Written by Major V. Belozerov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #11, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Currently, about 30 thousand French military personnel are involved in various military operations and security measures according to the plans of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic, including more than 10.8 thousand as part of the forces stationed on a permanent basis in the French overseas regions (“forces of sovereignty”) and on the territory of foreign states (“forces of presence”).
Military contingents abroad are combined (interspecific) groups of troops (forces) – GrT(f), deployed on a permanent basis outside the European part of the country and subordinate to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic. They are located in the traditional zones of French interests and are the main tool for the implementation of the strategic task assigned to the French Armed Forces in accordance with the provisions of the national military doctrine – “prevention”, and are also involved in the implementation of the other four functions (“protection”, “response”, “awareness and forecasting”, “deterrence”).
The forces and resources of the contingents are involved in solving the following tasks:
- protection of the citizens, territory and interests of France outside the metropolis;
- maintaining military reserves outside of Europe in high readiness for deployment and involvement for their intended purpose;
- strengthening and comprehensive support of military operations organised according to national and coalition plans;
- conducting peacekeeping operations in crisis regions;
- assistance in the implementation of programmes of military and military-technical cooperation of France with foreign countries.
Formations are directly subordinate to the commanders of the groups of troops (forces) in the corresponding geographical zone. The “sovereignty forces” are led by the supreme commanders, while the “presence forces” are led by the force commanders or formation commanders, depending on the group’s status.
These military leaders have the rank of brigadier (counter) or divisional (vice) general (admiral) and are representatives of the Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces in their area of responsibility.
At the same time, in the overseas territories, the commanders also perform the duties of military advisers to the prefects (Paris representatives in local authorities).
The commanders exercise administrative and operational control over the land, air and sea components of the groups of troops (forces) through their deputies appointed from the relevant branches of the armed forces.
The number and combat strength of each group is determined depending on the tasks to be solved, operational, geographical and other features of the current situation. At the same time, the French contingents deployed on a permanent basis outside of France are characterised by a special principle of recruitment. They include the so-called permanent and rotary compositions. The permanent staff is represented by military personnel who are on long-term (usually three years) assignments. These are mainly officers and mid-level command officers (non-commissioned officers) who are sent on assignments with their families. They ensure the “succession and continuity” of the functioning of units and divisions. Due to the rotary composition, which is short-term (up to four months) assignments, the “efficiency and compliance” of military formations with the tasks they perform is achieved.
The main tasks of the “forces of sovereignty” are: to ensure the sovereignty of Paris over its overseas possessions, the security of their population; to protect the territorial waters and exclusive economic zones of France: implementation of bilateral programmes of military and military-technical cooperation with the states within the area of responsibility, as well as assistance to local state authorities in economic activities in other areas.
The formations are located in three theaters: the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean. In addition to protecting overseas territories and ensuring the security of critical infrastructure, the importance of maintaining a French military presence in these regions is due to the need to combat transnational criminal groups.
To solve these tasks, the “forces of sovereignty” are armed with unique warships and vessels that are used only outside of France: frigates (FR) of the “Floréal” class, patrol ships (PS) of the “Confiance” and “d’Entrecasteaux” class, “Le Malin”, as well as the ice-class support vessel “Astrolabe”.
The FR of the “Floréal” class belong to a series of small frigates, also classified as corvettes or light patrol ships. The ships have a total displacement of 2,950 tons, a length of 93.5 m, a width of 14 m, a maximum draft of 4.4 m, a maximum speed of 20 knots, a range of 10,000 miles, a crew of 86 people. In total, six FRs of this class were built for the “forces of sovereignty”, which were named after the six months of the French republican calendar (“Floréal”, “Germinal”, “Nivôse”, “Prairial”, “Vendémiaire”, “Ventôse”).
The Confiance-class patrol ships were designed to operate in shallow waters. They are designed to protect the territorial waters and economic zones of French Guiana and the French Antilles. The PS length is 60 m, the width is 9.5 m, the full displacement is 700 t, full speed is 21 knots, the cruising range is 3,500 miles. The crew is 24 people with the possibility of additional accommodation for another 14 people. In total, three ships of this class were built (“Confiance”, “Résolue”, and “Combatant”).
