The French Air Force Conducts Joint Experiments with Rafale and the A400M


2015-02-10  As the first Air Force deploying the A400M, the French Air Force (FAF) is working the new asset into its concept of operations.

The FAF integrates its air lifters close into the battlespace when it deploys the joint force.

And the FAF plans to do so with the Atlas, and is shaping its approach by doing joint experiments.

The Rafale and the A400M participating in joint experimentation for tactical forces insertion. Credit Photo: French Air Force
The Rafale and the A400M participating in joint experimentation for tactical forces insertion. Credit Photo: French Air Force

The most recent one was performed at the Mont-de-Marsan Air Base, which provides an excellent range of operation to test concepts of operations.

The base has the various air assets, C2 and ground defense assets for a combined operation.

The FAF combined Rafales with Mirage 2000s and the Atlas in a combined operation to test ways to best use the A400M in such an operation.

They were testing what the French refer to as COMAO operations or Composite Air Operations where different types of aircraft support a common tactical objective.

According to the FAF, the objectives of the experiment were met, namely the A400M supporting a tactical insertion mission and the tactical combat aircraft becoming more familiar with the potential contribution of the A400M to such a mission.

As noted in an earlier piece, the FAF is looking to the enhancements of the self-defense of the Atlas as a key part of the way ahead.

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…..”

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.