In a historic milestone for the French Air Force, an A400M Atlas transport aircraft recently participated in the “Eunomia” exercise held in Greece from September 11 to 15. This marked the first-ever deployment of the A400M Atlas in the long-range tanker role, showcasing the versatility and capabilities of this remarkable aircraft. The French contingent in the exercise comprised an A400M Atlas from the 61st Transport Wing based in Orléans and three Rafale fighter jets from the 4th Fighter Wing located in Saint-Dizier. The “Eunomia” exercise, which also included the Greek, Italian, and Cypriot air forces and navies, took place in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its primary objectives were to enhance joint and combined fleet interoperability and improve coordination in international waters. The French airmen operated from the Tanagra air base, situated approximately forty kilometers from the Greek capital, Athens. Notably, Tanagra air base houses squadrons equipped with French-made aircraft, including Rafales and Mirage 2000-5.
Captain Antoine, a pilot with the 4/61 “Béarn” Transport Squadron, expressed the significance of this deployment, stating, “This is the first time that the A400M has participated in this exercise.” During the mission, the A400M Atlas autonomously escorted the three Rafales over an impressive distance of nearly 2,600 kilometers, originating from Saint-Dizier air base 113. Captain Antoine commended the A400M as a “real Swiss army knife,” emphasizing its capacity to refuel the Rafales in-flight and transport their technical packages and personnel. This capability ensured that the detachment remained autonomous on-site. The ferry flight, lasting three and a half hours, also served as a successful test of the MORANE operational concept, highlighting the Air and Space Force’s agility in deploying quickly over long distances.
In-flight refuelings during the exercise were performed by a dedicated crew from the Tactical Transport Aircraft Program Team (EMATT), a unit of the Military Air Expertise Center (CEAM). Their presence allowed for the evaluation of procedures specific to escorting fighter aircraft. Simultaneously, the exercise provided an opportunity to qualify the crews of the A400M Atlas for tanker mission duties, including air-to-air refueling. The A400M Atlas, which entered service in 2013, is known for its versatility in executing a wide range of tactical and strategic missions. These missions encompass the transport and airdrop of troops and cargo, assault landings in challenging terrain, humanitarian and medical evacuation, and in-flight refueling. The A400M Atlas’s distinctive refueling pods, positioned on its wingtips, enabled it to refuel two fighters simultaneously through flexible hoses, significantly extending mission durations.