The Entry into Service of the A400M into the French Air Force: Rolling Out its Operational Capabilities


2015-01-25 The French Air Force (FAF) is the lead Air Force in putting the A400M into service.

The FAF has put together a comprehensive approach to doing so, and has carefully considered the operational context within which the aircraft will be used.

The FAF has built from the ground up an approach, which is designed to leverage the multi-national character of the program.

And although the FAF does not use the term, clearly they have an enterprise concept in mind for the A400M, whereby the sustainment and operational sides will be closely integrated within the FAF and with those partners willing and able to do so.

In an interview last June with Lt. Col. Paul Creuset, then the commander of the MEST (Multinational Entry to Service Team), Murielle Delaporte discussed the preparation by the FAF for the entry into service of the A400M.

The MEST was dissolved as the A400M went into service in the Fall of 2014.

Lt. Col. Creuset is now head of the EMATT or équipe de marque avions de transport tactique.

Her full interview has appeared in the latest issue of in Opérationnels SLDS.

Delaporte is the co-founder of Second Line of Defense, and the publisher and editor-in-chief of Opérationnels SLDS.

In this piece, we will highlight some of the key highlights from that interview.

It is clear throughout the interview and throughout the French experience that the FAF has been preparing for a very different type of airlifter than those, which they have previously flown earlier.

And as such, they have built from the ground up a different approach to receive the aircraft, and to standup the initial squadron or to shape the way ahead with the aircraft in terms of concepts of operations as well as maintainability of the fleet.

At the heart of the perceived differences associated with the aircraft, ranging from digital systems, to a new cockpit, to new composite materials to maintain.

Also important is to prepare for the shift from the initial logistical operations to what the French refer to as tactical operations.

What is highlighted by the logistical versus tactual operational distinction is the clear understanding that the A400M is not simply a bus transporting personnel and equipment.

It is a key element in the evolving role of airlift, which is to insert and support force within the battlespace.

As we noted earlier:

Air lifters have moved from being buses or trucks carrying materials and troops from point A to point B to becoming key elements of a networked battlespace. 

And with the revolution in airdropping, the entire approach to support of forces, both dispersed and on the go, has changed entirely.

The MEST was established to prepare for the arrival of the A400M.

It is clear from the interview that the FAF was preparing for a different type of airlifter than in the past and saw the need to put together a “dream team” of players with different operational backgrounds, in order to ensure that past understandings of air lift would not rubber stamp the approach to the new aircraft.

According to Lt. Col. Creuset, the “dream team” included a variety of personnel from varied backgrounds, including Transall and Hercules pilots, CASA pilots, pilots experienced with Airbus commercial aircraft, and a Rafale pilot who was familiar with the kind of connectivity with which the Rafale operates.

“We are not preparing for a Transall Plus.”

And the MEST worked closely with the British as well as the Germans in preparing the ground for the future.

The Lt. Col. noted that the FAF has an agreement with the Royal Air Force’s Air Warfare Center and this relationship has been tapped into to shape a way ahead.

“We can profit from their experience and they can profit from ours.”

This theme is clearly a key part of the entire approach to standing up and looking forward to the operational use by a multinational fleet, from the French perspective.

Not surprisingly, Lt. Col Creuset like General Soulet, the Commander of the Air Forces, emphasized the key role of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) in shaping a way ahead as well.

Lt. Col. Creuset noted:  “the French approach is to favor a broad global approach to the A400M compared to simply bilateral agreements.” Clearly, the EATC is crucial to both shaping and executing such an approach.

The EATC is becoming an engine for interoperability.

The idea is to enhance elements of commonality to the maximum extent possible via the EATC and to give them a number of responsibilities in order to make it easy for a German crew or a French crew or that of another nationality to have a similar concept of operations. 

And the EATC can also open step by step the maintenance sector (MCO) for clearly maintenance is a keystone of the entire effort.

After having put the aircraft into operation, a key effort for the FAF is to shape its tactical capabilities.

Here several key capabilities will be introduced in the period ahead and are the major focus of attention to Lt. Col. Creuset in the period ahead.  Among these capabilities are the tanking of and the tanking by the A400Ms; the introduction of advanced self-protection systems, the introduction of MEDEVAC capabilities, etc.

Looking back on the MEST experience, the Lt. Col. concluded: “The MEST allowed us to optimize the time and efficacy of putting the aircraft into service.”

The FAF has underscored that the multi-national aspect of the program is a core foundation for shaping common concepts of operations and laying the foundation for common support structures as well.

A total of nine aircraft have now been delivered and the aircraft is in service with four nations.

The 14 photos in this slideshow highlight the following:

  •  First production Airbus Military A400M in French Air Force colors
  •  A400M Air to Air Refueling
  •  A400M and French Patrol
  •  A400M Flares
  •  Airbus Military A400M successfully performs unpaved runway trials
  •  A400M initial airdrop trial 2014
  •  Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft refuels Airbus A400M
  •  A400M drops 24 x 1t containers. Copyright DGA / Nicolas Audouin
  •  First German A400M during its maiden flight
  •  Gen Dato Sri Roslan after inspecting the first Airbus A400M for Royal Malaysian Air Force
  •  First UK Royal Air Force A400M
  •  First Flight A400M German Air Force
  •  A400M for the Turkish Air Force
  •  Airbus A400M successfully demonstrates tanker capability

Credit Photos: Airbus Defence and Space

The cover of the new issue of Opérationnels SLDS where this interview is published in full:


For a PDF of this article and the previous article on the entry into service of the A400M with the French Air Force, please download the following:

The Perspective of the French Air Force on the Entry Into Service of the A400M