé (3113134565) Flag of France France Utility and training helicopter AN
EADS Harfang DRONE HARFANG 01 Flag of Israel Israel
Flag of France France
Reconnaissance UAV 4
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper MQ-9 Reaper in flight (2007) United States Battlefield Surveillance 2 12 on order.[34]


As of early 2013, the French Air Force employs a total of 47,538 regular personnel.[35] 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
  • Officers
  • Students
  • Non-commissioned officers
  • Enlisted personnel

See also[]


  1. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Key defence figures 2013" (in fr). 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "World Air Forces 2013"., December 11, 2012. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Flightglobal" defined multiple times with different content
  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. Décree 6446 du 14 créating the Commandement des Forces aériennes stratégiques (CoFAS)
  6. Isby, David; Kamps, Charles (1985). Armies of NATO's Central Front. London: Jane's Publishing Company. pp. 168–170. ISBN 0-7106-0341-X. 
  7. "Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO’s integrated command" 17 June 2008
  8. "Report Hubert Védrine" 12 November 2012 (in English)
  9. "The Military Balance 2013"., 14 March 2013.
  10. Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. New York: Charles Scribner's and Sons; 1973. p105
  11. 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.
  13. "France faced with developments in the international and strategic context" 03 April 2012 (in English)
  14. Scramble. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  15. Livre blanc défense et sécurité nationale 2013 29 April 2013 (in French)
  16. "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013-Twelve key points" 29 April 2013
  17. "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013" 29 April 2013 (in English)
  18. "Lancement du nouveau standard du programme Rafale" 10 January 2014 (in French)
  19. "Le programme Rafale 2014" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  20. "LPM 2014-2019" 02 August 2013 (in French)
  21. "PLF 2014" 10 October 2013 (in French)
  22. " Projet de loi de finances pour 2014 : Défense équipement des forces" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  23. French budget plan applies brakes to Rafale, A400M deliveries. (2013-08-08). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  24. 225 avions de combat... pas plus !. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  25. "La rénovation à mi-vie du Mirage 2000D" 21 November 2013 (in French)
  26. Zone Militaire » Blog Archive Les Mirage 2000-5 seront rĂŠnovĂŠs - Zone Militaire. (2013-06-25). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  27. "Mirage 2000N" 24 September 2013 (in French)
  28. F1#xtcr=5"Fin pour les Mirage F1" 5 February 2014 (in french)
  29. (French) Baltic 2013 : première mission de desserrement pour le détachement air. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  30. (French) Baltic 2013: mission d’identification pour les Mirage F1CR. (2013-06-27). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  31. Delivery of First A400M. Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
  32. "Airbus A400M Atlas" 19 September 2013 (in French)
  33. 33.0 33.1 Flight Global World Air Forces 2014 10 December 2013
  34. "La DGA réceptionne le système Reaper français" 10 January 2013 (in French)
  35. "Bilan social 2012" 08 July 2013 (in French)

Further reading[]

  • 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[]

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The original article can be found at French Air and Space Force and the edit history here.