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Fighters from French aircraft carrier will fly over Balkans in light of “deteriorating situation”

Rafale fighter aboard FS Charles de Gaulle
Photo: French Navy

Rafale fighter aircraft embarked aboard French Navy aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle will be flying training missions over the Western Balkans in light of what was described as a deteriorating security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to EUFOR, the EU military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the operation Althea commander has accepted a voluntary national contribution from France to conduct fast-jet training flights over BiH over the coming weeks.

The French aircraft carrier is currently conducting operational training in the Mediterranean Sea and will conduct overflights of the Western Balkans including BiH from Monday.

“At this time when the security equilibrium in Europe is shaken, EU demonstrates its continuing commitment and resolve to support a safe and secure environment in BiH and the Western Balkans,” the EUFOR statement said.

The announcement on the flight operations comes at a time of increased EU engagement in the region, which has followed Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

In late February, EUFOR deployed 500 personnel from its reserves stationed outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the country “as a precautionary measure.”

Back then, it was said the deterioration of the security situation internationally had the potential to spread instability to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which itself has been a source of instability in the region. The Serbian leader of the smaller BiH entity, Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has been growingly engaging in destabilizing activities in the country, often in coordination with Moscow and Belgrade. He was imposed with new sanctions by the US Treasury earlier this year due to actions that “threaten the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of BiH and undermine the Dayton Peace Accords, thereby risking wider regional instability.”

FS Charles de Gaulle’s NATO role

France’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle will be performing the operations after completing a logistics stop in Cyprus on March 2. While en route to the Mediterranean Sea, its carrier air wing supported NATO’s enhanced Vigilance Activities in the Black Sea region, with flights over Romania and Bulgaria.

The French Navy said the surveillance and air defense operations are reinforcing the defensive and dissuasive posture of NATO in Eastern Europe.

All of the maneuvers are part of the ship’s Clemenceau 22 deployment, which began with the carrier’s departure from Toulon on February 1. Though it might appear that the focus of the deployment shifted from planned operations in support of the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Syria to the reinforcement of NATO’s air defense capabilities in the east, the flights over the Balkans were part of the deployment plans from the very start.

The carrier is deployed with 20 F3R Rafale fighter jets, E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft, which will soon be replaced by the more modern E-2D variant, and two helicopters.

Other ships accompanying it include air-defense destroyer FS Forbin, anti-submarine warfare FREMM frigate Normandie and the brand new air-defense FREMM variant FS Alsace, which entered service in November last year.

These ships are capable of firing Aster 15 and 30 missiles, MU90 torpedoes or naval cruise missiles (MdCN) to perform in-depth strikes. As part of the 3D control of maritime space, the frigates and destroyers have a detection capability and firepower that usefully complement those of the carrier wing.