Trying to figure out French Air Force units’ name meaning can result in a serious headache so here’s a quick guide that will hopefully alleviate the pain.
Let’s start with an example: “EC 03.004 Limousin“.
- EC: is the “role” acronym. More on that later.
- 03.004: here are the “Escadron” (squadron) designation followed by its original “Escadre” (Wing) one, so this squadron is the third of the fourth Escadre. Note that the format “3/4” can be used interchangeably even within the same official document.
- Limousin: is traditional name of the unit, often with a long history as most units can trace their roots back as far as WW1.
Now let’s deal with these role acronyms we may find in an Order Of Battle:
- EC:“Escadron de Chasse” meaning, as you may guess, “Fighter Squadron”.
- ECE: “Escadron de Chasse et d’Expérimentation”, “Experimentation Fighter Squadron”.
- ED: “Escadron de Drones”, UAV Squadron.
- EDCA: “Escadron de Détection et de Contrôle Aéroporté”, “Airborne Detection and Control Squadron”, flying E-3F AWACS.
- EE: “Escadron d’Entrainement”, “Training Squadron”.
- EEA:“Escadron Électronique Aéroporté”, “Airborne Electronic (Warfare) Squadron”, flying C-160G Gabriel.
- EH: “Escadron d’Hélicoptères”.
- ER:“Escadron de Reconnaissance”.
- ET: “Escadron de Transport”.
- ETD: “Escadron de Transformation Mirage 2000D”, “Conversion Squadron”, similar to “Operational Conversion Unit” you may be familiar to.
- ETM: “Escadron de Transport Mixte”, “Mixed transport Squadron”, ie. flying both aircraft and helicopters.
- ETO: “Escadron de Transition Opérationnelle”, more than an OCU, it’s an Advanced Jet Training unit where both Belgian and French pilot are training on the Alpha Jet.
- ETOM: “Escadron de transport Outre-Mer”, “Overseas Transport Squadron”.
- ETR: “Escadron de Transformation Rafale” meaning “Rafale Conversion Squadron”, a joint Armée de l’Air/Marine conversion unit.
- GAM: “Groupe Aérien Mixte”, “Mixed transport Group”, that one is the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure’s airline (equivalent to the CIA).
- GRV: “Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol” meaning “Air refueling group”.
Note that “Groupe” is a holdover from pre-1949 naming, at which point most Groupe were renamed Escadron to match with NATO’s “Squadron”, there’s no differences otherwise.
Trivia: randomly wandering online or actually researching data to improve your scenario you may come across French “Escadrille” (Flight) names, eg. “SPA 96” or “SAL 6” or even “BR 44” and get, understandably, quite confused. Well, it comes from WW1 era during which the Escadrille’s name also informed spies and generals the same about the aircraft type it was flying, and that designation was kept as an element of tradition. So we have SPA for Spads, SAL for Salmson, BR for Breguet, C for Caudron, N for Nieuport and so forth.
Please note that the “Escadron” is the basic operational unit, thus an Escadrille is not an autonomous operational unit (in the AdA).
Also, a quick word on airbases. When you see “BA188”, don’t confuse with a British Airways flight, the French-speaking resource you are staring at in awe is probably more about the “Base Aérienne 188”, or Airbase #188, which is at Djibouti.
More could be said on the Marine Nationale (Navy), and will at some point, but just knowing that “BAN” is for “Base de l’Aéronautique Navale” (very much like Naval Air Station), “12F” is for “Flotille 12” (12th Flotilla of course) and “22S” is for “Escadrille 22” should be enough.
Now with these new tools take a look at the French Order of Battle!
Voilà! Hopefully French OOB ain’t so cryptic now.