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Mader G, Jun-2013. Mali: A French Perspective, Air Forces Monthly Issue 303

Mader G, Jun-2013. Mali: A French Perspective, Air Forces Monthly Issue 303

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Published by: Foro Militar General on May 28, 2013
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#303 JUNE 201376
T GEN Jean-Patrick Gaviard retired from the
French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) in mid-2006 andsince November 2008 has been a ‘senior conceptdeveloper’ with NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, and anadviser to French national security authorities.A former commander of Dijon air base and ER 3/33‘Lorraine’ reconnaissance squadron, he accumulatedover 4,000 hours in his flying career. He holds the hon-ours of 
Officier de la Légion d’honneur 
Comman-deur de l’Ordre National du Mérite
. In 1999 he was theFrench senior representative within Operation AlliedForce at the NATO Air Operations Centre at Vicenza inItaly and from 2001 to 2003 was responsible for Frencharmed forces aligned with US forces in Afghanistan,NATO in the Balkans and the EU in Africa (DemocraticRepublic of the Congo, Chad and Ivory Coast). From2004 to 2005 he was Général de Corps Aérien, headingAir Defence and Air Operations Command.
 AFM:Since 2011 the Armée de l’Air has demon- strated its effectiveness in Operations Harmattan[Libya] and Serval [Mali]. What does modern air  power mean for your country today
 The air force and ‘air power’ are politi-cal tools. For our political leaders, the ability of what we call ‘first entry’ is very important – if weintervene and have to take on responsibility. It ismore important than stabilisation missions, suchas Afghanistan, which are not that popular with thepublic.
 AFM:So it’s all about rapid initial action? 
It’s about the ability to launch an opera-tion – remember Libya in 2011: on March 17 the UNSecurity Council [UNSC] resolution was passedin New York and less than 48 hours later Rafaleand Mirage 2000s went into Libyan airspace anddestroyed armoured units that would have claimeda lot of civilian casualties in Benghazi. A strong firststrike. Today you have to plan to be ready for that,anytime and anywhere.
A French perspective
 Lt Gen Jean-Patrick Gaviard retired from the Arméede l’Air in mid-2006. Today he is a ‘senior concept developer’ with NATO.
Images ECPAD/SIRPA-air
Two of the French version of the IAI Heron UAV -the EADS Harfang (Snowy Owl) – flew daily ISR support missions with ER 1/33 from an inflatable hangar at  Niamey airport in Niger.
One of the Gazelle HOT helicopters from the4ème Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales(RHFS) from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Itsrelative vulnerability – compared to the Tigre – wasdemonstrated in the first night of Operation Serval when pilot Lt Damien Boiteux who was hit and bled todeath soon after his emergency landing near Mopti.
#303 JUNE 201377
 AFM: And over Mali, you were able to repeat this‘first-strike’ concept? 
With the Mali operation we benefited froman effective decision-making chain from the Presidentdownwards. He said on January 10 that we had to inter-vene in Mali – and just 12 hours later the initial strikeshappened, with very good effect. A clear signal thatFrance has the ability to react worldwide. Of course,it had been anticipated by the presidential NationalIntelligence Council that we would have to respond[once the UN Secuity Council resolution was passed],such was the evolving situation in Mali highlighted byintelligence gathered over the previous two weeks.
 AFM:This suggests that French forces werealready well placed around Mali and ‘omnipres-ent’ in the region? 
Well, ‘omnipresent’ is maybe not true. First,the region is a very large theatre of operations, but alsoa very empty one with just a few traffic arteries andpopulation centres. Second, the events in Mali, theadvance of the Islamists from north to south last year,were obvious and well documented – you neededno intel to see that. In late 2012 a combined air man-agement centre, JFACC [Joint Force Air ComponentCommand], was built at N'Djamena in Chad where theMirage 2000Ds and F1Cs were deployed, so there wasa command and control [C2] capability available for anentire area of operations, not just Mali. The potentialtheatre was a triangle from N'Djamena to the Maliancapital, Bamako, west to Dakar in Senegal and 1,000kmsouth to the port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. So wewere not ‘omnipresent’, but well placed.
