On 21 March, an Air Force A400M carried out the loading and unloading operations of a Gazelle helicopter on the permanent airborne operations base at Francazal, near Toulouse. A few days later, on 5 April, a flight with a VBCI armored infantry fighting vehicle took place for the first time in Orléans. These two tests are harbingers of the increased airborne capabilities of the Army, the A400M offering enhanced engagement possibilities and a far greater range of action allowing intervention from continental France.
For the loading and unloading of the Gazelle in the A400M, the men of the 1st Regiment du Train Parachutiste (1st parachute support regiment, the only Army specialized unit in air delivery and air transit) worked in close coordination with the Air Force and a ferrying team from the 9th Airmobile Support Battalion (9th BSAM). Specialized in air transport, the Toulouse-based soldiers provided the necessary handling equipment (crane, lift truck, etc.), configured the cargo bay and installed unloading ramps to allow the optimal extraction of the helicopter.
A long series of trials for the A400M
The combat helicopter is not the only piece of army equipment recently tested and evaluated with the A400M. In recent months, certification work has continued at a good pace in order to reinforce the projection capability of specific Army equipment, such as the VBCI 32-tonne armored infantry combat vehicle, LRU Unitary Rocket Launcher, heavy duty multipurpose carrier (PPLD), Caracal and Fennec have been approved in particular.
Last step to date: the VBCI. The first trials of loading and unloading this vehicle on board an A400M were carried out in April 2014 in Clermont-Ferrand. On April 5, 2017, for the first time, the A400M took off from Orléans-Bricy air base 123 (Loiret) and flew for more than an hour with the VBCI’s command post variant, fitted with its remote-controlled turret. Following this test, the A400M was certified by the air force to carry the VBCI.
The next tests will now take place at the end of April with the dropping of accompanying loads, and of PD11 pallets in May.
Increasing capabilities for the Army
The operational certification of the A400M will bring real added value to the Army. Indeed, the speed of this aircraft, combined with its large carrying capacity (up to 37 tonnes of equipment), will allow an increase in the deployment possibilities and a range allowing a greater perimeter of action.
This operational superiority will be further strengthened by the new national air operations center at Francazal. Combining all the means necessary for the implementation of an airborne operation (PAO) on the same base, the latter will enable the planning of operations, preparing orders, assembling, equipping and preparing troops for embarkation to intervene outside national territory.
The combined functionality of the PNOAP center and the multiplier effect provided by the A400M will renew the concept of airborne operations by giving the 11th Parachute Brigade the mastery of the operational tempo.