A French air force A400M transport aircraft has carried out its first operational mission to Niger, carrying helicopters, freight and personnel directly from France onto a semi-prepared dirt landing strip. The mission took place over a month ago but the French Air Force publicised it only last week.
On 1 September, an A400M Atlas from the 61st Transport Wing based in Orleans, central France, landed at the Madama advanced operating base in Niger. This was the first time since evaluations in 2016 that the aircraft has undertaken this type of tactical landing under operational conditions in the Sahel-Saharan strip, the French Air Force said.
The flight confirmed the A400M’s transport capabilities on unprepared ground, in support of the trilateral Mai Boulala operation carried out jointly in north-east Niger by the Nigerian, Chadian and French armed forces.
Nearly 200 soldiers of the Barkhane Force from Gao in Mali and N’Djamena in Chad were transported, together with several tonnes of freight. “Thanks to the large size of its fuselage, this aircraft can transport outsize cargo over long distances without requiring the long and difficult dismantling and preparation before loading for the flight,” the A400M captain said.
A Puma battlefield transport helicopter and a Gazelle light helicopter were transported across the Sahel, whilst a French military health service scanner was delivered to Gao. The aircraft arrived in the Sahel region on 30 August, flying in from Air Base 123 in Orleans.
“The capabilities of the A400M give the Barkhane Force a transport asset capable of projecting a large volume of soldiers and equipment over a territory as large as Europe, several thousand kilometres from its base, and in a very short time,” the French Air Force statement added.
The French-led Operation Barkhane was launched on 1 August 2014. Based on a strategic partnership with Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, it comprises some 4,000 military personnel whose mission is to support the armed forces of the partner countries in their efforts to combat terrorism and armed groups in the region.
As of 30 June, the French Air Force has 11 of the 50 A400Ms it has ordered. Of these at least six are equipped with “standard” tactical capacities, that is that they have self-protection systems and, whilst airborne, can launch freight and paratroopers from the rear ramp.