 AFM:What else was in theatre ahead of theFrench ‘first entry’? 
It’s true we had pre-positioned forcesplaced quite discretely. Because of a problem southof Chad [at the same time, a rebel coup in the CentralAfrican Republic was threatening French citizens]these forces not only included the fighters but alsorefuelling assets and some very special forces. ForISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],some maritime patrol Atlantique aircraft were basedat Dakar and some months earlier a few Harfang UASs[unmanned aerial systems] and their datalink infra-structure were placed at Niamey in Niger. Also, airliftassets were present at Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.All this was planned and coordinated by the CAOC[combined air operations centre] near Lyon and com-manded by 20 personnel in the JFACC at N'Djamena,who did all the air tasking work. That was almost all inplace when Mali began to ‘turn hot’.
 AFM:Were special forces active in the area? 
(grinning): Well, they were here and there…As I said, ‘very’ special forces – not to elaborate fur-ther. We developed a concept of how to use them inAfghanistan and adopted this for Africa. It workedquite well. They had been stationed at Ouagadougouin Burkina Faso for six months, including an air supportelement of armed Gazelle helicopters from the 4thRegiment. As you may know, we have French hostagesfrom Niger in the hands of Islamists now in the Adrardes Ifoghas Mountains on the border with Algeria. Ourelite forces did a lot of ‘travelling’ in the region look-ing for them, so they were not there because of Mali.Hostages could be sold – they’re like commercial goodswithin these criminal structures. It’s much more abouttransnational crime than about religious war.
 AFM:However, all those forces knew the situa-tion as the Islamists’ Toyota pick-up trucks moved into central Mali? 
Yes. Thanks to the multi-layer ISR picture,we followed the moves of the two pick-up convoys,each with about 150 vehicles and about 600 Islamistwarriors from AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb],
 Ansar Dine
and MUJAO [Movement for Oneness andJihad in West Africa]. One drove the weak Malian Armyout of Konna and attempted to seize Mopti, the impor-tant river harbour. The other was heading west fromDibali towards the capital, Bamako, where there were12,000 Westerners, among them 6,000 French citizens. This motivated our President to act. Also a factor wasthat Mali could become a Sharia state of terror, withgrim consequences for the entire region. Those werethe threats which came up at our National SecurityCouncil on January 10, which led to the President’s deci-sion to stop the convoys. Their leaders had expected toonly meet the weak Malian army, not French specialforces and guided weapons. That was highly asymmet-ric to them – and to their disadvantage.
 AFM:Then there were the first air strikes. How do you see them today? 
They were well executed, I think. The firstmissions happened in the night of January 11, justunder 24 hours after the decision was taken in Paris. The first shot in anger was fired by Gazelle helicoptersof the special forces. Unfortunately, a pilot was hit anddied after conducting an emergency landing nearMopti. As the western column was too distant for thehelicopters, Mirage 2000Ds from N'Djamena werecalled into action. In what was a five-hour missionwith two refuelling sessions near the Mali/Niger bor-der, each dropped two smart munitions against theconvoy. A very good operation – we killed many fight-ers. The rest fled northwards immediately, shocked byprecise 500-pounders out of nowhere in the night.
 For the first time, Atlantique ATL-2s from Dakar dropped GBU-12 bombs from their weapons bays. Not yet able to laser-designate on their own,the final phase guidance of released munitionswas conducted by Harfang UAVs via datalink. According to French sources, this combinationwas highly eective against fixed targets in thenorthern Ifoghas Mountains at the end of March.
Early in Operation Serval, Lt Gen Gaviard’s son commanded the Mirage 2000Ds at N'Djamena.
