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Forces Spéciales Françaises ~ Album 1

A member of a French Special Forces recce team glides onto the drop zone at SOFINS 2019 [©BM]

During the recent SOFINS 2019 expo the French Special Forces (Forces Spéciales Françaises) mounted a daily dynamic display of their capabilities, writes Bob Morrison.

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Teams from the three primary components of Army Special Forces Command (Commandement des Forces Spéciales Terre or COM FST) along with a team from Navy Special Forces (Force des Fusiliers Marins et Commandos or FORFUSCO) all took part supported by a C-160 Transall and two Dassault Rafale multi-role jets from the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air).

The High Value Target is passed between insurgent groups, unaware that French Special Forces are waiting to strike [©BM]

The scenario for the demo, which gave each Special Forces team an opportunity to showcase their skills and equipment, was based around the rescue and recovery of a High Value Hostage who was being passed between insurgent groups. Before any Special Forces rescue could be effected, ‘eyes and ears’ needed to be put on the ground to confirm intelligence gained through electronic surveillance and passed on by sources in the region and this is where Special Reconnaissance assets came into play.

High overhead an SF operator leaps out of a light aircraft [©BM]

In this first of several albums we focus on an initial recce team from 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment (13e Régiment de Dragons Parachutistes or 13e RDP) who were inserted by HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) freefall parachutes. In addition to the usual team of six, a seventh operator was also dropped on a tandem rig. Normally the team would be conveyed at commercial aviation height (i.e. over 30,000 feet) by a C-160 or C-130 military transport aircraft mimicking an airliner and to avoid detection they would jump tens of kilometres away from their intended drop zone to glide in covertly under their canopies (i.e. HAHO or High Altitude High Opening) thereby avoiding detection, but for this demo they jumped from a light aircraft high above the airfield at Camp de Souge.

Before the aircraft is out of frame five jumpers are heading for the DZ [©BM]

If this had been an actual mission the team would have inserted during the hours of darkness and landed several kilometres away from their area of operation, towards which they would then have made their way on foot and concealed themselves in hides before daybreak to allow covert observation of their target. Over the next day, or possibly several days, they would then have relayed information back to the command centre for the main rescue force, which we will cover in the next instalments along with providing more detail of the participating units.

Footnote: Gusting high winds over the three days of SOFINS combined with peacetime safety constraints prevented the drop during the display on Days 1 and 3 so all shots in this album of the 13e RDP parachuting are from Day 2 only.

[ images © Bob Morrison ]

Holding his container (bergen and kit) with his feet the lead SF operator glides onto the 13e RDP airfield a Camp de Souge [©BM]
Perfect landing by a 13e RDP freefaller right in front of us [©BM]
The tandem jumpers glide in – on safety grounds they jumped a few seconds apart from the other five operators but landed right behind them [©BM]
Tandem touch-down as a previously landed operator rolls up his canopy [©BM]
After the jump – they are carrying the suppressed 5.56mm HK416D ~ this image has been digitally manipulated as the mask on the left had slipped [©BM]
Three of the team wait to be addressed by a VIP after the demo – tandem passenger is on left [©BM]
Loading canopies and containers into their minibus after the display [©BM]
Low flypast by the Transall which delivered two Panhard VPS 4x4s and their crews in the TALO – we will look at this phase of the dynamic display in the Album 2 [©BM]
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