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The Dassault Rafale M Units; Landivisiau, June 8, 2017

The NATO Tiger Meet 2017, part 3; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The only user in the world of the French Dassault Rafale M is the l'Aéronautique Navale Française (French Navy Aviation Service). In total, three operational Rafale M squadrons are active within the French Navy. The three Rafale M units operate all three from the French nuclear driven aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

The Rafale M units in France are the 11, 12 and 17 Flottille and all three are based on BAN Landivisiau in western Brittany. In addition to these operational units, there is one other Rafale conversion squadron which is assigned to the AdlA (French Air Force). This unit is a shared training unit which converts both air force and navy airmen to the Dassault Rafale. This unit is the Escadron de Transformation Rafale 3/4 "Aquitaine" (ETR03.004). This unit is stationed on the Northern French airbase Saint-Dizier. The unit has the traditions and markings of the Escadron de Bombardement 2/92. This unit was originally founded on the French airport Cognac on December 1, 1958. The unit flew at that time with the B-26 Invader and was soon equipped with the Vautour IIB. From 1961, the squadron moved to Bordeaux, where it was renamed as the Centre d'Instruction des Forces Aériennes Stratégiques (CIFAS) 328 Aquitaine. CIFAS 328 would be equipped with the Dassault Mirage IVP from that period and was eventually disbanded in 1991. The squadron was re-assigned under the name Escadron de Transformation Rafale 2/92 "Aquitaine" (ETR02.092) on October 6, 2010 at Saint Dizier. On August 26, 2015, it became known that the squadron would be part of the 4th Wing (EC00.004) which would be based at Saint-Dizier in the new structure. The name ETR02.092 was therefore modified to the current designation ETR03.004 on September 1, 2016. In addition to the air force versions of the Rafale, the unit has four generic Rafale M’s in use for the training of future naval pilots. After the conversion, trained pilots will go to the operational units at Landivisiau.

The 11 Flottille was officially established as the 1 Flottille on June 20, 1953. The squadron received its first Aquilon jet aircraft in April 1955 and participated in the war in Algeria in 1958 and 1959. The unit was disbanded on January 17, 1955. It would take until April 1, 1964, before the unit was re-established under its current name 11 Flottille. The unit was based on Hyères in the south of France and was equipped with

the modern Etendard IVM. In May 1967, the squadron would move from BAN (Base d'Aéronautique Navale) Hyères Le Palyvestre to BAN Landivisiau. From 1978 the Etendard IVM was replaced by the Dassault Super Etendard. The 11F was deployed from that moment in the offensive role for attacking targets on both land and sea. The aircraft could be equipped with the AM-39 Exocet antique missile and with the AN-52 nuclear bomb. From the end of 1995, the Super Etendard was modernized and was able to use laser-guided bombs as well. Since the end of 2010, the 11 Flottille would fly with the Dassault Rafale M. The unit is stationed at sea on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The 11 Flottille is the only unit of the French Navy which is a member of the NATO Tiger Association. Although the unit does not have a tiger as a symbol, the 11F was seen as a tiger unit as part of the Clemenceau. The symbol of the Clemenceau aircraft carrier consisted of the image of a tiger. The unit took over these traditions after the Clemenceau was retired. In 2008, the 11F was the host of the NATO Tiger Meet at Landivisiau. In 2017, the unit again organized the Tiger Meet on the same airbase.

The 12 Flottille was founded shortly after the Second World War in August 1948. The main task of the unit was to operate in the role of air defense and interception. The squadron was founded at BAN Hyères Le Palyvestre in southern France. The 12F was equipped with the Supermarine Seafire and later with the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The unit was deployed during the war in Indochina between September 1952 and June 1953. After converting to the Vought F4U-7 Corsair, the unit moved to Indochina in 1955, where it took part in operations in French Algeria. On August 1, 1963, the 12 Flottille was moved to the French airbase BAN Lann Bihoué in Brittany. The unit would fly there with the Vought F-8(FN) Crusader. The unit would eventually be moved to BAN Landivisiau in August 1968. The 12 Flottille was like the 11 Flottille a unit which based on the Clemenceau. The Crusaders were deployed in the air defense role to defend the Navy fleet or escort the Navy Etendards. Characteristic of the Crusader were the wings which were raised from the hull while flying at low speed towards the aircraft carrier. The Crusader was officially retired from the French Navy on May 18, 2001, and the pilots of this unit would start the conversion to the new Dassault Rafale M. The 12F of the French Navy was operational at the Rafale on June 25, 2004.

The 17 Flottille was, like many other naval units, founded on BAN Hyères Le Palyvestre. The unit was initially set up for operational training on April 1, 1958. The 17 Flottille would fly at that moment with the Vought F4U-7 Corsair. The 17 Flottille moved almost immediately to the NAO Karouba and was declared operational in November 1959. In the period from 1959 until 1962, the 17F moved several times during the Algerian War. After this war, the unit was temporarily disbanded. From June 6, 1964, the unit returned to active service at the French navy when it started to fly the Dassault Etendard IVM. The 17 Flottille was initially deployed from the Clemenceau, but would later fly from the Foch. The 17 Flottille also participated in the French nuclear tests in the Pacific. The Super Etendard would be used by the 17 Flottille since September 1980. Only in August 1993, the unit would move from BAN Hyères Le Palyvestre to its current location BAN Landivisiau. One year later, the Super Etendard of the unit was drastically modernized. In September 2011, the 17 Flottille was the last unit in France still operating with the Super Etendard. Only in July 2016, the Super Etendard would be retired from service. The type would have left its active employment with a small farewell ceremony at Landivisiau. The unit received from that moment as the last unit in the French Navy the Dassault Rafale M. The entire fleet of combat aircraft at the French navy nowadays exists only from the Rafale M.

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