The French Air Force is resuming an earlier-than-expected tour of policing the skies as part of NATO, and with Rafale fighter jets. France is also sending a squadron of Leclerc tanks and VBCI armored vehicles in the coming days, bringing the number of troops in Eastern Europe to nearly 1,500 once the deployments are complete.
Rafale fighter jets to protect Baltic countries
Since 2004, the sky policing tours in the NATO framework were entrusted to the Mirage (F1, 2000C, 2000-5 again this spring) but this time, France is sending a signal by sending Rafale fighter jets to protect the three Baltic democracies, members of NATO. It was Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu who made the announcement today in the Senate, among other capabilities that will rally eastern Europe in the coming months.
France was already deploying four Rafales to Jordan and seven to the United Arab Emirates. The fifteen or so aircraft in opex will therefore be reached, or 20% of the Rafales of the Air Force and Space, a capability effort that is therefore not at all negligible, since it will obviously be necessary to continue more than ever the nuclear deterrence posture and the defense of the French sky, while maintaining a reactive intervention capability from France.
Already Rafales in Poland in 2014-2015
At this stage, only the destination of the Rafales is known in Lithuania, where the French have already been deployed on several occasions. The choice of this country rather than Estonia, the last area of employment for French fighters (from March 15 to August 1 this year) is not detailed, but it is NATO that assigns contributors to the areas of employment for this mission, entrusted for the executive part to the CAOC (combined air operations center) of Uedem (Germany). The Rafales (at the time single-seaters from the 2/30 Normandie Niemen fighter regiment) had already set wheels in Poland, in Maalbork, in 2014-2015, during the first Ukraine war, sharing their mandate with Mirage 2000s.
The same Rafales from the Neu-Neu were mobilized as early as February 24 to fly missions over Poland, from France, eight-hour long flights, interspersed with four to five in-flight refueling. In February, the CASAE had proposed this choice (rather than basing Rafales in the east) to the ECS in order not to destabilize training and operational readiness.
Message to Russia
The fact of sending Rafales, rather than Mirage 2000-5s, whose primary purpose is to do so, is also a message sent to Russia France is sending what it has most modern. Unlike the flights carried out since 24 February in a heavy configuration (with three canisters and half a dozen Mica and Meteor missiles), the air policing flights have a lighter configuration, with two missiles on average, one with active radar guidance and the other with thermal guidance. The guns are systematically armed.
The lack of available details on this air posture could be explained by its recent character : the desire to respond quickly with a strong signal to the latest Russian attacks in Ukraine, and not to let a narrative in which France would remain without action, beyond indignation, within NATO in any case.
Leclerc tanks for Romania and Griffon in Estonia
Because for the rest of the announcements of the Minister of the Armed Forces, in the land domain, everything was planned in fact since the summer : a squadron of Leclerc (so a priori 13 tanks) and a company of VBCI (that is to say, 17 armored vehicles at least) will win Romania, probably by the end of November. And in Estonia, France will send an infantry company on the Griffon (which will be the second operational deployment, after Mali), bringing the number of soldiers to 400, in addition to the symbolic milestone of 1,000 that will be reached in Romania (which also hosts a ground-to-air Mamba section of the French Air Force). On the sidelines of the presentation at the IHEDN, on October 6, the CEMAT had explained to Air & Cosmos to have " proposed to the CEMA " this possibility of sending to Estonia a company on Griffon, that is to say 16 vehicles (12 of infantry transport and four of command)..
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