During the night of April 13 to 14, 2017, 5 Rafale planes from the Saint-Dizier base escorted by 4 Mirage-2000-5, 2 Awacs planes and 6 KC-135 tanker planes, carried out a 10 hour and 7000 km raid to strike and destroy, using the 2 SCALP cruise missiles carried by each of the Rafale, the Syrian chemical installations used by the regime of President Bashar El Assad, as part of a tripartite coalition bringing together the United States, the Great -Brittany and France. Despite the strong Syrian air defenses in place, all the targets targeted by the coalition strikes in response to the chemical attack in Douma on April 7, which killed an estimated 50 to 150 people, were completely destroyed. . This operation, called Hamilton on the French side, is just one example of the advanced capabilities available to the Air and Space Army today, undoubtedly one of the most efficient and seasoned in Europe, but also on the planet.
However, despite this undeniable technicality, and aircraft among the most efficient in service, the French Air Force has not been spared any more than the Army and the National Navy by reforms and budgetary restrictions having sometimes severely damaged its operational potential. While the hypothesis of having to confront, in the increasingly near future, massive and efficient air forces and integrated anti-air defenses continues to grow, what are, today as well as in the next decade? come, the assets of this air force? but also what are its weaknesses, and to what extent they can reduce its effectiveness, which is nevertheless decisive for all the French armies, and for the security of the country?
A powerful and homogeneous air force undergoing transformation
Of the three French armies, the Air Force, which became the Air and Space Army in 2020, is probably the one that has been the best preserved from budgetary restrictions and format reforms over the past 25 years. Due to its dimension of a technological army, it was less impacted than the Army of the professionalization of the French armies. In addition, it manages to sanctuary, not without difficulty and many tussles with the political authorities of the country, certain key programs for its modernization in these times of budget scarcity on the basis of "peace benefits", such as the plane of Combat Rafale, the A400M strategic transport aircraft, or the'' A330 MRTT Phoenix Tanker Aircraft, so as to continue its modernization including during the difficult years from 2005 to 2015 which caused so much damage to the French armies. In fact, today, the French Air Force and Space has a fighter fleet of 210 aircraft including 102 Rafale B and C planes, alongside a transport fleet of 70 aircraft including 18 A400Ms, 17 in-flight refueling planes including 6 A330 MRTTs, 4 E-3F Awacs and more than 70 helicopters including 10 H225M Caracals dedicated to special operations and rescue missions. It also operates twenty detection and communication satellites, a dozen MALE Reaper drones, a hundred training aircraft and thirty heavy transport and liaison aircraft, for a total of 580 combat aircraft to which In addition, there are some 10 SAMP / T Mamba long-range anti-aircraft defense batteries and the 12 Crotale NG close defense batteries.
Undoubtedly, the Air Force outperforms other European air forces in many ways, all the more so when it operates in conjunction with naval aeronautics and its 200 aircraft. It also has rare long or even very long distance power projection capabilities, and a high level of experience and technical expertise of its some 40.000 airmen and officers. Therefore, like all Western air forces, the Air and Space Army not only represents the initial and final armed wing of French military policy, participating in particular with two fighter squadrons. to the deterrence mission, but it also carries most of the firepower of the French armed forces, protecting and acting for the benefit of land and naval units engaged in combat. Finally, this army is engaged in a vast modernization effort, which will lead it by the end of the decade to align, among others, 185 Rafale aircraft to the F4 and F5 standard, 15 A330 MRTT refueling aircraft, or even 50 aircraft. A400M strategic transport systems, but also new aircraft such as the 3 Falcon Archangel Intelligence and Wiretapping, or the H160M Guépard helicopters from the HIL program, each of them providing unprecedented capabilities and performance in terms of combat, reach, transport capacity and cooperative engagement.
Critical capacity dead ends
However, this table thus presented does not take into account the critical capability failures that the Air Force is facing today, or will face in the near future. Thus, and as we had already discussed, it no longer has, for about twenty years, specific capacities to eliminate or neutralize the increasingly efficient enemy anti-aircraft defenses to which its aircraft and its pilots could soon be. find confront. Admittedly, the Rafale has an excellent self-protection system, the SPECTRA, which has been shown to be effective against certain anti-aircraft defenses, and even against modern airborne radars. But the Rafale, no more than the Mirage 2000, has to date no extended electronic warfare capability capable of protecting airspace, and no more munition specially designed to eliminate the adversary's radars, commonly called munition. anti-radiation.
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