With an Inter-Governmental agreement signed by the German and French Ministers of Defence, the two countries have created a joint tactical air transport squadron, equipped with the C-130J Super Hercules.
On the 30th of August the French and German Defence Ministers, Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer and Florence Parly, have met in Paris and signed the second Inter-governmental agreement in the field of tactical air transport. This has resulted in the creation of the Franco-German tactical air transport by the 1st of September.
This new unit is supposed to be a thoroughly mixed unit, with the individual aircrews composed of members from both nations. It will be based in Évreux in northern France, operating from base aérienne 105, also known as Évreux-Fauville Air Base. Currently, this base is also home to three other transport and one electronic warfare squadrons.
The bi-national tactical airlift fleet is the result of work begun in 2016 and represents an important new area of cooperation between France and Germany. The aim is to strengthen the interoperability of both armed forces. In operating the C130J fleet, French and German soldiers will work in mixed teams. While the possibility of purely national missions will be maintained, an air force squadron with mixed crews on French and German aircraft will now carry out missions for the first time. Thus, the cooperation between the two nations takes on a new dimension.
The squadron is to consist of a total of ten aircraft, five C-130J for transport and five KC-130J for aerial refuelling. For the time being, it comprises only the French airplanes, two C-130J and two KC-130J with the first German aircraft expected in February 2022. The squadron’s initial capability is to be reached by 2024.
To house the new squadron, its personnel and the aircraft, the airbase is currently getting expanded with three hangars for repairs as well as space for the airplanes. First construction on this expansion had been started in September of 2020. It will also feature a bi-national training centre provided by Lockheed Martin, the Hercules manufacturer. Aircrew and maintainers will begin training in the centre in 2024.
With the Super Hercules’ ability to land on short, unpaved-runways, the squadron is supposed to fill the capability gap that will open upon the retiring of the C-160 Transall from both French and German service. The Transall has been in French and German service since 1967 but was also operated by the Turkish and South African Air Force. Both Germany and France, along with Turkey, have sought to replaced it with the A400M. However, the A400M needs considerably more distance for take-off and landing, thus creating the aforementioned capability gap, which is being filled by the Super Hercules.
Specifically, both countries operate the C-130J-30 and the KC-130J. The C-130J-30 is the stretch version of the C-130J, featuring a roughly 5m longer fuselage. The C-130Js are a modernised version of the regular C-130, which has been in service of numerous Air Forces since 1953. Most notably the C-130J features new engines and flight deck. The C-130J has been in service since 1999 and is used by 22 countries, including the USA, United Kingdom, Israel, Indonesia and South Korea. In 2015, the French Air Force ordered 4 Super Hercules to supplement existing capabilities due to the ongoing problems and delays of the ordered Airbus A400M. In January 2017, German defence minister announced the intention to purchase up to 6 C-130J Hercules to acquire tactical airlift capabilities due to the delayed deliveries of the Airbus A400M.
The air transport squadron is the second notable mixed Frano-German Formation, the first one being the Franco-German Brigade. It consists of six battalions / regiments, three of which are German, two French and a mixed supply battalion and command and control company. These individual battalions / regiments are however stationed in the respective countries, and while elements of the brigade have been deployed together in for example Mali, they do not operate as a unit in these scenarios. This is in part due to the more complicated procedures in Germany of deploying units into combat missions. How exactly this will be handled for the truly mixed Franco-German air squadron remains in question.