The unnamed pilot alleged in a criminal complaint, seen by Reuters news agency, that he could hear live rounds being fired off while tied to the post during the incident, which he says happened soon after he arrived at a combat fighter unit at the Solenzara air base in Corsica in March 2019.
Colonel Stéphane Spet, a spokesman for the French air force, told Reuters that an internal inquiry was ordered by air force command after the incident was reported and that those responsible were punished.
Mr Spet said that the most severe punishment was restriction to barracks, although it is unclear how many people were given this punishment or for how long.
“The pilots responsible for staging this were severely punished in April 2021, with measures that went as far as restriction to barracks,” he said. He added that the pilot’s safety was never in danger.
The number of people involved and their identities were not included in the pilot’s complaint.
The pilot says that a group of his colleagues forced him into the back of a pick-up truck and drove him to the firing range after putting a hood on his head.
Photos included in the complaint show the pilot strapped to the target with his hands and knees bound. Video footage, seen by Reuters, shows combat jets making several low passes nearby.
Mr Spet says that the images create the mistaken impression that the jets were aiming at the pilot, and that the sounds of munition being fired were from aircraft on a training exercise elsewhere. The closest any round came to the pilot was about a kilometre away, he added.
The pilot’s lawyer, Frédéric Berna, told Reuters that his client raised the issue with his superiors towards the end of 2020 and decided to file the criminal complaint because he felt the military wasn’t responding adequately.
Mr Berna added that the pilot had initially been in denial of the gravity of what had happened and that he was reluctant to challenge military authorities. He says that he filed the complaint with the state prosecutor’s office in Marseille on 5 May.
Mr Berna also said that his client still serves as a pilot in the air force, but that he is no longer a combat pilot.
The air force told Reuters that it condemned any actions that harm the physical or mental wellbeing of its personnel, and that it would cooperate with any criminal investigation.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in