French Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade (BFSA)

The Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade (BFSA) is a French special forces group within the Special Operations Command (COS).

It was established on the 1st of September 2020, after the restructuring of the Air and Space Army Special Resources. The aim of the BFSA is to improve the operational readiness of the French Special Air Forces and its air units contributing to special operations.

The BFSA consists of around 4000 soldiers and has a variety of units under its command, including the Air Parachute Commandos and the Escadrons de transport and d’hélicoptères. The BFSA is responsible for Air Surface Integration (ASI), which is the combination of operational activities of air, ground, and/or maritime assets with the aim of exploiting complementarity between components for operational success.

The BFSA’s responsibilities include counter-terrorism operations, combat search and rescue, recovery and securing aerodromes, evacuation of nationals, and the capture of high-value targets.

BFSA’s badge

1.0. The Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade: History

The origin of the French Air Special Forces dates back to July 1956 with the creation of the Air Parachute Commandos. Commandos No 10, 20, and 30 were the first three commandos to be created. They were specialising in the combined use of helicopters and commandos. The following year, commandos 40 and 50 were added to the group and the GCPA, Groupement de commandos parachutistes de l’air, was established. 

After four years, in 1961, the dissolution of the GCPA took place, until the creation of: 

  • the Special Operations Command on the 24th of June 1992, after the French intervention during the First Gulf War;
  • the Air Force Protection and Intervention Squadron, the then Air Command Intervention Squadron (EICA), in 1994. 

The creation of the COS aimed to properly and thoroughly structure the Air Special Forces. It then consisted of Air Parachute Commando no 10 (CPA 10), Escadron de transport 3/61 Poitou (Transport Squadron 3/61 Poitou), and Escadron d’hélicoptères 1/67 Pyrénées (Helicopter Squadron 1/67 Pyrénées).

On the 1st of September 2020, in order to ease the relationship and collaboration between the FSA and COS, the Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade (BFSA) was established and they were based at Airbase 106 in Bordeaux-Merignac. 

Member of the CPA 10 during training

The reason behind the creation of the BFSA was to rise the requirements for the candidates aiming to join the special forces, to modernise and renovate it, and to “improve its operational readiness” through a project called AIRFUSCO25

2.0. Structure 

The BFSA is the air component of the Commandement des Opérations Spéciales (Special Operations Command). This command unites all the French special forces, Army, Navy and Air and Space Force.

The units of the French Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade which are part of the COS are: 

  • Air Parachute Commando no 10 (CPA 10), based in Loiret at 123 Orléans-Bricy Air Base.
  • Air Parachute Commando no 30 (CPA 30), based in Loiret at 123 Orléans-Bricy Air Base.
  • Escadron de transport 3/61 Poitou (ET 3/61 – Transport Squadron 3/61 Poitou), based in Loiret at 123 Orléans-Bricy Air Base.
  • Escadron d’hélicoptères 1/67 Pyrénées (EH 1/67 – Helicopter Squadron 1/67 Pyrénées), located in Gironde, at Cazaux Air Base.
CPA 10’s badge
CPA 30’s badge
ET 3/61’s badge
EH 1/67’s badge

The Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade, which consists of around 4000 soldiers, does not only include special forces units but also conventional units such as protection squadrons, Air Parachute Commando no 20 (CPA 20), and preparation and training centres: the Air Force Combat Operational Preparation Centre (CPOCAA), Survival and Rescue Training Centre (CFSS), and the Air Jumo in Flight Centre (CASV).

As stated by the Ministry of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, the reason behind the creation of the BFSA is to “optimize the combat preparedness of the French Special Air Forces and air units contributing to special operations, but also to increase their effectiveness in special or conventional operations”.

3.0. Responsibilities of the Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade

All the units within the BFSA specialise in different fields. From the training centres, which have to prepare the recruits to become an operator of the special forces and acquire the proper skills, to the special forces units that specialises in different kind of special operations.

CPA 10 operators during shooting drills

The CPA 10 focuses on counter-terrorism operations. Among the missions it took part there were also Recovery and Securing Aerodromes (RESEDA), Aerolarged Research and Rescue (RESAL), Evacuation of Nationals (RESEVAC), capture of High-Value Targets (HVT), and Observation and Site Destruction by Air Weaons (ODESAA) missions. 

The CPA 30 specialises in combat search and rescue, the recovery of personnel and hostages in enemy areas and it also takes part in active air security measures. Similar to the CPA 20, it also consists of dog teams, which specialise in search and detection of explosives. During their operations, tactical, strategical, and aerial support is provided by the EH 1/67 and ET 3/61.