“Their leaders hadexpected to only meet theweak Malian army, not French special forces andguided weapons”
#303 JUNE 201378
 AFM:There were the long-distance missionsby Rafales from EC 1/7 ‘Provence’ and ER 2/30‘Normandie-Niémen (Nou-Nou)’ – these wereflown against fixed targets, correct? 
Yes, that was 24 hours later and had noth-ing to do with the convoys. A very interesting mis-sion – six Rafales took-off from St Dizier, each fittedwith three GBU-12 LGBs [laser-guided bombs], threeAASM [Armement Air-Sol Modulaire
Hammers, threedrop-tanks and a Damocles targeting pod. I have toendorse Hammer, a remarkable weapon – 250kg, GPSand IR-guided for use up to 18km [11 miles], if neces-sary with rocket boost. Targeting can come from thelaunch aircraft and also from external sources.With their criminal income from kidnappings andsmuggling, the North African jihadists had builtmilitary structures in the conquered north of Maliwith ammunition depots, training camps and APCs[armoured personnel carriers] taken from Gaddafi’sarsenal. So, these were stationary targets, usuallynot expected in an asymmetric terrorism scenario. Those targets were bombed by the Rafales afterthree air-refuellings. As some GBU-12s didn’t hitsatisfactorily, the crews changed the mission priori-ties and attacked certain targets a second time. Thisdemanded two further refuelling sessions on thefinal leg to N'Djamena. From 24 guided weapons,they dropped 21. I think that, with this nine-and-a-half hour mission, our President is now aware of thecapability of Rafale and the value of air power.
 AFM:Initially all the jets operated fromN'Djamena, but later some Mirages operated fromBamako – is that correct? 
Yes, it was necessary to progress opera-tions. Bamako was closer to the fighting and after aweek our Mirage 2000Ds and F1Cs were moved there.My son there, commanding the Mirages, could nottalk about the missions for security reasons as therewas no secure line, and all he could say was that theyflew many up to mid-February, and that it was hardbecause of temperatures of 45°C [113°F] and no airconditioning in the camp.
 AFM:Were there were other classic missionsflown during Operation Serval? 
I’m sure you mean combat jumps by para-troopers? If you mean ‘classic’, you’re correct in thatthis hasn’t been done in recent times. But the paraswere the right tool to secure the airfields of Timbuktu,Gao and Tessalit. They were flown in aboard C-130sand C160s from Abidjan, under the full-motion TVeyes of the Harfangs. Everything was followed live inN'Djamena as well as in Lyon – no need to wait for hoursto know how it went and what resistance they met.
 AFM:France was initially alone, but soon a num-ber of nations were flying support missions.
A little later we enjoyed a lot of support.On the initial airlift there was a shortage, but thiswill be resolved when the Airbus Military A400Mand A330MRTTs enter service. Later there were theC-17s from the US, UK, Canada and Sweden, all of which did a great job.
 AFM:ISR assets are viewed as the most critical for future operations. How was the ‘ISR coalition’  staged this time for Mali? 
European assets worked alongside USEP-3 Orions and Global Hawks – which came fromas far away as Sicily – and MQ-1 UAVs, which oper-ate together with our drones from Niamey. Withthis dense ISR network we were able to tighten thenoose around the enemy swiftly most of the time.As an ‘arrogant’ Frenchman I want to mention theFrench Navy’s ATL-2 Atlantiques, which for the firsttime attacked ground targets with smart munitionssuch as GBU-12s. But, as they will only be able to aimtheir own laser after modification in 2017, Harfangsguided the dropped munitions over Mali. It’s a very
Of the four ex-Bulgarian Mi-24D
delivered to Mali between 2007 and 2009, at best two survive. One was damaged by the withdrawing Islamists at Gao and another lost in an accident involving troops from Burkina Faso in March. Behind the two armed Mirages F1CRs on the apron at Bamako, the whole (former) Malian AF fighter force is visible – six MiG-21MFs, two MiG-21UMs and the tail of a sole MiG-17.

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