The French army show organised a week ago on the Nexter Systems site in Versailles Satory, west of Paris put the accent on equipment, as mentioned by General Jean-Pierre Bosser, the army chief of staff.
What we noticed though, hiding behind the helicopters, armoured vehicles and robots, were some 30 men in black and a few vehicles bearing a strange grey/blue camouflage. So we went to investigate. These were the “enemy forces”, known in France as FORAD (forces adverses) in charge of an essential joint mission, that is, to simulate the enemy backed by much smoke, explosions and play-acting.
In the past FORAD was part of the army’s CENTAC combat training centre in Mailly-le-Camp, but today “enemy” forces are supplied by the 5th Dragoon Regiment which was reactivated last July. Since then, the 5th Dragoons have significantly expanded their capabilities, with two out of a planned three tank squadrons, one company out of two and a half command squadron set up. The regiment consists of 800 soldiers of whom almost 600 are already operational. FORAD operatives now have a dual mission and can be deployed on foreign theatres or on the Sentinelle operation in mainland France. Following its transfer from the combat training centre FORAD no longer exists as a unit as such, with the exception of a company based at the CENZUB urban combat zone training centre created in 2006 on the Sissonne training ground.
Far from being a “boring” job, “being part of FORAD is an opportunity,” Warrant Officer Yves told FOB because “it allows us to undertake almost 20 rotations a year which makes the 5th Dragoons one of the most well-trained of the army.” The women and men of FORAD act on orders of the CENTAC to set up their scenarios, systematically adapted to the training required.
A new epoch means new threats, so the range of enemies simulated by FORAD, in the past limited to conventional forces (i.e. the Warsaw Pact nations) and militias, now include “terrorist groups and conventional armies in degraded mode, such as a Middle Eastern army for example,” Yves explained.
To be convincing in their role as enemy, the soldiers in black undergo a year-long training programme and adopt specific attitudes dictated by lessons learned on the ground. With its 30 years of experience the Mailly-le-Camp FORAD can train up to 54 joint tactical sub-groups a year.
The equipment used, supplied by the CENTAC, will soon undergo a similar modernisation. Thus the four AMX-30 Brenus inherited from the 1st Hunters Regiment and painted in Soviet colours, the VAB armoured personnel carrier, the Peugeot P4 imitating the pick-up trucks used by terrorist groups “and the rest of the rolling stock will progressively be replaced over the next year and a half by, amongst other things, a mix of Leclerc tanks and VBCIs [véhicule blindé de combat d’infanterie or armoured infantry combat vehicles],” Yves added. Eventually, FORAD will be able to pick and choose from amongst the three Leclerc squadrons, the two VBCI companies or from amongst the joint support companies, the engineers, or the artillery of the 5th Dragoons to ensure its training missions are successful.