Moreover, the BFSA is also responsible for Air Surface Integration (ASI), which is “the collection of processes set in motion by several components during the planning and conduct of operations that combine the operational activities of air, ground and/or maritime assets with aim of fully exploiting the complementarity between components thus allowing accumulation and conjugation of the effects produced by each in order to improve the effectiveness of manoeuvres at the tactical level and the overall efficiency of the joint force.” The ASI also includes the Air Maritima and Land Integration. 

4.0. Training

(Video; CPA 10 Training Exercises; via Loups Mutin on YouTube)

The BFSA requires a high level of physical fitness, as all the special forces units. New members of the BFSA cannot be new recruits of French Aviation due to the fact that they require specific knowledge and skills to join. The first phases of the selection process do not differ for the various units of the BFSA. Most of the candidates have to take part in various courses such as the Special Forces Military Parachutist Preparation Course (PMP-FS) and the Helicopter Operator Training Regiment Special Actions (ORHAS).

EH 1/67 and CPA 10 during a counter-terrorism exercise

The candidates for the CPA 10 have to focus their training on the recognition and destruction of objectives, counter-terrorism and hostage resque, the seizure of airport structures and areas, and guidance of airstrikes. The training of the CPA 30’s candidates specialises in exfiltration and recovery by both land and air, long-range precision shooting, recovery of isolated personnel (RPI) missions, and collection of both HUMINT and SIGINT. Both EH 1/67 and ET 3/61 specialise in strategic and tactical capabilities. Their training also focuses on a night flight with night vision binoculars and infiltration and exfiltration missions.

5.0. Equipment of the Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade

The special forces units share the basic equipment; however, there are some vehicles which distinguish each one from them. 

The Escadron de transport 3/61 Poitou has at its disposal:

  • Lockheed C-130 H30 Hercules
  • Airbus A400M Atlas 
  • De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter
  • Transall C-160R 
Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade: ET 3/61 during a joint exercise with the CPA 10.

The Escadron d’hélicoptères 1/67 Pyrénées has at its disposal six Eurocopter EC725, also known as Caracals.

Eurocopter EC725, Caracal

The CPA 10  has:

  • Skylark 1 LE drone, designed by an Israeli company, Elbit Systems. It has an autonomy of 3 hours and a range of 20-40km. It can also fly at an altitude of 5,000m. It can carry the miniature camera (D-STAMP), and the miniature infrared camera (U-STAMP) systems.
  • Corvus mini drone, designed by CPA 10 itself in 2018, has a range of 10km and an autonomy of 2.5 hours. 

6.0. Missions

In December 2010, the CPA 10 was deployed to Afghanistan where it took part in Operation Blacksmith Hammer. Alongside the Afghan army, they tried to regain control of Alasay Valley, which is a strategic area between Pakistan and the North areas of Kabul.

In 2013, the four units of the BFSA took part in Operation Serval, in Mali. The goal of this operation was to fight against the terrorist armed groups present on the territory, mainly in Northern Mali. CPA 30’s task, for example, was to assist the French ground forces via aerial support. The CPA 10 also took part in the Battle of Timetrine against AQIM, which is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In 2015, while still deployed in Mali, they also took part in Operation Barkhane alongside soldiers from the armies of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.

In 2015, the EH 1/67 and the CPA 30 took part in a joint exercise. The objective of the mission, which took place on board the Charles de Gaulle, was to rescue and exfiltrate pilots ejected into hostile areas. Both units specialise in search and rescue missions.

Between the 14th and the 28th of June 2017, the Escadron d’hélicoptères 1/67 Pyrénées took part in the Air-Centric Personnel Recovery Operative Course (APROC) in Rivolto, Italy. Other than France, six other nations attended the international exercise, such as Belgium, Italy, and the UK. The goal of APROC is to train the personnel on conducting Personnel Recovery (PR) operations alongside other armed forces and to “provide medical first aid assistance to Isolated Personnel (ISOP)”.

On the 2nd of March 2018, the Ouagadougou attack took place in Burkina Faso. The attack, perpetrated by GSIM, Nusrat al-Islam, targeted the French embassy and the Burkinabe Armed Forces General Staff. The CPA 10 was able to rapidly intervene and ensure their protection.

7.0. Conclusion

In conclusion, the Air and Space Force Special Forces Brigade, also known as BFSA, is a highly skilled group of soldiers within the Special Operations Command. Established in 2020, the BFSA’s primary goal is to optimize the combat readiness and effectiveness of the French Special Air Forces and air units contributing to special and conventional operations. With units specializing in counter-terrorism, combat search and rescue, and Air Surface Integration, the BFSA is a force to be reckoned with. Whether you’re a military enthusiast or just interested in learning about special forces operations, the BFSA is definitely a topic worth exploring.

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