Patrol ships of the “d’Entrecasteaux” class have a cruising speed of 12 to 15 knots, and the autonomy of sailing for 30 days. Provisions are made to transport divers and soldiers with weapons (20 men, two 4×4 vehicles). The PSs can perform evacuation tasks and police functions to combat poachers, illegal migration, drug trafficking and piracy, provide assistance to ships in distress, extinguish fires and tow marine objects weighing up to 30 tons. There are a total of four PSs built (“d’Entrecasteaux”, “Bougainville”, “Champlain”, “Dumont d’Urville”).
Security in the Latin American and Caribbean area is provided by two groupings. They are conducting operations “Titan” to secure the Kourou missile range in French Guiana, as well as “Harpie” and “Polpêche” to combat drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal migration, illegal fishing and clandestine gold mining in the region.
In addition, the French Armed Forces are involved in disaster response (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.).
The French Armed Forces group in the Antilles is deployed in the French regions of the departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The number of GrT(f) is about one thousand military personnel (including 900 permanent personnel) and 390 civilian employees.
The Group Commander (usually from the Navy) is also the commander of the maritime zone of the Antilles. The headquarters of the GrT(f) is located on the territory of Fort Desaix (Fort-de-France, Martinique).
The land contingent is represented by the 33rd Separate Infantry Regiment (SIR) “Marine” (Fort-de-France) GF. It includes a headquarters, control and communication companies, two motorised infantry (equipped with “rotary” military personnel) and two reserve ones.
All units of the 33rd SIR are stationed in Fort-de-France, with the exception of the second reserve company, located on the territory of the Dugommier military base (Bea-Mao, Guadeloupe).
A training centre in a wooded area is operated for the benefit of the group on the island of Martinique.
The air component includes a composite helicopter detachment, including the AS-565 Panther anti-submarine helicopter from the 36th Helicopter Flotilla (AB Hyères) and the multi-purpose SA-319B Alouette-3 from the 22nd Helicopter Squadron (AB Lanveoc-Poulmic) of the French Naval Aviation Command. The specified aircraft equipment is based at the airfield of Manatin (Martinique-Aimé Césaire International Airport, 12 km south of Fort-de-France) and is intended for operations from the “Floréal” FR class.
The maritime component includes: two Floréal-class frigates (“Ventôse” and “Germinal”), PS “Combatant” and “Dumont d’Urville”, and the tugboat “Maito”, based at the naval base of Saint-Louis (Fort Saint-Louis, Fort-de-France). In addition, the PS “Violet” of the marine gendarmerie is based in the port of Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe).
In addition, two adapted military service regiments are deployed in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The group of troops (forces) of the French Armed Forces in French Guiana has 2.1 thousand military personnel and about 200 civilian personnel. The group commander (usually from the Air Force) is responsible for the area stretching from Mexico to Guiana. Its special feature is the location in this region of the French missile range Kourou which is of strategic importance for the whole of Europe. The headquarters of the group is located in Cayenne.
The land component includes the 3rd Separate Infantry Regiment of the Foreign Legion (FL, Commandant Forge base, Kourou) and the 9th Marine SIR (Cayenne) of the GF.
Three SIR of the FL consist of a control and communication company, two motorised infantry companies (permanent composition) and a fire support company (rotary composition). The number of this military unit is 650 people (including 490 permanent and 160 rotary personnel). The regiment’s units are stationed mainly in the eastern part of Guiana on the border with Brazil in the area of the localities of Saint-Georges-de-l’Oyapock and Camopi. The personnel of the 3 SIR specialises in conducting combat operations in tropical rainforests conditions, and is also involved in ensuring the safety of launch vehicles from the Kourou test site.
A rainforest combat training centre is located in Guiana. It is based in the locality of Régina (Approuague River basin) and is one of the four certified training units in the world designed to train personnel for action in the jungle. The operation of the centre is provided by the three SIR of the FL military personnel.
