Operations Crecerelle and Balbuzard

Both France’s Armee de l’Air and Aeronavale are making a large contribution to Operation Deny Flight. A report by Dave Allport and Bernard Thouanel.

FRANCE IS RARELY regarded as one of the high-profile nations involved in the Bosnian conflict, yet its aircraft carried out some of the first Operation Deny Flight patrols. Enforcement of the United Nations ban on military flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina began at noon GMT on April 12, 1993 — the French Armee de /’ Air (AdlA) immediately deployed ten Mirage 2000C RDI fighters from EC.5 at Orange to Cervia, Italy and five photo-reconnaissance Mirage FICR-200s from ER.33 at Strasbourg to Istrana, Italy, under Operation Crkerelle, as the French contribution to Deny Flight was dubbed.

Providing support for these aircraft were a C- 135FR tanker from ER.1/93 Aunis operating out of its normal base at Istres, France, and an EDA.36 E-3F AEW aircraft operating either from its base at Avord, France or from Trapani, Italy. In addition, AdlA Transall C-160s have constantly flown relief flights to air-drop supplies in eastern Bosnia. Meanwhile, French Aeronavale Breguet Atlanfics have been operating in support of the naval blockade of Serbia — Operation Sharp Guard — flying patrols over the Adriatic either from their home base at Nimes/Garon or from Sigonella, Italy. A contingent of AlAJ (French Army) Pumas have also been used for general transport duties and casualty evacuation missions.

To support its other forces in the region, the French positioned one of its aircraft carriers in the Adriatic from the beginning of Deny Flight operations. The Clemenceau being the first on station, was later replaced by the Foch in mid-1993 and more recently replaced again by the Clemenceau. These Aeronavale assets were later mode generally available for UN operations — six Super Etendards or six Etendard IVPs on the Clemenceau or Foch were allocated for this purpose under Operation Balbuzard. Flowever, the Clemenceau’s current complement on its Adriatic patrol comprises: 16 Super Etendards with 17F (Nos 4,5,10,12,14, 28,30,31,33, 32, 38, 41, 49, 52, 57 and 61); three Etendard IVPs with 16F (Nos 115,118 and 163); six Alize with 4 F (Nos 12, 22, 31, 40, 50 and 56); one Dauphin (No 318); two Super Frelons of 32F (Nos 122 and 162) and two AIAT Pumas (Juliet 63 and India 61).

Unfortunately, France gained some unwanted publicity on the first day of its Deny Flight operations when Mirage 2000C 75/’5-NI’ from EC. 1/5 Vendee was lost in the Adriatic Sea following an air-to-air refuelling accident. Bad weather during an attempted hook-up caused the nose of the Mirage to collide with the refuelling nozzle of the tanker, forcing it to break away and abandon refuelling.

As a result of the impact, several small metal fragments were ingested into the intake and the engine consequently lost power. Unable to maintain control, the pilot was forced to eject and the aircraft crashed into the sea 15 miles (24km) off the coast of Croatia. After about 30 minutes in the sea the pilot was rescued safely by an Aeronavale Westland Lynx HAS.2(FN) helicopter from the destroyer Cassard.

Following this unfortunate start, operations settled down to normal routine patrols, which were undertaken by the French in conjunction with the other NATO nations. Sorties involved a pair of fighters making the hour-long transit to one of two patrol areas, either in the north around Banja Luka and Tuzla, or further south around Mostar and Sarajevo. After about an hour on station, aircraft would rendezvous with a tanker to top-up their fuel, then go back for a further hour on station. After handing over to another pair of fighters, they would then return to base, refuelling on the way.

This routine has been followed since the beginning of Deny Flight, with the French taking their turn to provide 24-hour-a-day patrols over Bosnia. Aircraft normally fly a racetrack pattern while on station until an AWACS vectors them towards any aircraft infringing the No-Fly Zone.

Standard fit for the Mirage 2000C during Bosnian patrols is a 317 gal (1,200 lit) centreline fuel tank, two Matra Super R530D anti-radar missiles on inboard wing stations, two Matra Magic 2 infra-red air-to-air missiles on outboard stations and two internal 30mm DEFA 554 cannon. When longer time on station is required, the centreline tank is removed and the two inboard R530Ds are replaced by a pair of 400 gal (1,700 lit) fuel tanks.

The Mirage FICRs normal fit of underwing stores comprise two 317 gal (1,200 lit) fuel tanks on the inboard pylons, a Berem ECM pod on the port outer pylon, and a DB3163 Remora ECM pod on the starboard outer while the wingtip rails each carry a Magic 2 IR air-to-air missile. The aircraft also has two 30mm DEFA 553 cannon, with 135 rounds per gun, mounted in the lower centre fuselage. The fuselage centreline station is often used to carry the Thomson-CSF Raphael SLAR sensor pod.

With increasing concern about the safety of UN peacekeeping forces on the ground in Bosnia, Operation Disciplined Guard was instigated on July 14, 1993, with the intention of protecting the six UN safe havens at Bihac, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Tuzla and Zepa. With the need for aircraft to be available for ground suppression operations, over 60 additional aircraft were deployed to the region and again a French contingent was involved. This comprised eight Jaguar A/Es from EC.11 at Toul which were flown to Rivolto, Italy, on July 15 with support provided by three AdIA transport aircraft (C- 130H-30s and Transall C-160) together with over 100 maintenance personnel. With further air assets in place from Holland, the UK, and USA, this increased multi-national strike force was declared operational by NATO on July 22.

