On 1 September the French Air Force announced plans to establish a Brigade of Air Special Operations Forces (BFSA) as part of an ongoing modernisation plan to respond to emerging threats around the world. Part of the AIRFUSCO 2025 concept, the establishment of the BFSA sees multiple force elements from across the service gathered into a single command structure, which reports to both the French Special Operations Command (COS) and the Air Force staff.
The BFSA comprises a total of 4,200 personnel with units including the 3/61 ‘Poitou’ transport squadron (ET) and 1/67 'Pyrénées’ Helicopter Squadron, in addition to Commando Parachutiste de L’Air (CPA) units 10, 20 and 30. Additional units falling under the BFSA include the Air Force Jump Centre (CASV) and Air Force Combatant Operational Readiness Centre (CPOCAA).
Operating as a larger organisation, the BFSA will have the ability to coordinate all air-related special operations including “in-depth penetration, combat Search and Rescue, air support, anti-drone warfare and protection of air bases”, according to an official statement provided by the French Ministry of Defence. It will not, however, gain operational control of the army’s 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (RHFS), which will continue to fall under the Army Special Forces Brigade’s order of battle.
The establishment of the BFSA looks set to further enhance the ability of the COS to support special operations around the world. Specifically, the BFSA should be in a stronger lobbying position to solicit greater funding from the French MoD, with the investment used to procure next-generation materiel. The relevant roadmap includes the delivery of 10 NH90-TTH Special Forces Helicopters, six of which are due to be in service by 2025; in addition to H160M Joint Light Helicopters. In February, defence sources suggested to MON the Air Force might also purchase CH-47 CHINOOKs to support special operations.
Furthermore, the BFSA will provide air special operations forces with greater interoperability and enhanced command and control, allowing commanders to better plan, prepare and execute mission sets in a joint operating environment. Across the contemporary operating environment, French special operations forces remain fiercely active, with ongoing support of NATO counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Additionally, the final quarter of 2020 sees the COS leading the newly stood up Takuba Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) in West Africa, which will be tasked with conducting special operations against violent extremist organisations – in Mali, for example.
French special operations forces are being supplemented with Special Operations Task Groups from Estonia and Sweden, with a number of other European nations also pledging to provide headquarters and air asset support.
Andrew White in London for MON