France, a leading country that is contributing largely to the world’s fashion and lifestyle, is also well known for its armed forces worldwide. The French Air Force is one of the most important forces to reckon with when compared with other leading air forces of today’s world. “Armee de l’Air” which literally means Army of the Air is the name of the French Air Force and was formed in 1909 as a part of the famous French Army. The French Air Force became and independent service wing of the French armed forces in 1933. The French Air Force is currently operating about 780 different aircrafts and is considered to be the second largest air force in the European Union. France is considered to be one of the leading members of NATO and it is the fourth largest air force among the NATO nations on the basis of the aircraft it possesses.
History of French Air Force
The French army, fresh from their wounds it suffered during the Franco Prussian war of 1870-71, did not want to take any chance while facing their arch rivals Germany again. The French war department started to send army officers from different army sectors to undergo flying training in civilian schools in 1909 as they realized the need for air attacks on their enemies. The development of the air force as a part of the armed forces commenced in 1909 and several engineers where hauled in to create an aircraft. The air force of the armed forces finally got in shape on October 22nd 1910 and the Aéronautique Militaire was formerly induced into the armed forces wing in March 1912. The French Air force that was formed is considered to be the first air force to come up in the world.
There was no looking back for the French Air Force since designing the early aircraft and by the year 1914 France had a total of 134 machines in its artillery. Germany declared war on France in 1914 and Britain declaring war on Germany on the next day, the world became witness to a war that was eventually called as the World War I. The Aéronautique Militaire was far more interested in doing investigating work with their aircrafts during the beginning of World War I with the aircraft Farman MF-II. It was General Barnes, the Commander-in-chief, who recommended using four different aircrafts for four different tasks namely: Farmans as reconnaissance aircrafts, Voisons as bombers, Caudrons as spotters of artillery and Moranes as fighter aircrafts.
The air battle over Verun, a place that witnessed the bloodiest battle between the German and the French forces, was considered to be the first large scale air battle of the world and the German air fighters came out superior over the French reconnaissance aircrafts and the pilot had to call for the services of other fighter planes I the French artillery to combat the German air force. After the initial hiccup, the best French pilots were called on to counter their German counterparts and after several weeks of intense air fighting the French started gaining control over the German forces. Now it was the time for the French air force to gain superiority over Verdun skies. After several months of wait and watch policy, USA had to declare war against Germany and they joined hands with the French armed forces to defeat the Germans hands down with the help of flying fighter planes. By the end of the World War I in 1918, the Aéronautique Militaire was able to produce a total of 3,222 frontline combat aircrafts this making it the largest air force in terms of aircraft in the whole world.
The political problems and the financial condition of France after the First World War severely dented the development plans of new fighter aircrafts and the production of aircrafts was at an all time low. The French aeronautical industry was not able to meet the demand in supplying the aircrafts despite Hitler, the ruler of Germany, announcing the existence of German air force, Luftwaffe. This did not go well with the French national security team and they decided that the production of war planes that was left in the hands of some small scale private plane manufacturers must be nationalized. Also, the commencement of the Spanish civil war in 1936, made the French national security to speed up the creation of six state owned aircraft manufacturing companies.
Now it became more evident that the French Air Force needed modern air fighter planes to cope up with the fighter planes of other nations and the French aeronautical industry worked day and day out to come up with Morane- Saulnier MS 406 that has a 20 mm cannon and one of the latest and modern fighters from the Armee de l’Air just at the outbreak of World War II. There was an urgent need for the French Air force to construct about 2500 modern fighter machines for the WWII and the government was not able to give the adequate support to the air force to create these aircrafts due to the huge political turmoil that the country was facing those days. Moreover, the internal conflicts and the debates among the armed forces in France, the military, navy and air force for the budgetary allocation and supremacy, also were instrumental in slowing of the production of the fighter airplanes. The indecision of the French government insufficiency of the French aeronautical programs all led to the French Air Force losing supremacy of being the number one world power when it comes to aircraft fighter planes and thereby giving the Luftwaffe a chance to regain it supremacy over the European skies. The orders for the fighter airplanes placed by the Polish Air Force to France was not delivered in time before the German invasion of Poland and thus German Air Force reigned supremacy over the continent of Europe.
As the war commenced, The French Air force were left to battle the Germans with about 826 air fighter planes and 250 bombers and most of the ammunitions that they had to attack the opposition was in depleted condition or was not fully combat ready. The lack of warfare tactics, modern war gadgets, communications equipments as well as airplanes did let down the French armed forces very badly and they had to meekly surrender to the might of the German Air Force and military force despite the support of the British Royal Air force. Also, the communication gap between the French Air force and the military force due to internal problems and the faulty communication devices made matters worse for the country to survive the attack of the superpower Germans under Hitler. It is estimated that the French had lost a total of over 750 fighter planes in the Battle of France whereas a total of over 850 fighter planes of Luftwaffe’s were lost. So, despite the poor quality of aircrafts and communication equipments the French air force proved to be a tough nut to crack for the German armed forces. Even though the Germans were able to seal victory over France, they were not able to completely dismantle the French air force as the French pilots split into two groups, one being the groups that fled the war zone and were fighting as Free French Forces and the other group representing the French Air Force on behalf of the Vichy Government.
