French Air Force running low on bomb supplies

by Nathan Gain


Since the 13th November terrorist attacks in Paris and the northern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, France has intensified its bombing campaign on sites in Syria held by the Daesh terrorist group. By increasing the number of aircraft engaged from 12 to 38, France is now undertaking almost 20% of the Coalition’s air missions. This increase in strikes has rapidly led to an unfortunate situation: the stock of available ammunition is dropping rapidly. According to French daily Le Monde this has led the French defence ministry to launch a crash programme to order hundreds of GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs from U.S. manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.


Aircraft engaged in France's Chammal operation over Syria could face a shortage of munitions (photo credit: French Ministry of Defence/Air Force)

Aircraft engaged in France’s Chammal operation over Syria could face a shortage of munitions (photo credit: French Ministry of Defence/Air Force)


According to figures published by Le Monde, almost 680 bombs have been dropped since the beginning of the French engagement on 19 September 2014 by Rafales, Mirage 2000s and modernised Super Etendards (SEM) in 2,500 sorties (figures from 3rd Dec.). The French Air Force is thus having to dig into its reserves. Since the 15th November and the first strikes after the terrorist attack, the Mirage 2000s are carrying not two but four Paveways thus increasing, de facto, pressure on the supply chain.


This situation was partially anticipated by France when its parliament unanimously adopted on 27th November an amendment to increase the defence budget. Almost €273m were added in order, amongst other things, to resupply the Air Force and Navy ammunition stocks. The increase in funds was justified by an “intensification in the rhythm of air strikes in Syria and Iraq” which “strongly accentuates the rate of consumption of munitions.”


Concern over re-stocking is thus unlikely to lie with the financing but rather with the manufacturers because if France is facing a supply problem so is the United States and at quite a different scale. Since August 2014 and the beginning of their air raids over northern Iraq, U.S. aircraft have dropped more than 20,000 bombs and missiles against Daesh. U.S. industry is thus facing a new rush of orders which their production capacities are having a hard time meeting. In addition to which the United States recently approved the sale of more than 4,000 Paveways to Saudi Arabia whose army is currently engaged in Yemen. If the scarcity of ammunition lasts, the Rafales, Mirage 2000s and SEMs may have to wait a while before they can continue “delivering” to Daesh…