The combat backbone for decades of French Naval Aviation, the Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard, made its final carrier launch of its service carreer last week when aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle returned home in the port of Toulon on Thursday 17 March 2016.
Being replaced by the sleeker and modern Dassault Rafale M, the Super Étendard has been protecting French interests overseas ever since it entered service in June 1978. Keeping the value of the naval air asset somewhat up-to-date, 48 of this Marine strike aircraft underwent extensive modifications in the 1990s and early 2000s. The adjustments included a new on board computer and a new radar, heads-on-throttle-and-stick controls (HOTAS), a new electronic counter measures suite, night vision goggles, a laser designator pod, a reconnaissance pod and air-frame life-extension.
Nuclear weapons and Exocet
France kept the aircraft at hand for any thinkable action, including the release of free-fall nuclear bombs and nuclear missiles. Despite being in numerous conflicts on behalf of La France, the Super Étendard’s most impressive action was done by only four of them flying for the Argentine Navy. Armed with the Exocet missiles they crippled the British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield and sank the chartered British merchant vessel Atlantic Conveyor during the 1982 Falklands / Malvinas War.
A total of 71 of 85 built Super Étendards were delivered to the French navy since the first flight of the type in 1974. Only one was lost in battle, downed by an Iranian F-4 Phantom II in 1984 on loan to the Iraqi Air Force. After its full shore-based retirement later this year in France, only 10 Super Étendards will soldier on, flying missions every now and then for the Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina.
NATO maritime patrol aircraft of France and Canada have come to the rescue of the Royal Air Force and are hunting a Russian sub off the coast of Scotland, according to some British sources on Monday 23 November 2015.
The Russian submarine was apparently detected a number of days ago just north of the United Kingdom. With the RAF having no anti-submarine capacity of its own, the UK Ministry of Defence called Paris and Ottawa. Two French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 and a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CP-140 Polaris are now forming the make-shift airborne maritime patrol fleet, operating out of RAF Lossiemouth.
London officially acknowledges the presence of “foreign aircraft” at Lossiemouth, but does not comment in length on their operations. Royal Navy sources however have confirmed the involvement of at least one frigate and a hunter-killer submarine in offshore operations in the area without releasing details.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon
If the NATO aircraft are indeed actively involved in “the hunt for Red November”, it marks the third time in 12 months this happens. Relieve is on the way, the Ministry of Defence just announced the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft today. But since it will take a few years for the production to be done, NATO will likely have to step in again to serve Her Majesty’s once tough air weapon.
The French armed forces are keeping up their combined force fighting the so-called Islamic State rebels in Iraq (and Syria), called group Daech in French.
During the last week of January the French Air Force rotated three of its nine Rafale fighter jets at Al Dhafra Airbase in the United Arab Emirates. During their six-hour non-stop flight the planes from squadron 1/7 “Provence” from Base Aerienne 118 Mont-de-Marsan (1 jet) and 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen” (2 jets) were accompoanied by a Boeing C-135FR from 2/91 “Bretagne” from BA125 Istres. The tanker refuelled the jets three times during the flight. The Rafales relief the triplet sent as reinforcement on 5 October.
Nine Rafales, six Mirage 2000D (based in Jordan), a C-135FR and a Aéronaval Dassault Atlantique 2 are deployed to the Gulf region. Moreover the French Navy air-defence frigate Jean Bart is deployed with the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Battle Group in the Persian Gulf. Six hundred French military personnel are engaged in what the French call Operation Chammal, but the Americans have named Inherent Resolve. The French launched their ops on 19 September 2014, upon request by the Iraqi government.
The French Navy put the spearhead of its military power out in the Mediterranean this week. A nuclear attack submarine, anti-submarine frigate Montcalm and air defense frigate Chevalier Paul formed around aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The cream on top of this Task Force 473 were 12 Dassault Rafale M.
Landivisau Airbase’s 11F Squadron was one of the centre pieces in what is officially called the PEAN: Période d’Entraînement de l’Aéronautique Navale, or Training Period of Naval Aviation. Target is to test the operational qualification and cohesion of the air-maritime rapid reaction force. Area of conduct: a 150 miles (240 km) stretch of sea between Toulon and the island of Corsica.
Together with navy personnel on board the ships of TF 473 the Rafale Ms trained on anti-air, anti-ship, combat air rescue and air support missions. The PEAN period is concluded with an air and sea power projection on a simulated enemy, lasting two days.
Dassault Aviation in early October delivered the first of ten early built Rafale M fighter aircraft back to the French Marine after an extensive update to F3 standard. The first batch of ten Rafale M aircraft was built in the late 1990s to replace old F-8 Crusaders performing air defense duties, flying mainly from Marine aircraft carriers.
Those first aircraft were in basic F1 standard and limited to superiority and air defense missions only. Standards later switched to the more versatile F2 standard and the current F3. Reconfiguration fro F1 to F2 was fairly easy, but a change straight from F1 to F3 proved more challenging, according to Dassault. The company therefore designed a specific program for converting the ten F1 Rafale M aircraft to F3.
The modernization includes new modular electronic computers and cockpit screen, changes to the electrical wiring, upgrading of the Spectra countermeasures system, changes to the RBE2 PESA radar as well as changes to the weapon store stations.
The aircraft concerned were taken out of service several years ago and stored. They will now return to flying duties. The first F1 Rafale M to be re-delivered is serial M10. The other nine aircraft are to follow, with the last one expected some time in 2017.
Of the 180 Rafale aircraft ordered by France to date, 133 have been delivered. The French Rafale fleet has now flown a total of 120,000 flight hours, 16,000 of which during operations. Dassault is still struggling to sell the Rafale abroad. An order from India seems to be closing in, although talks have been ongoing for years.