Equipping France’s special forces, part 2

Yesterday we published the first part of the 1 June hearing by the French National Assembly’s Commission for National Defence and the Armed Forces of Commander of Special Operations Major-General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin.

(Meanwhile we heard that on 6 July he was appointed deputy chief of staff combat operations at the General Staff – Paris – effective from 1 September 2016. At this date he will also be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General.)

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A member of the French Special Forces

The army has developed a novel concept with GAOS (group to support special operations). This identifies conventional units which can partner the special forces and form a pool of selected and trained personnel. Belonging to eight different regiments, they have the support know-how that are of particular interest to the special forces: engineering, electronic warfare, cartography, explosives, dogs and NRBC (nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical). “I am a great supporter of this type of pragmatic approach which follows a logic I have been defending for three years: you often need more than special forces to undertake special operations,” the general told the parliamentarians.

He also talked about the 14 C-130 Hercules, noting that if the contract to modernise eight of them is notified by autumn 2016, then these aircraft should be delivered between 2019 and 2022. The upgrade aims to significantly improve their tactical capabilities “notably, their self-protection, communications, aptitude to fly at very low altitude in low visibility with infrared detection capabilities,” the general explained.

He also stressed that lessons learned from recent operations “mean that we are now urging for this long endurance sensor, which is also what the C-130 is, to be equipped so that it can provide fire support to friendly troops and engage dynamic targets.” In other words, to give it the capacity to be able to fire a missile type munition. “This does not mean turning it into a bomber,” de Saint-Quentin stressed.

C-130 Hercules

C-130 Hercules

Where mobility and ground combat is concerned, the general conceded that “we have been a little weak here for several years, even if almost all our engagements are in the air-land milieu.” He illustrated his comment by recounting how the Sabre task force, currently engaged in the Sahel, has had to adapt its last five motorised missions in the desert to take into account the fragility of its extremely old and ancient vehicles (Peugeot P4 and light reconnaissance and support vehicles). These are to be replaced by the VLFS (lightweight special forces vehicle) which we wrote about on 27 June.

The special forces' old cars are not always adapted to their environment...

The special forces’ old cars are not always adapted to their environment…

General de Saint-Quentin also spoke about night combat capabilities “which are characteristic of most of our operational missions.” He explained that “our current lot of night vision binoculars is obsolete, disparate and incomplete. On top of which, they suffer from very abrasive conditions in the field. Finally, as this technology is spreading quite quickly and is no longer confined just to Western nations, maintaining our superiority supposes that we can keep up to scratch with the latest technological innovations: miniaturisation, definition, wide field of view, etc.

A French Reaper RPAS

A French Reaper RPAS

The general also mentioned remotely piloted air systems (RPASs) to survey the theatre, which “constitute real multipliers of efficiency and a technological breakthrough in operation. Special forces use 80% of the Reaper’s potential hours and the need keeps growing,” he remarked.

Finally, in answer to a question by Patricia Adam, president of the Commission concerning his comment that there is a need to “procure equipment more quickly, and for some, in a more discreet manner,” the general elaborated:”Sometimes, in order to confront an adverse mode of action, we may occasionally need specific equipment, without our adversaries knowing about it. This is on a case-by-case basis and the introduction of a more discreet purchasing process is only complimentary to the existence of armaments’ programmes that integrate our specifications from the outset.

Mouths shut then!