During his trip to the Pacific, General Stéphane Mille, Chief of Staff of the Air and Space Force, gave an interview to Air et Cosmos, discussing the results of Pégase 2023 and the modernization of overseas capabilities.
How did you choose the Pégase 2023 program, with what expectations?
We have been making these projections to the Pacific for three years. The idea was to demonstrate our ability to project a substantial force, this year with 10 Rafale, five Phénix and four A400M, which constituted a significant and credible force. Compared to previous editions, this one included much greater dimensions of influence, bilateral cooperation and outreach. We have been more active in preparing these areas. Thus, at each stopover, I had asked that a general officer be present to present the Pegasus projection and what the Air and Space Force is capable of bringing to the area in terms of power, coverage of the area, responsiveness and speed of deployment.
The way we designed Pégase lent itself to this: hardly had the device arrived in the Pacific than it was separated into several subsets to carry out different missions such as combined training in Guam or regional outreach missions thanks to the A400M and MRTT for the benefit of the armed forces in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. On July 23, two Rafales reached New Caledonia as part of the official trip of the President of the Republic, others went to Indonesia (then Djibouti) and the last ones headed for South Korea then the Japan. Such a device made it possible to increase our “contact surface” and therefore to exchange with many partners. We were able to measure the local impact through media productions, posts on social networks, in all the countries in the area we were crossing.
What could Pegasus 2024 look like?
Pégase 2024 will undoubtedly take place with several European countries. The idea is to rally together the Pitch Black exercise which will take place in Australia in the summer of 2024. At this stage, the volume of means will depend on what each country wants to commit, but also on the reception capacities of our hosts. Australians. We have in mind a volume of 6 to 8 devices per country with the associated environment. Discussions are continuing.
There is also talk of a participation in Red Flag, but which one, in Nevada, in Alaska?
Probably in Alaska, the Air and Space Force has already participated in it in the past.
Did you take advantage of your stopover in Anchorage on July 20 to come and scout?
This was one of the topics I discussed on the spot. The Germans had passed the previous week.
You then accompanied the President of the Republic during his trip to New Caledonia. What developments are you going to launch in terms of infrastructure and capabilities? The LPM 2024-2030 announces a strengthening of overseas…
In terms of capacity, we have old Pumas almost 50 years old, to be replaced fairly quickly, and Casa 235s whose successor is expected in the next decade. The ramping up of the A400M fleet, with at least 35 aircraft in service, and the adaptation of infrastructures will allow us to be more often present in overseas territories. This will allow us, in the long term, to envisage the deployment of an aircraft almost permanently. Our reflection on overseas goes beyond the Pacific and also concerns Guyana and Reunion, which have the same mobility needs with increased use of the A400M and the replacement of the Pumas.
That you will settle in the short term with the eight Caracals of the aeronautical support plan…
Not only that, from 2026 we will begin to recover the 8 Caracals in service in the Army. It is therefore with these 16 helicopters (8 from the PSA and 8 from the AdT) that we will have to ensure the succession of our Pumas, in Guyana where it is most urgent, but also in Djibouti, or in Indo- Peaceful.
Do you now need to deploy fighters permanently in the Pacific?
The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces has said it clearly: there is no threat today in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, our overseas bases must be able to accommodate devices and therefore have the necessary infrastructure: parking, fuel, ammunition capacity. Pégase allows us to train in the projection of the hexagon from a distance but also to measure the difficulties raised by the parking of our devices. Having two A400Ms and two Phoenixes in a parking lot consumes space.
Guyana had this culture and the means to accommodate hunting devices, with an Awacs, this is less the case in the Pacific.
Guyana has made good progress in this area. In 1992, when I deployed there for the first time, the Mirage F1s were put in the way of the taxiways because we did not have a dedicated parking lot, a difficulty which has since been resolved with a real parking lot which regularly accommodates aerial devices . It is up to us to find the right solutions in the Pacific to meet civilian and military needs, because the solution is probably mixed.
You also thought about the implementation of the Reaper in the Pacific…
This is part of the developments studied in the context of the LPM and the strengthening of overseas territories. When we issue surveillance needs over vast areas of the Indo-Pacific, we rather think of a response in the aeronautical field. A durable drone like the Reaper will be able to guide the work of navy ships. The LPM took into account the possibility of mobilizing drones, but also light surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft (ALSR).
From what horizon could we see these means on the spot?
Everything will depend on the need expressed. This could happen within two years. Deploying a Reaper is not just about sending a drone: the establishment of a dedicated infrastructure, including satellite, is necessary.
