Naval Air: The Few, The Successful, The French


April 9, 2016: In July 2016 another carrier based jet is retiring after a long career. This one is different because it is not American, was produced in low numbers (85) and they were most famous for sinking several British warships in 1982 and almost sinking an American warship in 1984. The aircraft in question is the 12 ton Super Étendard. This is basically a customized version of the ten ton Étendard IV modified to operate from aircraft carriers. The Super Étendard could carry about two tons of weapons and max operational range was 850 kilometers. The Étendard IV was a 1960s design and only 90 were built. Most Super Étendards served with the French navy from 1978 until 2016. In contrast the Étendard IV retired in 1991. All Super Étendards were built between 1974 and 1984.

Argentina bought 14 of them in 1979 and these aircraft, especially when using Exocet anti-ship missiles sank a British destroyer and a large merchant ship converted to operate helicopters as well as haul supplies. France lent Iraq five Super Étendards for a year in 1983 (pending the arrival of more modern aircraft Iraq had bought). One of these Super Étendards mistook an American frigate for Iranian and heavily damaged it with an Exocet missile. Four of the Iraqi Super Étendards were returned to France, the other one having been shot down by the Iranians.

In French service Super Étendards saw combat in Lebanon in 1982, Serbia in 1999, Libya in 2011 and Syria and Iraq in 2015. Super Étendards served for 38 years. Not bad for an adapted land-based light bomber produced in small numbers. American carrier aircraft like the F-14 and A-6 have served in larger numbers for longer but they got plenty of publicity. Super Étendards just kept at and did the job it was designed for,