2015-04-30 The current Chief of Staff of the French Air Force (FAF), General Mercier, is on a visit to the United States prior to taking up his new command, as the head of the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) NATO, based in Norfolk, VA.
In the roundtable in which he participated on April 29, 2015, he dealt with a wide range of issues, involving the operation of the FAF and its modernization program.
In responses to questions, he underscored the high operational tempo of the FAF and the significant demands on the force.
Indeed, one challenge which airpower forces face is their high demand level due to how rapidly and flexibly these forces are able to support politically mandated operations.
The FAF is innovating in many ways, and one of these is by organizing a unified air force capability in Africa and deploying them to the threat. This allows force to be tailored to threats but at the same time consolidating capabilities as well.
The new A400M force also provides the FAF with enhanced flexibility as the forward deployed forces can be supplied directly from France.
And one of the missing “credits” which a modernization like the A400M is the impact of the new plane on operations.
There is much focus on the cost of the plane; there is virtually no mention of the forward operating bases which do not need to be built to support forward operations; or the security threats obviated by the same as well.
General Mercier also talked about the nuclear modernization of the air component of the FAF.
He was asked about the importance of President Hollande highlighting the air component of the nuclear forces last January (in a speech made on an air base by the way).
In his response, he focused on the importance of shaping high speed nuclear tipped missiles for this mission, up to and including hypersonic missiles.
He provided a very clear vision of the way ahead for the FAF which focused on interoperability, and participating in coalition capable “air combat clouds.”
And he highlighted the coming new tanker as a key element in providing an airborne platform, which could provide important contributions to air battle management, and not just function as a tanker.
Here his thinking is very close to the Royal Australian Air Force, which under its Plan Jericho transformation plan, is looking at the tanker as a key air battle management and combat cloud asset as well.
General Mercier comes to ACT at an interesting time as air combat transformation accelerates under the influence of new platforms such as the F-35, the tanker, the A400M, the Osprey, etc.
It is clear that his background and approach will provide an important opportunity for him to be a spokesman and architect for change.
For a comprehensive look at the themes at the press conference, see the following (in French):