The infrastructures have come up several times since the beginning of this interview: when will you be able to start the work that will help shape the capacity for several decades?
The Chief of Defense Staff should begin examining infrastructure priorities at the start of the school year. It is the normal job of armies to anticipate and plan for such matters.
You are coming out of a particular air security system (DPSA) at Le Bourget which was particularly dense, to attack at the start of the school year the one which will concern the Rugby World Cup, in the form of a rehearsal of the 2024 Olympics. What difficulties do you expect? you for these next DPSA and do you know what you will commit?
Systems like Parade are still under development. We also have an efficient system for merging the various systems, SAP. It allows to have a complete view of the drone situation and to coordinate the most appropriate response with the various actors involved, the air and space force, the gendarmerie, the police… SAP had been put in place place during the Coubertin LAD exercise, dedicated to anti-drone issues at major sporting events to come.
Will you have deliveries of additional equipment, personnel to be trained to keep this operational contract?
It’s mainly Parade, we will have to train the ground-air operators. The fight against drones is a logical continuation for them, it is the “bottom up” extension of the PPS Air (permanent security posture).
How do you view the current contributions of the A400M?
The A400M is a real Swiss army knife. It carries out strategic and tactical transport missions, paratroop training, projections such as Pégase, support for operations to evacuate nationals from Sudan, transport of weapons for Ukraine, certain repatriations from the Middle East… It is become our main vector. The special forces are in the process of increasing their skills and when the time comes they will be able to call on this device.
How is the Air and Space Force currently engaged?
She is well engaged. When we do Pégase, we go there with a lot of ambition and we learn a lot, including because we are able to seize opportunities. During Pégase, two missions were particularly noticed by our American friends. Logistical contributions, which we made for their benefit, when Guam was devastated by a typhoon, and the actual search and rescue mission which one of our A400M crews carried out. Thanks to an agile C2 and the delegations granted, the captain was able to reorient his mission, locate the ship with an engine failure at night, running out of batteries, orbit at low altitude above it for five hours, ready to drop SAR chains if necessary, the time that a CoastGuards boat can evacuate the 11 passengers in distress.
How do you practice dialogue with your foreign counterparts today?
At several levels. First of all bilaterally with regular exchanges between chiefs of staff where we identify avenues for strengthened bilateral cooperation. Then in suitable formats: I am thinking in particular of the work on the SCAF which generates reinforced exchanges with my German and Spanish, and now Belgian, counterparts. We discuss our needs to deal with future threats. Thus, we signed during the Paris Air Show a document presenting our vision of the future collaborative combat.
I am also thinking of the trilateral initiative with the American and British CEMAAs. The objective is to address common strategic issues but above all to strengthen interoperability between the three countries.
I’m also thinking of EURAC, a conference of European chiefs of staff which allows collective discussion on various subjects. In April, we discussed the war in Ukraine and the consequences in terms of operational preparation.
Finally, I am thinking of the NACS, Nato Air Chiefs Symposium, which allows us to discuss current operational commitments and NATO’s thoughts on employment and the organization of the air domain.
Is the new military remuneration policy (NPRM) a lever for loyalty?
That’s part of it, like the 2 families plan, living conditions on airbases. I pay particular attention to it.
The MCO wriggles a bit, on which fleets have you been able to progress?
Yes, it wriggles a little but I remain cautious because progress is appreciated over time. We see an improvement on fighter aircraft in general, on the A400M, but we still have some difficulties on helicopters. These gains are often attributed to verticalized markets, but we must also take into account the adjustments in the organizations of our mechanics. It is the sum of the two that allows this improvement.
You are also a business manager yourself since you are responsible for the aeronautics industrial service (SIAé)…
The SIAé is a major industrial player in monitoring all or part of the fleets in service. It follows in particular the C-130H Hercules, which is also subject to increased availability. I explain this progress by the emergency plan put in place two years ago. The commitment of all the teams made it possible to obtain the first encouraging results. It is a sensitive fleet, by its users (the special operations command and the DGSE, editor’s note) and as such, it attracts all attention.
How long will the C-130H stay in this difficult area?
It’s hard to say, it’s a permanent fight, it takes a lot of will, commitment, from the EMAAE, from the aeronautical maintenance department, from the SIAé.
We speak more rarely of another C-130: the J version, in service within the Franco-German Rhine squadron, with what results?
It is a success. We were able to cross stages that many thought insurmountable. Our German comrades are grateful to us for the efforts that have been made to integrate them into the Evreux base and the surrounding populations where they live with their families. This shows an example that could apply to other fleets, such as those used for training.