A Rafale fighter jet from France on display at Halim Perdana Kusuma Military Base in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 26, 2023.

A Rafale fighter jet from France on display at Halim Perdana Kusuma Military Base in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 26, 2023. Eko Siswono Toyudho/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

France sees smaller future in Africa, larger role in the Pacific, says country’s air force chief

French military is increasing its spend on tankers to be more places at once with a lighter permanent footprint.

France will likely shrink its operational footprint in Africa and increase its presence in the Pacific, Gen. Stéphane Mille, the chief of staff of the French air and space force, said Monday in conversation with reporters.

The country will “reduce the forces in Africa, probably in the future,” Mille said. An August coup in Niger resulted in the end of Niger’s military pact with France, the evacuation of French citizens from the country and the French ambassador being places under house arrest, which the French government has likened to a hostage situation.

But that doesn’t mean France will end its support of counter-terrorism missions in the Sahel. Rather, France will work with different governments to better understand what their specific needs are and possibly fly in forces when necessary for different contingencies and events, “for a certain period of time, for training, for things like that,” Mille said. “It's a good use of air force capability, especially transport aircraft.” 

That’s one reason why the recently passed French defense budget allocates funds for three additional Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft. 

Mille described recent protests against the French government in Niger as “surprising,” “well organized” and “not spontaneous.” Analysts have found metadata showing Russian military figures journeyed to Niger near the time of the coup. 

Said Mille: “There are some links, of course, and so we have to pay attention about all competitors that could be behind the situation in Africa…This is what we have seen in Mali.” But the fact of Russian involvement needs further analysis, he said. 

Large transport aircraft also will play a key role in France’s developing Pacific strategy,  Mille said, pointing to French air bases in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. 

“We are a nation from the Pacific, so it's normal for us to be present in the Pacific,” he said. 

The recently concluded Pegase 23 mission saw the deployment of five A330 MRTT transport planes, four A400M military transport aircraft, and 10 Rafale fighter jets, according to a press package from the French government on the mission. French forces also participated alongside the United States and other regional partners in several exercises such as Talisman Sabre and Northern Edge. 

“We are covering more and more of the area” in the Pacific, Mille said. “We will be more present in the future.”

The new French defense budget also invests in new constellations of low earth orbit satellites for communication, he said.