Despite having about 100 Dassault Rafale B/Cs in the Air Force inventory, France sees itself forced to keep its older Mirage 2000D operational to keep the ground attack capabilities of the Armée de l’Air at proper levels. It even wants the Deltas to drop below altitudes they were not meant to do when designed – learning from recent missions in the skies of Southwest Asia.
Dassault Aviation received the order – by French defence procurement agency DGA – to renovate 55 Mirage 2000Ds. The modification include weapon system updates, the gun pod and Mica missiles of the aircraft version of the Mirage 2000 that is especially adapted for ground attack.
The Mirage 2000D entered service in 1993 and is the “less terrifying” sister of the Mirage 2000N designed for nuclear strike. In fact, the aircraft are basically the same with the Delta used for long-range strikes with conventional Apache, Scalp and Mica missiles. The first flight of the 2000D was in 1991, roughly 5 years after the 2000N. Lacking an on-board gun, has proven to be a miss during recent combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya (Operations Harmattan / Unified Protector) and Central Africa / Mali (Serval, now Barkhane) and combating the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (ISIS / Daesh(.
Mirage 2000D operations
During the operations of the last few years the Mirage 2000Ds often flew with just a pair of 500 lbs GBU-12 laser-guided or GBU-49 gps-/laser-guided bombs and two external fuel tanks. Adding the gun pod means the French Air Force wants to add a more effective close-air support to the Mirage 2000D – something that the aircraft was not designed to do but may work well in low-threat environments. The new modifications are believed to have been mostly “inspired” by the recent deployments against ISIS / Daesh.
The newest French multi-role fighters Dassault Rafale B (two-seat) and C (single-seat) initially were introduced with air-to-air capabilities (F1) only. The latest Dassault Rafale B/C have been delivered in F3 standard (fully multi-role, including nuclear strike) but reportedly not all Rafale F1s have been fully upgraded yet to F3.
Mirage 2000D bases
French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds fly from BA133 Nancy/Ochey (France), BA188 Djibouti/Ambouli (East Africa) plus a pair normally deployed to Niamey/Diori Hamani in Niger in support of Operation Barkhane.
The Swedish government is mostly ignoring a request by France for military support. Paris asked for combat assets after the November 2015 terror attacks in the French capital that left 130 people (plus 7 attackers) dead, about 90 people critically wounded and another 270 less-critical injured.
Within European Union agreements France subsequently asked all EU members states for military support, to which all countries agreed, arguing that the attacks executed by a cell of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) forces that rule in large parts of Syria and Iraq was a military attack. Paris hoped for Swedish SAAB JAS 39 Gripen jets for tactical reconnaissance for Operation Barkhane (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger) and/or Syria. But on Wednesday 16 December 2015 Stockholm says no to this request.
International grey zone
“The most important reason is that deploying Gripen planes would put them in a grey zone when it comes to international law. That could change once there is a very clear United Nations mandate,” Swedish foreign minister Margo Wallström said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
However, Sweden is willing to give away 50 to 100 hours of its 160 hours on the NATO/EU Boeing C-17A Globemaster III Heavy Airlift Wing based at Papa Airbase in Hungary. Moreover, Stockholm is willing to look at a French request to use Swedish weapon stocks or military materiel. In 2017 Sweden is planning to contribute one of its TP 84 (C-130) Hercules tactical airlifter to the UN force in Mali (MINUSMA). Political and military experts, and part of the opposition in Swedish parliament, sees the Swedish answer to the Paris request as an unclear compromise, and certainly something far off of what the French government was hoping for.
Operation Unified Protector
In April to October 2011 first eight, later five Swedish Air Force Gripen jets flew tactical reconnaissance missions under NATO umbrella in the skies over Libya, operating from Sicily. This operation Unified Protector was backed by the UN. The 2011 deployed marked the first Swedish combat missions since the 1960s, when SAAB J29 Tunnans formed the air element of the UN forces in Congo.
The French armed forces are stepping up efforts against the rebel / terrorist organisation Boko Haram in Nigeria. French officials told Reuters that their military planes are conducting reconnaissance missions on the edges, but not in, Nigerian airspace.
It is very much likely that it are the Rafales which are conducting the recon missions against Boko Haram, in order to help the Chadian and Nigerian military to combat this force that has grown more dangerous over the last couple of months. N’Djamena is only 30 miles (50 km) from the Nigerian border. The French Army has 3,200 troops in Chad and Mali to fight what is officially called by the French “la bande sahélo-saharienne (BSS): Mauritanie, Mali, Niger, Tchad et Burkina-Faso”. The French forces include Tigre attack and NH90 transport helicopters.
Force Aérienne Tchadienne
A Chadian Air Force (Force Aérienne Tchadienne) jet – likely one of six Sukhoi Su-25s – bombed Boko Haram troops in a Nigerian border town last month, sources say, in an attempt to help downgrade the threat of the rebel group. The Chadian military will take part in the African Union (AU) force that is said to number 7,500 troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Benin as well to combat Boko Haram. If the AU succeeds in getting a UN Security Council mandate other nations – including the French – might step in to provide military airlift.
The French forces in Central Africa have a fully functional second airbase at their disposal. As confirmed earlier this week by the French Ministry of Defence, the first big Boeing C135R landed at Niamey on 31 December 2015. It marked a milestone in months of upgrading work by French armed forces engineers.
The 25e Régiment du Génie de l’Air (RGA) started its job in April last year with repairs to the military taxiway. The engineers than added a temporary parking space for what the Americans call the Stratotanker, awaiting completion of a permanent parking lot by mid-2015.
Being able to base a C135R adds big value to the French Operation Barkhane in Central Africa, where aerial refuelling is essential to keep the Mirage 2000Ds at Niamey and the Rafales at N’Djamena in Chad airborne to support ground forces effectively. With the C135R also able to operate from Niamey the combat jets can stay airborne for a longer period of time.
Barkhane is the name of the joint effort to fight rebel and terrorists groups in the Sahel-Sahara Region (BSS-forces). About 3,000 French ground troops are included in the mission.
What do you do when you want an airbase, but there is none. Then you just create it out of sand. The first tactical airlifters have already landed.
That is in short what the French Air Force Corps of Engineers is doing in the Niger desert. The 25th Régiment du Génie de l’Air (25e RGA). In Madama the French are creating new temporary airfields to support Operation Barkhane. That is the combined armed operations in the former French colonies in central Africa that include Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and the Central African Republic to fight armed terrorists and rebel groups in the Sahel / Sahara Region.
On 4 December 2014 a French Air Force (AdlA) CASA (Airbus) CN235 landed on the runway of Madama, after leaving N’Djamena n Chad 3 hours and 40 minutes earlier. A C160 Transall followed on 7 December. Two C160s are already operating at Diori Hamani International Airport of the Niger capital if Niamey and fly in turn to Madama.
The 25e RGA made the Madama runway in little than a month time, from 5 to 30 November. It meant the recreation of the old track of 800 by 500 metres (2400 x 1500 feet). Leveling and reinforcing the ground included adding water – a scarce fluid in the region – to make it more compact to hold airlifters. The second phase of the project, which has just begun, consists of an extension of an additional 500 meter (1500 feet) track to reach a final length of 1800 meters (5400 feet). The Madame airfield will include a ramp, two aircraft parking locations and several helicopter landing zones.