There have been some changes since my last visit to Camp de Souge to cover a SOFINS expo and French Special Forces capability display, writes Bob Morrison.
My last trip to the home of French Army Special Forces near Bordeaux was back in 2019, several months before what we now generally refer to as COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the Far East, and although the 2021 edition of SOFINS did go ahead I was unable to get there because just beforehand a spike in infections caused a temporary cancellation of travel between the UK and France.
On the aviation side some key changes since my 2019 visit included: creation of the Air Special Forces Brigade (Brigade des Forces Spéciales Air or BFSA) on 01 September 2020; formation of the French Air and Space Force (Armée de l’air et de l’espace or AAE) ten days later; and retirement of the C-160 Transall transport aircraft fleet, which has been replaced by the Airbus A400M. One key component of BFSA is 3/61 ‘Poitou’ Transport Squadron (Escadron de Transport 3/61 ‘Poitou’) which, in addition to a number of C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, also operates a pair of DHC-6-300 Twin Otter light transport aircraft which can be configured for both free-fall parachute insertions and emergency casualty evacuation or casevac.
On Day 1 and Day 2 of SOFINS 2023 one of these Twin Otters was used for a series of free-fall parachute insertions by all three (Army and Marine Commandos as well as Air & Space Force) Special Forces teams and on Day 3 it operated in the emergency casevac role during the capability display. Operators jumped both solo and in tandem in sticks of six to eight, including with some Special Forces attendees from foreign armies, and attack dog handlers inserted with their canine partners. I plan to briefly look at the jumpers in Part 2.
Unlike in 2019 there was no HALO parachuting during the main display on Day 3, possibly because of high winds and peacetime safety restrictions, and although an A400M made a low flypast to simulate air-to-air refuelling of a Special Forces helicopter neither operators nor vehicles were air-landed this year. However, as we will see in future articles, there was plenty of SF helicopter activity during the half hour or so of dynamic displays on the third day of the expo.
¤ My heartfelt thanks to those in charge for allowing me to photograph the Twin Otter, and the drop zone, from close quarters and to all Special Forces operators who appear (masked or digitally disguised, of course) in the accompanying photos, which were taken at various times over two days.
To be continued…
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