When this August billions of people are glued to their TV sets watching the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, who amongst them will establish a link between this event and the Armed Forces of Guyana (AFG)? “Nobody” you will probably say. And yet this branch of the French armed forces does have a role to play by securing the Kourou space centre from which are launched the television satellites dedicated, amongst other things, to the broadcast of such major events.
Yesterday, 9 March, and for the second time so far this year, the AFG launched “Mission Titan”, a regular mission to ensure protection in the three dimensions around the Kourou Guyanese Space Centre (CSG). Thus protected by its “body guards” an Ariane 5 rocket was launched at about 02:20 local time and placed the Eutelsat 65 West A satellite into orbit to improve TV broadcasting in South America of the Olympic Games.
Concretely, “Mission Titan” consists in securing a 750km² zone on land (equivalent to Paris and its first ring of suburbs), almost 3,500km² of sea and installing, on launch day, a protection bubble in the air over the whole zone. For every launch, between 300 to 400 French soldiers are deployed on land, in the air, and on the sea;
The land segment is the responsibility of the legionnaires of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (3e REI) who are used to working in the hot, humid and hostile environment of the Guyanese coastal zone. Surveillance of the region, undertaken on foot, in quads, even using amphibious vehicles or kayaks, starts a few days prior to the launch to ensure there are no intrusions. “The soldiers’ work is difficult because of the broad area that needs to be secured and the inhospitality of a difficult coastal area covered in mangrove swamps and an inner zone 80% covered in primary forest and bogs,” explained Air Vice Marshal Pierre-Jean Dupont, commander of the AFG, during the previous launch on 28 January. For each Titan mission between one to three legionnaire companies are deployed; they also operate the Mistral missiles for low and very low altitude defence.
The Air Force uses two Fennec helicopters from 68 Transport Squadron carrying snipers from the 3e REI on “very short warning” alert. These two Fennecs take-off a few minutes prior to each launch and secure the zone until the rocket has entirely disappeared from view. An Aladin new generation ruggedised tactical radar (ANGD) currently replaces the Centaure radar, the “eyes and ears” of the space centre, recently sent to mainland France for maintenance.
Finally, the sea is patrolled by French Navy vessels, notably the P400 patrollers from the naval base at Dégrad des Cannes.
If Arianespace, the French company which markets Ariane 5, meets its 2016 objectives, then AFG will undertake another 10 missions this year: six for Ariane, two for Soyuz and two for Vega. Apart from temporary missions such as Titan, the launch site, like all French “defence priority sites” has had its permanent external surveillance reinforced since the January 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, according to an article published on the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) web site which gives no other details.