France's naval aviation (Aéronavale) officially retired the Super Etendard Modernisé (SEM) maritime strike aircraft from service on 12 July.
The final five aircraft, which were flying with the Flottille 17F, will be kept in long-term storage, although the possibility of seeing them back in flight seems unlikely.
The SEM entered service in 1978 with the French Navy and later benefited from several upgrade programmes, culminating with the Standard 5, which was implemented on 35 aircraft. The Aéronavale started working on the withdrawal of the SEM several years ago when it was decided to stop maintaining an industrial maintenance-level capability. In October 2015 eight airframes were still available and they were all embarked on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle , together with 18 Dassault Rafales, for Operation 'Chammal' against the Islamic State. Three aircraft reached their end of life when Charles de Gaulle returned to Toulon in March, leaving only five in flying condition.
The SEM's withdrawal leaves the service with a 100% Rafale M fighter force. Of the 48 aircraft delivered since 2001, four have been lost through accidents. Three are flying in St Dizier (together with Armée de l'Air aircraft) within the Rafale conversion unit and a fourth is allocated to the Hyères-based naval test centre. That leaves 40 aircraft available for Flottilles 11F, 12F and 17F, all based in Landivisiau, French Brittany. The average allocation is 12 aircraft per flottille.
Flottille 17F has already started to train its pilots and technicians on the Rafale, but the unit will not be considered fully operational before 2018. This will include the unit regaining its nuclear strike capability with the ASMP-A missile: a capability lost from the SEM over the last decade.
An all Rafale fleet will greatly ease operations on board Charles de Gaulle . The navy aims to embark two flottillas at the same time, with the third one remaining in Landivisiau for training and recovery.
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