Operation Torch was the last air battle that the French air force under the Vichy Government had fought against the allied forces invasion of North Africa. The Vichy squadrons who had 85 fighters and 78 bomber planes with them had to combat with the very powerful F4F Wildcats of the US navy force. But the air force from France was a force to reckon with as it was evident in the way they had fought their arch rivals Germany and Britain in the previous battles and this was very well known by the United States navy force. The battle was fierce between the Wildcats and the French fighter planes, but the French side had more causalities and plane damages. But with the strength and might of the naval base attacks, the US were able to reduce the presence of the Vichy France in North Africa to a bare minimum, thereby meekly surrendering to the might force of the Americans Allies on Armistice Day on November 11th 1942. Finally, the Germans invaded the unoccupied area of France and ordered the dissolution of the left over Vichy armed forces of France in December 1942. Thus France was totally outclassed and defeated in the World War II.
The French successfully developed their domestic aircraft industry led by Dassault Aviation after the World War II. The Mirage series of fighter planes that the France now boasts off came from the stable of Dassault Aviation. The French air force has taken part in several colonial wars in North Africa and Indochina since its defeat in World War II and it is even today employing air power to maintain a vigil over African peacekeeping strategies. The French pushed for a nuclear protection policy in the 1960’s to put off the efforts of the Soviet aggression. The Mirage IV was designed as a strategic bomber plane in order to strike important Soviet positions.
Present French Air Force
The French air force has suffered very badly at the hands of the allied forces in World War II and the years that followed has seen a significant development and growth in the French air force and it is now considered to be one of the major air forces of the world. At present, there are about 52,000 personnel as part of the formidable French Air Force and it has a total of 780 aircrafts to boost of. Now, the air force in France is part of the French armed forces will also comprises of the French army as well as the navy. The expansion of the French air force is slowly but surely taking place and a lot of new aircraft inventory will be added to their armory in the years to come. The French air force boosts of over 780 aircrafts under its control. There are about 7000 civilian reserves as standby in the French air force and can be called upon in case of emergencies.
The Chief of Air Staff is the commanding office of the French air force unit. There has been lot of latest gadgets, technologies and special equipments that have been procured by the air force in order to undertake any sort of operations whenever the need arises both within the country as well as outside the country. Some of the aircrafts that are currently available in the air force armory are: Dassault Mirage 200-5, Dassault Mirage 2000C and the Dassault Rafale which are the fighter aircrafts that are about 142 in total. The French airforce has a fleet of over 156 ground attack aircrafts namely the Dassault Mirage 2000D, Dassault Mirage F1 and Dassault 2000B. The air force in France has procured 14 Boeing KC- 135 Stratotanker as well as 4 Boeing E-3 Sentry from United States that helps in aerial refueling and airborne early warning respectively.
The Mirage 2000N from the stable of France’s very own Dassault aero industry is a nuclear strike aircraft and France has about 61 of them. Apart from this, there are about 109 transportation aircrafts, 2134 trainer aircrafts and 87 helicopters in the air force arsenal. The total number of air bases available at the disposal of French air force is 66, with 16 in the Northern region and 50 air bases in the southern region.
The Harfang Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is a Medium Altitude, Long endurance UAV system (MALE) that is the first of its kind in the world and has the ability to stay afloat continuously and it has been operational for a period of 18 months in Afghanistan. There are better plans and organizational changes that have been planned for the future by the French air force and this will help in the French air force to be a leading air force among the top nations of the world.
French Air Force Future
There is going to be a total revamp of the French air force very soon and there will be changes in all fronts like units, assets as well as commands. The project has been aptly termed as Air 2010 and the transformation has already begun. There has been a three dimensional angle that has been added to the air force equipments and they are striving hard to develop these advance equipments in order to equip their work force will the latest gadgets that will help the air force personnel to combat the evil forces that attack their country. As French air force is on a revamp mission, it has placed orders for A400M military transport aircraft and has also started the operations of the famous Rafale multi role jet fighter since 2006.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy has recently confirmed that France has joined hands with NATO integrated command once again after a gap of over few decades. This is why there are plenty of Rafale’s found in the latest changes in the aircraft inventory. As the Chief of the Armed Forces, President Nicholas Sakozy has brought in various reforms pertaining to the French air force and hence there is no doubt that this force will be a super power in the years to come.
There is going to be a subsequent reduction in the number of commands and units and their number will be drastically reduced from 13 to just 5. The revamp project also aims at regrouping and reorganizing all the military and civil aviation functions and hence rationalizing and optimizing the air force units is top on the priority list. The five major commands of the French air force would be: air force command (CFA), human resource direction (DRHAA), logistic command (CSFA), air defense and air operations command (CDAOA) and finance and administration service (SAGF).
The French air force is on a mission drive to build future UAV’s that will be entirely dependent on technology. They are planning to increase the number of unmanned aircrafts in a bid to fly many aircrafts at different altitudes. It is also important for the French air force to maintain a significant number of fighter planes if they are needed to defend any nuclear alert or to make inroads overseas. The French air force is committed to maintaining world peace and understanding and is always on the standby in case of emergencies both at home as well as internationally. There is no doubt that the French Air Force of the future will be more compact and proficient and will be ever ready for action to fight along with its traditional allies whenever the need arises. There is no doubt that with the modernization of its infrastructure and its total reorganization, the French air force will definitely be among the top if not he best air force of the entire world.