The nine SIR “marine” consist of a headquarters, five companies: management and communications, two motorised infantry, engineering, logistics and reserve, as well as a separate motorised infantry platoon. The size of the military unit is about 700 military personnel (210 permanent and 490 rotary personnel). Units of the regiment operate in the western part of Guiana in the area of the Maroni River and are stationed in the localities of Saint-Jean-du-Maroni and Maripasoula.
The air component of the group is stationed at the 367th air base “Capitaine François Massé” of the French Air Force, which includes infrastructure located in three facilities on the territory.
The main aviation unit is the 68th Separate Anti-Guianan Transport Squadron (three CN-235 tactical transport aircraft, five SA-330 Puma combat support helicopters and four AS-550 Fennec helicopters), stationed at the Cayenne-Matoury airfield (Félix Eboué International Airport, 14 km southwest of Cayenne).
An air control centre with an ANGD radar station is located at the Kourou missile range.
Another radar station (“Ground Master-406”) is deployed on Mount Vénus near the locality of Sinnamary.
The maritime component includes two Confiance-class patrol ships (“Confiance” and “Résolue”), the “Kien An” auxiliary vessel, and a PS4A-class tugboat. The ships and vessels are based at the naval base Dégrad des Cannes (Cayenne). In addition, two marine gendarmerie PSs (“Mauri” and “Organabo”) are based in this naval base and the port of Pariacabo (Kourou). In addition, an adapted military service regiment is stationed in Saint-Jean-du-Maroni.
Two GrT(f) troops (forces) are also deployed in the Asia-Pacific region for the protection of the overseas territories in the Pacific (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futura), which are also involved in the fight against illegal fishing and disaster response in the framework of the “Tsunami” and “Cyclone” plans.
The group of troops (forces) of the French Armed Forces in French Polynesia has 950 military personnel. The commander of the group (from the Navy) is also the commander of the French Navy in the Pacific area. The headquarters of the group is located in Papeete (Tahiti). The group’s area of responsibility covers the entire Pacific Ocean, the territories of countries in the region except for New Caledonia, the Melanesian states, Australia and New Zealand, which are part of the French Forces GrT(f) area of responsibility in New Caledonia.
The land component is represented by a separate “marine” infantry regiment (Papeete) GF. It consists of a headquarters, control and communications companies, two motorised infantry and a reserve. The number of the regiment is about 800 people, including 100 civilian specialists. In addition, the regiment’s units are stationed at Mururoa and Hao atolls.
The air component is represented by the 190th aviation detachment “Tahiti Faaa” (Faaa, a suburb of Papeete), comprising the 82nd separate Transport Squadron “Maine” (two VTA CN-235 aircraft), the 25th Maritime Surveillance Aircraft Flotilla (five Flacon-200 “Guardian” aircraft, including two based in New Caledonia) and a combined helicopter detachment consisting of two SA-365N “Dauphin” search and rescue helicopters of the 35th Helicopter Flotilla (AB Hyères) and a multi-purpose SA-319B “Alouette-3” (assigned to the frigate “Prairie”) of the 22nd helicopter squadron (AB Lanveoc-Poulmic) of the French Navy Aviation Command.
The maritime component (naval base Fare Ute, Papeete) includes the frigate “Prairie”, the patrol ships “Arago”, “Bougainvill”e, the tugs “Manini” and “Maroa”, three PS4A class and the patrol boat “Jasmine” of the Gendarmerie Marine. At the same time, an adapted military service regiment is stationed in Papeete.
The grouping of troops (forces) of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia consists of 1.45 thousand military personnel (including about 940 permanent and 510 rotary personnel) and up to 200 civilian specialists. The headquarters is located in the city of Nouméa (island New Caledonia). Units of the group are also stationed in the settlement of Plum, La Tontouta and Bury (the base “Nandi”).
The land component is represented by a separate “marine” infantry regiment (Nouméa) GF.
It consists of a headquarters, control and communications companies (equipped with permanent military personnel), paratroopers, motorised infantry, fire support, logistics and reserve support. There is about 700 people in the regiment. All units are stationed in the locality of Plum, except for the motorised infantry company (Nouméa). In addition, a commando training centre is located in Nouméa and warehouses are located at the Nandai base, guarded by a dog training group.
