France sent two Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) EC 665 Tigre attack helicopters to the Central African Republic (CAR), in support of Operation Sangaris.
They join two Aérospatiale SA340 Gazelle scout and four SA330 Puma medium-lift helicopters already supporting 2,000 French ground forces that are in the CAR together with 6,700 troops of the international force MINUSCA.
The Tigres of the Aviation légère de l’armée de terre made their first operational flight on 26 November 2014. France predicts that the current politicization of the various armed groups might lead to new tensions in the area, which is the main reason to send the extra air-to-ground combat assets.
November saw also the first operational flight of the new Airbus A400M Atlas when it flew a supply mission to Bangui, marking the first landing of the type at this M’Poko International Airport on 7 November 2014. The tactical airlifter of the French Air Force’s Transport Squadron 1/61 Touraine made a 9:45 hour flight from French Air Force base (Base Aérienne (BA)) 123 d’Orléans to M’Poko airport to unload 7.4 tons of equipment for the Sangaris force. The crew of fourteen (pilots, mechanics and loadmasters) made a stop-over in N’Djamena before returning to Bangui.
Operation Sangaris started in December 2013 with the deployment of French troops to the international airport of Bangui, after the established government and capital came under direct threat of armed groups.
DETCHASSE will continue to support the 2,800 French ground troops of operation Serval in Mali, but moving the air assets to Chad will make logistics easier. N’Djamena is already host to another French Air Force detachment of officially three fighters and a C135 tanker to support the French ops in Chad and Mali.
Recently 6 Rafale fighters were added to support the Operation Sangaris intervention force in the Central African Republic (CAR). Although the French Ministry of Defence did not provide updated information on their involvement at this time.
The original detachment at N’Djamena (La Base Aérienne 172) consisted of two Mirage F1s that flew reconnaissance missions from 17 January 2013. Later six Mirage 2000Ds and a pair of C135s were added. Since June 2013 the French reduced the N’Djamena force to three Mirage 2000D and one C135.
The Armée de l’Air detachment at N’Djamena and temporarily involved air assets (transports) fly 60 to 90 sorties per week in support of operation Serval alone, with a third of them done by air-to-ground tasked fighter jets. Almost half of the sorties are done by transport aircraft such as the C.160 Transall. The remainder of the sorties are for aerial refueling (C135) or reconnaissance.
Meanwhile French Army Gazelles, Pumas and French Air Force Fennecs continue with operation Sangaris inside the Central African Republic, with Bangui-M’poko airport as their main base. The situation there is still fluent, with clashes between communities and ground forces being attack by rebel groups as close as 800 meters from the airport in recent days.
A month ago six Rafale B and C fighters (Rafale B 113-II and Rafale C 118-GH were spotted) flew in for the CAR ops, operating out of N’Djamena in Chad where they were sharing the aerial refueling assets with the Mirage 2000Ds.
Inside the CAR 1,600 French are fighting back rebel forces that have been killing hundreds of civilians. Photos have been released of the French operating together with Burundian forces that are officially there for another mission: Operation Boali.
The parallel more permanent United Nations multinational peacekeeping force (French name Operation Boali) in the Central African Republic got some extra support in mid-December by two US Air Force C-17A Globemaster IIIs.
Amongst other tasks the big American strategic airlifters flew in a Burundian Light Infantry Battalion of 850 soldiers and their equipment from Bujumbura in Burundi to Bangui in the Central African Republic to increase the number of troops quickly in an attempt to control the recent spread of armed violence.
The French intervention force in the Central African Republic (CAR) executing Operation Sangaris has a permanent air bridge at its disposal that operates between Libreville in Gabon and Bangui-M’poko in the CAR.
The aircraft are a Lockheed C-130 from l’Escadron de Transport 02.061 Franche Comté marked 61-PD and a CASA/EADS/Airbus CN235M-200 of l’Escadron 03.062 Ventoux from French Air Force Base BA110. They are in theatre since 6 December 2013, when they moved a paratrooper company of the 6th Marine Infantry Battalion (6eBIMa).
The French Ministry of Defence confirmed the existing air bridge on 11 December 2013. Apart from the two transport aircraft the French Air Force supports Sangaris with six Rafale fighters and a C-135 tanker flying from N’Djamena in Chad, plus two AS555 Fennec (5534/WJ an WD) light utility and scout helicopters. The French Army Aviation has fielded at least 4 Puma transport helicopters (DDU, DCL, DBO, unknown markings), plus 2 Gazelles light utility and scout helicopters.
Airlift of supplies and material into the African theatre from Europe was supported again by a British Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flight on 11 December 2013, the second time since the French launched operation Sangaris in Central Africa. Like the first time, the RAF C-17 flew vehicles from Istres Airbase near Marseilles to Bangui-M’Poko.
The French intervention force will eventually be 1,600 troops strong and is backed by the United Nations. It has a mandate to last well into 2014. The air bridge from Gabon has officially been added to taskforce Épervier – the French armed forces expeditionary unit that runs French ground operations and protect French interests in Chad (Operation Épervier) and Mali (Operation Serval) as well.
The French armed forces have increased their air activity of Operation Sangaris, which is the French intervention in the Central African Republic.
“Parallel to ground activities, Rafale fighters of the Armée de l’Aire conducted combat air reconnaissance patrols over Bangui and Bossangoa, including in the morning of the 9 December”, according to an official press release from the French Ministry of Defence. “Mission was to determine if there were any threats opposing the ground forces.” A total number of six Rafale operate curently out of N’Djamena in neighbouring Chad.
Meanwhile the “aerial activity has more density” as the French put it. Apart from at least four (possibly more) Pumas and two (possibly more) Gazelles, two AS555 Fennec light utility and scout helicopters of the French Air Force have been added.
Where exactly the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre choppers are flying has not been disclosed, but their main operating base is Bangui-M’Poko airport. The French Ministry did release some footage of a DDU marked Puma somewhere in the Central African Republic. On 9 December 2013 the French Sangaris force had its first casualties amongst the 1,200 troops deployed. Two marine paratroopers of 8e RPIMa were killed while being engaged by rebel forces on an undisclosed location.
The French intervention force will eventually be 1,600 troops strong and is backed by the United Nations. It has a mandate to last well into 2014.
Source: Ministère de la Défense with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger
The French armed forces have intervened in the Central African Republic under the name operation Sangaris. The last couple of days the total force of 1,200 troops have been put into action after wide-spread agression between anti-christian rebels, rebels and government forces left between 280 and 350 people dead in and around the city of Bangui.
At 7 December 2013 the troops have had a compact air mobile support unit at their disposal, consisting of 2 Gazelle and 4 Puma helicopters. They are mainly there to relocate and transport troops from the 6e Bataillon d’infanterie de Marine (6th Marine Infantry Battalion; 6eBima) spearheading the intervention force. Additional troops were partly flown in by a French Air Force Airbus A340.
The French were able to act quickly using their garrison in Gabon, while Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Dixmude had unloaded support and reconnaissance ground units in neighbouring Cameroon on 1 December 2013. Those units crossed the border with the Central African Republic over land in the night of 6 and 7 December 2013.
A British Royal Air Force C-17 with serial ZZ178 contributed with flying in supplies and material to Bangui-M’Poko Airport on 6 December 2013. Air support was and is provided by continuing patrols of Armée de l’Air Rafale fighter aircraft.
M’Poko airport is also the operating base for the white painted United Nations Humanitarian Air Service in the country, currently likely consisting of at least three or four Let 410s and possibly a Beechcraft 1900.
Source: Ministère de la Défense with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger