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.
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 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