When the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left on November 15, the French Navy had insisted on the “unpredictable” profile of the ANTARES mission in which it was then to participate with its carrier battle group [GAN]. In accordance with new directives enacted within the framework of the informational struggle, such as that consisting in erasing the hull number of certain buildings, the composition of the latter had not been specified.
However, with a few deductions, one could advance without taking the risk of being mistaken that the air defense frigate [FDA] Forbin was going to be there. Same thing for the Command and Supply Building [BCR] Marl. That said, the press kit for the ANTARES mission mentioned the presence of a multi-mission frigate, a nuclear attack submarine [SNA]which we had some reason to think was the Suffren, and a very mysterious “Multipurpose Escort Building”.
Finally, the current composition of the GAN will have been given by President Macron, on the occasion of the traditional Christmas with the troops. [tradition qui avait été mise entre parenthèses en 2020 et en 2021, à cause de la pandémie de covid-19 et des relations dégradées avec le Mali, où le chef de l’Élysée avait l’intention de se rendre, l’an passé].
“This ANTARES mission is important for many reasons”, Mr. Macron first underlined, addressing the sailors of Charles de Gaulle. “The missions accomplished, the patrol zones, the flights have strengthened NATO’s defensive and deterrent posture in Eastern Europe, near Ukraine at war,” he added.
“The very composition of the naval air group with Forbin, Alsace [Frégate multi-missions à capacité de défense aérienne renforcée ou FREMM-DA, ndlr]Provence [FREMM, ndlr]the Marne, the Suffren, the maritime patrol detachment stationed in the Sude [avec un Atlantique 2, ndlr] but also the American destroyer Arleigh Burke, and before him, Roosevelt, the Italian frigate Virgilio Fasan and, some time ago, the Greek frigate Adrias”, detailed President Macron.
In support of Ukraine, in strengthening our NATO defensive and dissuasive posture in Eastern Europe, sailors of the carrier battle group, your mission is decisive. pic.twitter.com/wSbAi9n48L
—Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 19, 2022
It should be noted that, in general, the French Navy very rarely gives [voire jamais] the identity of the SNA which accompanies the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. In addition, the composition of the GAN can change according to the mission. Which means that the list given by Mr. Macron may be out of date in a few days…
“The multinational composition of the carrier battle group has made it possible to show that we are resolute, reliable allies, demonstrating a high level of integration and interoperability”, welcomed the tenant of the Élysée, before approaching the operation Chammal, in which the GAN recently participated.
“Your participation in counterterrorism operations over Syria also reminds the world that our resolve and ability to fight this scourge as a coalition remains intact in this context,” Macron said.
Was it during this phase of the ANTARES mission that “heavy” encounters with the Russian forces took place? Probably… since according to the president, this resolution and this capacity have “also made it possible to show the competitors present in the region that France must be reckoned with”.
Then Mr. Macron became even more specific by addressing his congratulations to the crews of the GAN for the “professionalism” they showed “during the various interactions with Russian aircraft and buildings with sometimes unfriendly behavior”.
In a report published by the National Assembly only a few days before the war in Ukraine, the deputies Jean-Jacques Ferrara and Philippe Michel-Kleisbauer explained that the Russian soldiers were careful not to have the “rough” behavior with their French counterparts with which they used to testify to American and British forces.
“While contact is rough with the Americans and the British […], they remain very professional vis-à-vis the French sailors. This respect has very practical consequences. In September 2018, the frigate Auvergne was accused of shooting down a Russian plane. Thanks to this respect, this trust and the direct channels of discussion, the truth could be restored and France exonerated”, had indeed argued Mr. Michel-Kleisbauer.
Since then, the situation has changed. In July, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy [CEMM], Admiral Pierre Vandier let it be known, during a parliamentary hearing, that the Russians “regularly illuminated our buildings with their fire control radars”. Which amounts to putting a ship “in aim”… And this is an act obviously considered hostile.
“You have to bear in mind that, for a combat ship, the difference between low and high intensity is only due to the orders received”, underlined the CEMM.
No doubt we will end up knowing a little more about these unfriendly “interactions” mentioned by President Macron… In any case, he gave the continuation of the program of the ANTARES mission [sans en donner les échéances]. Thus, without great surprise, the GAN will take the direction of the Red Sea to go to the Indian Ocean, then to India. It “will also illustrate our ability to influence our area of strategic interest,” he said. And here again, “our allies will be on our side but […] always with our autonomy of assessment and by controlling any escalation ourselves,” he concluded.
Photo : Marine nationale