Are you invincible on the Levant? Here is the truth or lie about the military presence in the sector

On the western tip we do not hide anything, in other places we wrap ourselves in secrecy-protection. Within reach of a large part of the coast of the Var, divided between a narrow naturist enclave and a sprawling military zone, the Île du Levant cultivates that delicious contrast that continues to fuel rumors and questions on the continent for decades. The General Directorate of Armaments (DGA), which occupies the territory, lifts part of the veil of its secrets.

Does the Ministry of Defense develop ammunition here and allow the military to train?

True. Almost 95% of the steep eastern territory of the commune of Hyeres is a military zone. Here, since the 1950s, the DGA (or its historical equivalents) has established a sophisticated missile range. Thus, the island is littered with gun emplacements, observation domes (mostly located on the ridgeline), or data-gathering antennas.

At the heart of the whole system is the operations center, a real control tower, from where engineers test and analyze the behavior of weapon systems.

From the mainland, perhaps only one shot per year is visible, but officials say they put hundreds of “devices” to the test each year. A term that covers cruise missiles, rockets, torpedoes, or projectiles. Of course, many munitions can be launched from the island, as well as from the building of the French fleet (ship and submarine) or even from an aircraft.

It is also necessary to distinguish between two types of shots.insists Noel (1), assistant director of the DGA and head of the Mediterranean site, who wants to distinguish between shots that relate to the development and production of weapons, and shots designed to familiarize soldiers with the weapons entrusted to them. In the Levant, these two types of throws tend to balance each other out.”says Patrice, public relations manager for the DGA.

1. Only the name is reported.

Are we naked or in uniform in the Levant?

Fake. True, the island of 10 km2 is divided between the naturist area (Heliopolis) and the military field, but firstly, on the naturist side, nudity is not mandatory everywhere … But, above all, the military part is mainly occupied by civilians.

The DGA staff (10,000 in total, including 1,000 for missile testing, including 300 in the Levant) is indeed dependent on the Ministry of Defense, but only 18% are soldiers. Although the site is military, therefore the uniform is in the minority.

Are there no executions in July-August?

True. Faced with an influx of boaters in the area, the authorities adjusted the schedule. Protecting the training ground (which can stretch up to 200 km from the Levant) is becoming too much of a challenge due to the influx of tourists. Therefore, in July-August, filming is not planned.

DGA organizes research trips

Fake. The panorama of the coast is magnificent, the water is clear and the vistas are amazing. A tourist’s dream… which, unfortunately, will remain a pipe dream.

La Defense believes that the activity on the island “vital” for the security of the country. Therefore, there can be no question of derogating from access bans even on special occasions such as heritage days.

Without permission, it is also expressly forbidden to land (and even approach closer than 200 meters to the island). Crews are constantly watching and will be happy to remind you. The only exception are the inhabitants of Heliopolis, who on All Saints’ Day can gather in the cemetery, a relic of the times (in the 19th century) when the island was occupied by a children’s penal colony.

On the military side, no one sleeps on the island

Fake. It’s quite the opposite. The vast majority of the approximately 300 people mobilized by the DGA in the Levant spend the entire week there.

They disembark on Monday morning (45 minutes at sea from Port Potuau) and depart on Thursday evening after four busy days of work. The rhythm obviously adapts to the missions being carried out.

Shooting whales to test torpedoes

Fake. Launching rockets in the heart of the Pelagos Nature Reserve, directly adjacent to the National Park, does not quite meet the current requirements for environmental protection.

After decades of wanting to cater to khaki tanks or gray boats, the DGA now wants to highlight its green (and blue in this case) concerns.

This causes, firstly, the consideration of marine mammals. “We make sure there are no cetaceans in the area before we fire any shots.”says Noel, head of the Mediterranean site.

To do this, before the countdown, the leaders of the operation rely on visual observations (from ships or aircraft) and on the forest of hydrophones lining the seabed south of the island. While their main job is to listen to how weapons systems evolve, they also allow golden ears to detect the presence of sperm whales, whales or dolphins.

If there are cetaceans, “means are provided to remove them from the danger zone”, continues the DGA, citing in particular the creation of periodic noise pollution to nudge mammals to change course. Another problem is the remnants of targets or devices that fall into the sea.

Obviously DGA cannot guarantee that nothing will fall into the big blue or that it will be able to fish everything in a sector that teases a depth of 2500m. “But we are restoring everything that we can restore. And besides, we don’t shoot if we think we can’t find the equipment we’re using.”.

A claim that does not have the protection of the planet as its sole driving force. It is also a prudent imperative not to provide information to competing powers.

Finally, the DGA claims that it has done its best to limit the ecological impact of its presence on the island, focusing on the species that settled there (permanently or temporarily) before it. Lizard or migratory bird populations are especially spoiled.

In the end, the military zone will even become a guarantee of the preservation of the environment. By keeping much of the island wild and sparsely populated, wildlife can find refuge there.

There are three dams in the Levant to retain rainwater.

True. No pipeline connects the island to the mainland. For its water supply, Le Levant relies primarily on its own resources and, in particular, on the fact that three small catchment areas supply water to three dams. The reservoirs are currently at their lowest since the very dry winter we just experienced. Like Port-Cros and Porquerolles, the island relies on supplies from the Saint-Christophe boat to quench its thirst.

Within 3 years, digital simulation will make the FAUX test center redundant

Artificial intelligence continues to evolve, but engineers have no doubt that computer simulations will never replace real-world testing. Therefore, the DGA is betting that the missile test center has a bright future ahead of it, and explains that it will continue to invest tens of millions of dollars a year in the infrastructure deployed on the island.

There are always firemen on the island.

True. Enemy number 1 on the island is not a hostile force, but fire. The DGA estimates that in three hours, a gigantic fire caused by the mistral could destroy its installation. Therefore, fire prevention is in the spotlight, and a team of 17 firefighters is present here. On a permanent watch, they participate in the security of each ammunition test, being located as close as possible to the firing point.

Obviously, in the event of a fire, reinforcements from the continent could be called in.

This is the only missile test center.

Fake. In total, the General Directorate of Armaments has three missile test centers in France.

In the southwest, it occupies very large areas in the Gironde (Saint-Medar-en-Jale) and in the Landes (Biscarosse).

Le Levant is the only center in the Mediterranean that has the advantage of being close to the Toulon arsenal.

All missile tests take place south of the island.

True. Historically, there was an exercise area between the island and Le Lavandou, but it hasn’t been used in years, says the DGA. It is currently concentrating its testing in the south of the island and taking advantage of the deep sea (quickly up to 2500 m) and an area that can extend over 200 km.

The summit of Mont Coudon is used

True. To properly observe the behavior of missiles, engineers can use data collected from Mont Coudon.

At an altitude of 700 meters, the DGA takes over the summit and places there a battery of measuring instruments to complement those in the Levant.

The old corps of the navy protects the port of Avis

True. The port of Avis, on the north side of the island, is the entry point through which people and equipment arrive. The problem is that its orientation makes it especially sensitive to the wave, and in a strong mistral it becomes risky.

To protect this important port from swells, the DGA placed the old Suffren Rocket Launcher Hull, a decommissioned building that has been dying of rust since 2009, along the wind axis.

Various hypotheses are being explored for its replacement, the DGA reports, suggesting the possibility of building a wharf or replacing the Suffren with an older, more modern hull similar to that of the frigate Jean-Bart, decommissioned as of July 2021.

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