Towards the latter half of the 1950s, NATO identifed a need for a new long range maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to counter new seaborne threats that the Cold War was bringing with it into western European waters.
NATO produced a specification for such an aircraft in 1958 and out of 21 designs presented to fulfil it, the Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic from France was unanimously selected the winner.
While French in origin, the Br.1150 would form the heart of a multi-national consortium known as SECBAT (Société d’Étude et de Construction de Breguet Atlantic) that when established in 1961 was initially made up of companies from Belgium, France, Netherlands and West Germany. Two companies from Italy would join the group in the late 1960s.
In the history of MPA development, the Atlantic holds the distinction of being the first such aircraft in the world designed for the purpose from the ground up. The aircraft was not of bomber or airliner ancestry as most aircraft in the MPA category tend to be.
The Atlantic was also significant in being the first mutinational aircraft project of it’s category and scale within NATO. As such, it carried with it the importance of showing that nations that had been combatants less than two decades prior had made peace and could cooperate.
Into Uniform and Further Development
The prototype Atlantic took to the air for the first time in October of 1961 with delivery of the first production standard machines, designated ATL.1, to French and West German navies commencing in 1965 and continuing until 1968.
At the outset of the program, only France and Germany had been interested in acquiring an actual aircraft for service; Belgian and Dutch interests centred on bringing work to their respective domestic aviation industries.
The Netherlands only showed interest in purchasing a fleet of Atlantics in 1968, just as the production line was about to be closed; Interest in the aircraft as an MPA for the Italian military was shown in the same time period. The combined interests of the two nations plus the desire of two Italian companies to join the SECBAT consortium was enough to keep the production line open until 1974 to produce a second batch of aircraft to the ATL.1 standard.
While the ATL.1 was designed with the intent to be used widely among NATO nations, only four member states ultimately used it. Outside of NATO, the only Atlantic user was Pakistan.
The Dutch used a fleet of nine Atlantics from 1969 to 1984 and eventually sold six of the aircraft back to France in that period. Subsequently, France refurbished three of the former Dutch aircraft and sold them on to Pakistan in 1976. The choice to retire the Dutch Atlantics and replace them with the Lockheed P-3 Orion stemmed from a series of three crashes in the late 1970s and early 1980s that were attributable to elevator control linkage problems and ongoing corrosion issues.
In the late 1970s, France proposed and updated variation of the Atlantic. The new aircraft, eventually designated ATL.2, took the basic ATL.1 design and added a revised tail fin and a completely updated sensor and avionics suite.
The ATL.2 first flew in 1981 and production started in 1984. The first ATL.2 was delivered to the French navy in 1989 and a total of 28 were built. Germany gave some consideration to purchasing the ATL.2 in the early 1990s, but ultimately opted to purchase used Dutch P-3 Orions in 2004 instead. As such, the ATL.2 is used exclusively by France though some technology from it was used to upgrade the Italian ATL.1 fleet.
In the 1990s a third generation of the Atlantic, the ATL.3, was proposed. It included a modern flight deck, new engines and new propellors among other upgrades. The ATL.3 failed to generate much interest and it was cancelled by 2005.
The Atlantic in Action
While a maritime patrol and anti-shipping platform by design, the Atlantic has taken turns as a transport, bomber, electronic intelligence platform and airborne command post in it’s lifetime.
During the early stages of Opération Épervier, an operation which lasted from 1986 to 2014 and was initially put into action by France to counter Lybian military incursions in to Chad, a French navy Atlantic fitted for intelligence gathering was used as an airborne command post. In that capacity, the aircraft was able to intercept and rapidly decode Libyan military signals and accurately guide actions against them.
Through the 1990s, German navy Atlantics fitted for intelligence gathering were used to monitor communications and enforce the United Nations embargo against Yugoslavia.
During the closing stages of the Kosovo War, which lasted from February of 1998 to June of 1999, Atlantics of both the French and German navies were used for surveillance flights over the area of battle.
A smaller battle in 1999 was the Kargil War between India and Pakistan that lasted from May to July of that year. Approximately a month after the war had ended, a Pakistani navy Atlantic strayed into Indian airspace and was subsequently intercepted and shot down by a pair of Indian MiG-21 fighters.
The crash of Air France Flight 447 in June of 2009 brought the Atlantic’s MPA role to the fore when France dispatched several of the aircraft to fly from Dakar, Senegal to aid in the search for the wreckage of the Airbus A330 involved.
Since early 2013, French navy ATL.2 aircraft have been involved in the international effort to fight Islamic militant groups in both Africa and the Middle East.
Opération Serval, which lasted from December 2012 to July 2014, was initiated to stop Islamic militants in Mali from taking the capital of the country and overthrowing the government. The Atlantic’s roles in that operation included intelligence gathering, surveillance and dropping laser guided bombs.
At the time of writing this Blog piece, French Atlantics are part of Opération Chammal. This operation, which was initiated in September of 2014, is the French contribution to the ongoing international effort to fight Islamic State (IS) actions in Iraq and Syria. As the operation has progressed, the Atlantics have been primarily tasked with air strike and long range reconnaissance duties.
The Atlantic Today and Learning More
In French naval service, the ATL.2 is projected to serve into the 2030s. However, the ATL.1 is fully a museum piece as of late 2017.
Italy was the last user of the ATL.1, having retired it in November of 2017. In Italian service, the Atlantic was replaced by a a maritime patrol variation of the domestically developed ATR-72 commuter aircraft.
Germany retired the last of their Atlantics in 2010 and Pakistan followed suit in 2012. Both nations replaced their Atlantics with the Lockheed P-3 Orion.
The following link will take you to the Dassault Aviation website and information on the origins of the Atlantic. Dassault acquired the Atlantic through a merger with Breguet in the 1970s:
This link will take you to a brief, but interesting summary of the Atlantic’s service in the Dutch navy:
While somewhat dated, this document gives a good overview of the entire Atlantic program including technical differences between the variants: