Interim electronic intelligence aircraft for the French Air and Space Force

France SIGINT CAE Aviation Saab 340 1 credit Jean Luc Guérin 560 France SIGINT CAE Aviation Saab 340 2 credit Jean Luc Guérin 560

In November 2021, the French Air and Space Force (AAE) decided to withdraw the two C-160G Gabriel Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft operated by EEA01.054 Dunkerque (Escadron électronique aéroporté) in 2022, three years earlier than the original schedule.

Originally, the AAE intended to add three C-160R Transall transport aircraft to the unit to be used as training aircraft and therefore save hours on the two Gabriels. However, the AAE had earlier decided to accelerate the withdrawal of its fleet of Transall C-160 tactical transport aircraft.

The squadron exploited the C-160Gs until the last moment for collecting intelligence of electromagnetic origin (ROEM, renseignement d’origine électro-magnétique) in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. The withdrawal of the Gabriels occurred without waiting for the arrival of their successors, namely three Falcon 8X Archange (Avions de Renseignement à Charge utile de Nouvelle Genération).

With the war in Ukraine, some felt that the withdrawal of these two aircraft was not appropriate. Major General of the AAE, General Frédéric Parisot, explained this during a parliamentary hearing: “I am responsible for the shutdown of the Transall Gabriel and I take responsibility for it: ten Transalls cost us more than 80 million euros per year, for an availability of 20%. Rather than making cuts elsewhere, I chose to remove them from service.” He ensured that measures had been taken to maintain skills in the field of electronic warfare.

France Patch EEA01.054However, even though it was not completely deprived in terms of ROEM, with the Spatial Electromagnetic Listening and Intelligence Capability (CERES, Capacité d’écoute et de renseignement électromagnétique spatiale) satellites, the dedicated capabilities of the Light Surveillance and Intelligence Aircraft (ALSR) Vador (vecteur aéroporté de désignation, d'observation et de reconnaissance), the Electronic Support Measures (MSE) suite of its four E-3F AWACS, the ASTAC (Tactical Signals Analyser) nacelles of its Mirage 2000D, or even its MQ-9A Reaper drones, the AAE set out in search of an 'interim' solution to compensate for the withdrawal of the two C-160G Gabriels.

Hence the SOLAR contract, supposed to provide an airborne ROEM capacity pending the commissioning of the three Falcon Archange, planned between 2028 and 2030. Not much has been published so far, only that the AAE was to rent a Saab 340 aircraft equipped with 'new generation sensors'. The contract was awarded to CAE Aviation, a partner of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and in particular the Direction générale de l'armement (DGA, Defence Procurement Agency).

Starting from 29 April 2024, a Saab 340, in white and red livery and with civil registration N441FF (c/n 340B-441), can be seen at Base Aérienne 105 d'Évreux Commandant Viot (BA105), also known as Évreux-Fauville Air Base where EEA01.054 is based. The Saab 340 is equipped with two General Electric CT7 turboprop engines allowing it to fly at a cruising speed of 270 knots (500 km/h). Its range is 1,730 km. As for the sensors that it is supposed to implement, they are probably part – at least for some – of the AGOMS (Air Ground Operational Management System) suite developed by CAE Aviation.

Credit photos: Jean-Luc Guérin (Clermont Auvergne Spotters) / credit patch: OPEX360.com

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