A French air force A400M transport aircraft has carried out its first operational mission to Niger, carrying helicopters, freight and personnel directly from France onto a semi-prepared dirt landing strip.
On 1 September, an A400M Atlas from the 61st Transport Wing based in Orleans landed at the Madama advanced operating base in Niger. This was the first time since evaluations in 2016 that the aircraft performed this type of tactical landing under operational conditions in the Sahel-Saharan strip, the French Air Force said.
This flight confirmed the A400M’s transport capabilities on unprepared ground, in support of the trilateral operation carried out jointly in north-east Niger by the Nigerian and Chadian armed forces and the Barkhane Force, according to the French Air Force.
For this operation, called MAI BOULALA, nearly 200 soldiers of the Barkhane Force from Gao in Mali and N’Djamena in Chad were transported, together with several tonnes of freight. “Thanks to the large size of its fuselage, this aircraft can transport of outsize cargo over long distances without requiring the long and difficult dismantling and preparation before loading for the flight,” an A400M captain said. The A400M can transport VAB armoured vehicles and helicopters.
A Puma battlefield transport helicopter and a Gazelle light helicopter were transported across the Sahel in a very short time thanks to the capabilities offered by the latest Air Force transport aircraft, the French Air Force said.
Having arrived in the Sahel region on 30 August, flying in from Air Base 123 in Orléans, the A400M also delivered directly to Gao a field scanner for the medical centre.
“The capabilities of the A400M give the Barkhane Force a transport asset capable of projecting a large volume of soldiers and equipment over a territory as large as Europe, several thousand kilometres from its base, and in a very short time,” the French Air Force said.
The French-led Operation Barkhane was launched on 1 August 2014. It is based on a strategic partnership with the main Sahel-Saharan countries: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
It comprises some 4 000 military personnel whose mission is to support the armed forces of the partner countries in their efforts to combat terrorism and armed groups in the region and to support the armed forces of partner countries.