Istres AB (known to the French as Base Aerienne 125 or BA-125) was activated during return-to-flight preparations to provide another high inclination site. It is located just outside of the town of Istres in the south of France, approximately 30 miles west of Marseille. The town of Istres, with about 40,000 inhabitants, is situated on the edge of Berre Lake. It is bordered on the south and east by major petrochemical and other heavy industry plants, and on the north and west by small and medium-sized towns, including Aix-en-Porvence, Arles, Avignon, Martigues, Salon-de-Provence, Fos-sur-Mer and Marignane.
The Istres area is heavily influenced by its proximity to the major port city of Marseille, the second-largest city in France with a population of around 800,000 inhabitants. Istres AB is a major employer in the local area, with both active French Air Force (FAF) units and French civilian aviation companies located there. The current base population consists of approximately 5,500 military and civilian personnel. The FAF presence includes an air-refueling squadron and a strategic bomber squadron. Istres AB is essentially the equivalent of Edwards AFB, Calif., as the FAF Flight Test Center. The base infrastructure includes those units and activities found on any major air force base..
There is a U.S. Air Force detachment providing NATO with KC-135 tanker support presently at Istres, with approximately 105 personnel at any given time. The 774th Expeditionary Air Base Group is part of the 401st Air Expeditionary Wing located at Aviano AB, Italy. The TAL deployment team shares a large Dassault hangar and office space with the 774th.
Istres AB has a single runway oriented in a northwest to southeast direction. It is 197 feet wide with 25-foot shoulders, and is equipped with space shuttle-unique landing aids allowing for landings in the northwest direction only. Runway 33 is the primary runway and is 11,303 feet long with a 1,377-foot overrun and a 3,963-foot load-bearing overrun, for a total usable runway of 15,266 feet. The shuttle-unique landing aids consist of visual landing aids, an MLS, a TACAN system and a remote weather tower. Communications include three INMARSAT satellite circuits and French Commercial telephone lines. Internet capability is availalbe through a local Internet service provider.