French Air Force E-3F AWACS threatened to be shot down by Russian Forces

French Air Force E-3F AWACS threatened to be shot down by Russian Forces

By Dario Leone
Feb 22 2024
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Russian forces threaten to shoot down French Air Force E-3F AWACS

A French Air Force E-3F AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) surveillance aircraft patrolling in international airspace over the Black Sea has been threatened to be shot down by Russian forces, a signal of increasingly aggressive behavior from Moscow as its invasion of Ukraine struggles to make headway, French defense officials said on Feb. 22, 2024.

“A Russian air traffic control system threatened to shoot down French aircraft in the Black Sea when we were in a free international zone where we patrol,” the French defense minister, Sébastien Lecornu, said on RTL radio.

According to Col. Pierre Gaudillière, a French military spokesman, Lecornu was referring to an incident that took place in mid-November that involved one of French Air Force four AWACS surveillance aircraft that was flying over international waters in the Black Sea. Gaudillière described the incident as unprecedented for French pilots in that region.

“Through a radio exchange, it was threatened by the Russians,” Gaudillière said.

“It was a particularly aggressive radio exchange,” he pointed out. “It’s a first.”

The exchange was in English and that Russian air traffic control said its forces would “destroy” the French aircraft, two other officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

Lecornu said during his radio interview that Russia is returning to a “particularly aggressive” posture reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s behavior during the Cold War.

“The behavior of Russia in 2024 bears no relation to what we saw in 2022 and, obviously, before the aggression in Ukraine,” the minister said. “It is explained by the fact that Russia is in difficulty on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

French Air Force E-3F AWACS aircraft

French Air Force pilots regularly patrol on the eastern flank of NATO, part of efforts by the 31-nation military alliance to boost its defenses since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

The E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft features an integrated command and control battle management, or C2BM, surveillance, target detection, and tracking platform. The aircraft provides an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Center. AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations.

France received its 4 E-3F aircraft between 1991-1992, and undertook its own RSIP improvement program from 2002-2006. Currently French Air Force E-3F fleet is upgraded to Block 40/45 capability. Block 40/45 upgrade dramatically increases mission execution capability, reliability and effectiveness; and reduces life-cycle costs.

Defusing tensions if intercepted by Russian planes

Aboard a French Air Force AWACS flight to the Black Sea coast in January, one of the pilots told The Associated Press that they seek to defuse any tensions if they’re intercepted by Russian planes, which he said is rare.

“Our orders are to be, let’s say, passive,” the pilot, Major Romain, said. “For a civilian, let’s say ‘polite.’”

In 2022, a Russian fighter jet released a missile near a British air force RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft that was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, Britain’s government said. The US government released video in March 2023 of a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a US Air Force MQ-9. The drone crashed into the Black Sea.

NATO E-3 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. E-3A Sentry, Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS), LX-N-90443. NATO E-3A Component, Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force / French Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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