Rafales fly non-stop from France to the southern Indian Ocean
In an impressive demonstration of its strategic reach, two Rafales – supported by a C-135 FR air refueller – flew on a very long-distance practice exercise to the French island, Reunion, in the southern Indian Ocean. The Rafales’ non-stop flight, which took 10 hours and 35 minutes and involved five inflight refuellings, was directed by the French Strategic Air Forces (FAS) Command.
Taking off on 22nd April 2014 at 5.00 am from Istres, the Rafale Bs arrived the same afternoon in Saint-Denis, the administrative capital of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The very next day, they participated in a joint-services Close Air Support (CAS) exercise with the 2nd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment stationed in La Réunion.
This mission formed part of regular exercises conducted by the FAS aimed at maintaining the proficiency of its crews in executing very long-range missions. It also demonstrated the ability of the FAS to intervene in any location whatsoever.
More generally, the long-range capacity developed by the French Strategic Air Forces with the Rafale may be variously used for:
force projection, as in the recent Close Air Support conventional joint-services exercise;
for power projection, as on 13 January 2013, when 4 Rafales taking off from Saint-Dizier in the North of France, flew 3400 km straight to Mali, destroyed twenty-one targets and landed 1500 km further, in Chad, after a record-breaking 9h45mn flight, which made it the longest bombing raid in the history of the French Air Force.
In addition to these conventional ground attack roles, it may also be used for the ultima ratio, nuclear strike mission.
The in-flight refuelling function is a strategic enabler for combat aircraft from the French and allied Air Forces, as well as for its “AWACS” radar aircraft operating thousands of miles from their home bases. Systematically involved in overseas operations, it makes France a lead nation in Europe for this capability essential to any intervention.
The French tankers also allow strategic airlift of cargo and passengers. Equipped with the Morpheus module, they can provide medical evacuation of seriously injured personnel at very short notice.
The Strategic Air Forces Command has ensured uninterrupted operational alert of the French nuclear deterrent’s airborne component since 1964, i.e. for the last 50 years. It allows the President of the French Republic to guarantee in all circumstances France’s freedom of assessment, of decision and of action with regard to its international responsibilities.
In the recent projection exercise to Reunion Island – as in last year’s conflict in Mali – the Rafale has proven its ability to project force and to project power at strategic distance in one single flight. It has also demonstrated the capability of France’s armed forces to provide security to its most remote territories and people within hours. The Indian Ocean Region , where over one million French nationals reside, mostly in the two overseas districts of Reunion and Mayotte, is of strategic interest for France as stated in the 2013 White Paper on Defence and National Security. France also has a permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean Region, which hinges upon three joint-service bases located in Djibouti, Abu Dhabi and Reunion.
The two Rafale Bs of the formation are from Fighter Squadron EC 1/91 “Gascogne”, based at BA 113 Saint-Dizier air station in northeast France; while the C-135 FR tanker aircraft is from air refuelling group GRV 2/91 “Bretagne” stationed at BA 125 Istres air station in southeast France near Marseilles. The mission also involved a forty-strong detachment from these two FAS units and their aeronautical and specialised technical support squadrons. The aircraft were to fly back to metropolitan France on the night of Thursday 24 to Friday 25 April.