This story was update with an additional statement by the French Navy (see bottom of this page)
The “Clemenceau 22” mission started on February 1st. As we previously reported, the deployment’s focus is on the Mediterranean region but some of the assets (a frigate and some fighters) were set to deploy in the Black Sea.
The French Navy told Naval News that this has now changed. Air Defense FREMM Frigate Alsace, the latest addition to the French Navy fleet, was expected to transit to the Black Sea to conduct interactions with the Romanian Navy. This plan has now been scrubbed “following the events which took place this week”.
Instead, the entire CSG is being retasked. Charles de Gaulle and its escort today started a logistics stop in Limassol, Cyprus. The CSG will then be assigned with the mission to support NATO partners. While the aircraft carrier can not transit to the Black Sea because of the Montreux Convention, its air wing will likely be tasked with patrolling the skies above and around the Black Sea, as well as supporting partners in the region such as Romania and Bulgaria. French Navy ATL2 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) are also based in Cyprus and could fly long range ISR missions or support directly the CSG.
Such support may be needed as a large Russian Navy presence has been observed earlier this week near Tartus in Syria, where a Russian Naval base is located. This is just roughly 60 nautical miles from Cyprus. The joint command of the French military already announced last week that Rafale M fighters were scrambled to escort Russian aircraft which were detected “as soon as they took off” from their based in Syria:
When it deployed from Toulon at the beginning of the month, the Charles de Gaulle CSG was composed of:
- Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91)
- Horizon type Air Defense Destroyer Forbin (D620)
- Air Defense FREMM Frigate Alsace (D656)
- FREMM frigate Normandie (D651)
- Durance-class replenishment oiler Marne (A630)
- A Rubis-class SSN
- US Navy Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71)
- Spanish Navy Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate Juan de Borbon (F102)
- Hellenic Navy Eli-class frigate Adrias
- A Hellenic Navy submarine
- An NH90 NFH of the Belgian Navy (aboard Forbin)
Had it not been for this retasking, Naval News understands that the French CSG would have spent more time supporting operation Inherent Resolve (International military intervention against ISIL in Iraq and Syria). Something which French Navy Rafale M fighters have been doing in the past couple of weeks…
NATO yesterday announced the activation of the NATO Response Force. France is currently commanding the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and as such will deploy the spearhead element of VJTF: 500 troops to Romania. France said it would also deploy additional troops and aircraft in Estonia and fly air policing missions in Poland.
Meanwhile two French Navy Mistral-class LHDs have recently deployed, but these deployments were planned long ago and are not related to the invasion of Ukraine:
- Dixmude left Toulon on February 18, to join the North Atlantic theater in order to participate in NATO exercise COLD RESPONSE 22.
- On the same day, Mistral and La Fayette-class frigate Courbet started the “Jeanne D’Arc 2022” mission, sailing towards the Eastern Mediterranean.
Update – The French Navy reached out to Naval News following the publication of this article to add the following details:
- The French CSG will not operated under NATO command but will contribute its airwing to NATO. The details are still being worked on but this could include Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions with Rafale fighters, surveillance missions with E-2C Hawkeye aircraft and ISR missions with ATL2 MPA and Rafale fighters with the RECO NG pod. The area of operation of the aircraft will be the Black Sea.
- During its logistics stop in Cyprus (during which maintenance operation and staff rotation will take place), the CSG is getting prepared to conduct new operations in relation with current events, either within the NATO framework or within the national framework.
- As part of its participation in operation Inherent Resolve / Chammal, the CSG airwing contributed 72 sorties to the international coalition: 14 with the E-2C and 58 with the Rafale fighters representing a total of 400 flight hours.
“We will adapt our tactical posture to take into account the aggressiveness of Russia at the strategic level. It is obvious to us that what is currently happening in Ukraine will have an impact in the Eastern Mediterranean”
French Navy spokesman
The French Navy added that it is not looking at escalating tensions, but to prevent the risks of misunderstanding and misconception. To avoid such issues, the French Navy set up a direct line of communication between its Mediterranean Fleet Command (known as CECMED, in Toulon) and the Russian Forces command in Latakia, Syria.