The air component is stationed at the 186th air base (“Lieutenant Paul Klein”) of the French Air Force (Nouméa-La Tontouta International Airport, La Tontoula, 50 km northwest of Nouméa). In includes the 52nd separate transport squadron “La Tontoula” (two tactical CN-235 military transport aircraft and three SA-330 “Puma” combat support helicopters. The naval aviation of the French Navy is represented by two Falcon-200 aircraft from the 25th Naval Surveillance Flotilla (Faaa, French Polynesia) and the SA-319B Alouette-3 multi-purpose helicopter (assigned to the frigate “Vendémiaire”) of the 22nd helicopter squadron (AB Lanveoc-Poulmic).
The maritime component (naval base Nouméa) consists of: FR “Vendémiaire”, patrol ships “d’Entrecasteaux”, “La Moqueuse” and “La Glorieuse”, the boat “Koyu” two class PS4A tugs and two “Mullet” class, as well as the patrol boat “Dumbéa” of the Gendarmerie Marine.
Along with this, an adapted military service regiment is stationed in the locality of Kumak in the north of the island New Caledonia.
The Indian Ocean is part of the area of responsibility of the Commander of the French Navy in this area, whose headquarters are located in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). Thus, the country’s presence of overseas territories in this region required the allocation of a special zone – the Southern part of the Indian Ocean.
The French Armed Forces group in the southern Indian Ocean is based in the regions of Réunion and Mayotte and has about 1,600 military personnel, as well as 300 civilian staff.
The area of responsibility of the Commander (usually from the GF) includes 14 states (ten south African, as well as the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles). The peculiarity of this sub-region is the presence of 11 islands in it, including those from the French Southern and Antarctic Territories. The headquarters of the group is located in Saint-Denis (Réunion).
The land component includes the 2nd separate “marine” Parachute Regiment (Pierrefonds, Saint-Pierre suburb, Réunion Island) and a separate Foreign Legion detachment (Dzaoudzi, Pamandzi Island, Mayotte).
Two “marine” separate parachute regiments are the only airborne military units permanently stationed outside of France. It consists of a headquarters, as well as six companies: control and communications, a paratrooper, two motorised infantry, logistics and reserve. In addition, two of its detachments are stationed on the islands of Juan de Nova and Europa. The paratrooper and one of the motorised infantry companies are equipped with “rotary” military personnel. The number of the regiment is about 700 people. The units are stationed in Saint-Denis and Pierrefonds.
At the same time, 2 “marine” separate parachute regiments operate a training centre for actions in a tropical climate. It is located in the locality of La Saline les Bains (Réunion).
A separate detachment of the Foreign Legion (280 people) includes the headquarters, as well as two control and communication companies and a motorised infantry company. A group from the detachment is also deployed to the Glorieuses islands. The detachment provides the functioning of the centre for training for actions in the coastal zone, also located on the island of Pamandzi.
The air component is represented by the 181st aviation detachment “Lieutenant Roland Garros” (Réunion, Roland Garros International Airport, Sainte-Marie, Saint-Denis suburb), which include the 50th separate transport squadron (two CN-235 tactical military transport aircraft).
The maritime component has two naval bases on the islands of Réunion and Pamandzi, Port-de-Galles (Le Port, 10 km west of Saint-Denis) and Dzaoudzi (Dzazoudzi). The frigates “Floréal” and “Thermidor” based on the island of Réunion based are equipped with AS-565 anti-submarine “Panther” helicopters from the 36th helicopter fleet (AB Hyères), the ice-class support vessel “Astrolabe”, PS “Le Malin” and “Champlain”, two PS4A tugboats, in Mayotte the CTM landing and the patrol boat “Vitivier”, the tug “Morse” and two patrol boats “Ode” and “Verdon” of the Gendarmerie Maritime.
In addition, a regiment (Saint-Pierre) and a battalion (Combany) of adapted military service are stationed on the islands of Réunion and Mayotte, respectively.
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