Over the next few weeks intensive reconnaissance missions photographed Serbian positions around Sarajevo in case strike missions became necessary. In addition to USN TARPS- equipped F-14As and Royal Navy Sea Harriers, the French extensively used both its Jaguars and Mirage FICRs to undertake these missions. The Jaguars were carrying Omera 31 and 40 cameras mounted vertically and at 45° in a modified RP 36 drop tank on the fuselage centreline station. Other stores carried by the Jaguars are varied according to mission requirements, although at least one Matra Magic 2 IR air-to-air missile is carried at all times on the starboard outer underwing station for self-protection; the port outer usually carrying an ECM pod while the two inner stations carry either drop tanks for longer endurance or Thomson Brandt Armaments LFR3/100-4 four-tube 100mm rocket launchers. Two 30mm DEFA 553 cannon are also available, internally-mounted in the lower fuselage below the cockpit.

Electronic reconnaissance flights included, in addition to US and UK types, AdlA Transall C- 160NG Gabriel tactical Elint and jamming aircraft from EET.11/54 at Orleans/Bricy operating out of Vicenza, Italy, and an Elint DC- 8-53 SARIGUE (Systeme Aeroporte de Recueil des Informations de Guerre Electronique) from EE.51 Aubrac at Evreux. By early August 1993, the 100-strong UN forward air control (FAC) contingent was fully trained and deployed to UN bases in Bosnia with six of the FAC teams provided by France; the others being from the Netherlands and UK.

On April 15, 1994, two Etendard IVPs from 16F were launched from the carrier Clemenceau to undertake a routine patrol over Bosnia. In contact with an AWACS — callsign Magic — they proceeded through entry door No 4 along corridor 11 on a heading towards Sarajevo, Goranica and Gorazde at a height of 5,000ft (1,500m). One of the pilots, Captain de Corvette Pierre Clary, 2nd Commander of 16F, suddenly felt a violent shock from the tail of his aircraft, serial no 115. His wingman saw smoke coming from the rear of the aircraft and confirmed considerable impact damage, probably due to a SAM hitting the jetpipe, tailplane, and fin.

The two aircraft immediately climbed to 13,000ft (3,950m) and set a course for return to the Clemenceau. Once at this height, Clary assessed the damage as best he could and established that the aircraft was still capable of being flown in level flight. The carrier was put on full alert and its escort, the Jean Bart, was re-routed to follow the return of the aircraft. An Alize was also launched from the Jean Bart to assist in recovery of the damaged aircraft.

The captain of the Clemenceau, Captain de Vaisseau Oudot de Dainville, was anxious to recover the damaged aircraft quickly and safely as he had other aircraft returning from different missions and did not want to delay them. Clary made a long approach, still accompanied by his wingman, during which it became apparent that the flaps had also been damaged by the hit and a flapless landing would have to be made. This would mean an approach speed of 160kts (296km/h) rather than the normal 130kts (241 km/h) and therefore the captain increased the speed of the carrier to 26kts (48km/h) into wind, bringing the relative wind speed over the deck to 48kts (89km/h). Fortunately, Clary was able to maintain control of the aircraft right down onto the deck and took the hook safely. However, once out of his aircraft he was shocked by the extent of the damage.

With the requirement for a ground attack capability, the French contingent in Italy was increased still further with types more suited to this role. The initial aircraft deployed still remained — one C-135FR at Istres, one E-3F at Avord, eight Jaguar As and five Mirage FI CRs at Istrana, ten Mirage 2000C (RDI)s at Cervia, and when required one Transall C-160 Gabriel operating out of Vicenza. These have now been supplemented by a single Mirage 2000B RDI (No 525/T2-KN’) from EC.2/12 Picardie at Cambrai, three Mirage 2000N K2s from EC.2/3 Champagne at Nancy, and three Mirage 2000Ds from EC.1/3 Navarre also at Nancy. All of these have deployed to Cervia, while five Mirage FICTs from EC.13 at Colmar have moved into Istrana and a Nord 262 support aircraft is also operating from Vicenza.

The two-seater Mirage 2000B is the only example currently deployed of the definitive S5 series with the latest RDI J3-13 radar and SNECMA M53-P2 turbofan and is being used constantly for day and night surveillance missions. The other new arrivals at Cervia have also been brought in to give more flexibility — the Mirage 2000D being a two-seater conventional attack version of the nuclear-capable 2000N and carrying Aerospatiale AS 30L short-range, laser-guided air-to-surface missiles.

The nuclear-capable Mirage 2000N K2s are being operated over Bosnia armed with iron bombs on the five underfuselage stations, drop tanks on the inner wing stations, and two Matra Magic 2 IR air-to-air missiles on the outboard stations. The French Air Force now has 159 personnel stationed at Cervia.

At Istrana, the Mirage FICTs are also available for the air-to-ground role and normally operate with huge 581 gal (2,200 lit) drop tanks on the centreline station, while wingtip rails carry Magic 2s — as on the FI CR detailed earlier. Inner wing stations are fitted with either conventional iron bombs or Corail rocket pods, while Barrax jamming pods and Phimat chaff/flare dispensers are also normally carried on the port and starboard outer wing stations respectively.

By the end of March, Deny Flight operations had totalled some 28,000 flights, the equivalent of 1.5 flights per day, per aircraft!

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