As a reaction to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, NATO deployed additional assets, including aircraft and air defense systems, to protect member states along the eastern flank of Europe against possible air and missile threats.
The French Air Force actively participated in this increased deployment known as NATO Air Shielding. On February 24, 2022, hours after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, France sent two Dassault Rafale fighters to Poland as part of NATO’s Enhanced Vigilance Activities (EVA) mission. Since then, French fighters have continued to patrol Polish airspace regularly.
From November 25, 2022, to the end of March 2023, and for the first time since the Baltic Air Policing started in 2004, France deployed four Rafales instead of the older Mirage 2000 fighters to Siauliai in Lithuania, in order to carry out air policing and training missions.
1,240 aerial sorties, 6,000 flight hours
Other air assets of the French Air Force have been used, such as E-3F Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, C- 135 and A330 MRTT tankers, or A400M Atlas and C-130J transport aircraft, covering varied missions for NATO. In total, French military aircraft contributed more than 1,240 aerial sorties, totaling 6,000 flight hours as of December 31, 2022.
“These operations are placed under the operational control of NATO and are carried out in cooperation with our allies present in the skies over Europe,” the French Ministry of Armed Forces explained in a press release.
In May 2022, France also launched the Aigle [Eagle] mission with the dispatch of 500 soldiers in Constanta, Romania, on the shores of the Black Sea. Backed by 300 Belgian and Dutch soldiers on rotation, this battalion constitutes one of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups.
In addition, the French Air Force deployed the SAMP/T [also called MAMBA – ed. note] ground-to-air defense system in Romania to “provide a protective bubble for the benefit of the [NATO] forces operating in the coverage area.”