A great deal of myth surrounds the Aéronavale use of the Vought V-507 Vagabond, much of it the fault of the French Navy itself. The Aéronavale wasn’t confused about the aircraft's intended role, but they would often give misleading statements about the aircraft's roles and capabilities to press or politicians that may not have understood the need for the aircraft the same way the Marine Nationale did.
Despite the misinformation surrounding it, the operational needs that drove the French Navy’s acquisition of the Vagabond are actually pretty clear and very similar to the US Navy’s original Fleet Air Defense (FAD) and later VFX programs. The threat the French carriers posed by Soviet Naval Aviation bombers armed with large anti-ship missiles had only been growing since the [i]Clemenceau[/i] and [i]Foch[/i] were launched, but it was the appearance of the Tu-22M ‘Backfire’ that truly rendered the F-8 Crusader completely incapable of defending their charges. An aircraft with a higher top speed, far longer range, better radar, and much more capable beyond visual range (BVR) missiles was needed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the small size of French carriers also meant that there was no way that an aircraft with the necessary performance would ever be able to operate from the decks of the [i]Clemenceau[/i]-class ships. The French Navy benefitted from operational factors that the US Navy did not, however.
US supercarriers had to be able to operate completely independently in the North Atlantic or Pacific in environments where the only land for hundreds of miles was likely to be hostile territory defended by enemy air cover. French carriers would typically be operating in the Mediterranean, a comparatively small body of water ringed by friendly air bases. The main aerial threat to the French Navy in the Mediterranean came from Soviet Naval Aviation (AVMF) long range bombers armed with anti-ship missiles. The over 500 nm combat radius of the F-14 would allow it to cover most of the Mediterranean from only a couple of NATO bases. This could also be extended through the use of Etendard buddy tankers once the F-14s rendezvoused with the carrier air group.
Regardless of Aéronavale rhetoric, the Vought V-507 was almost exclusively operated from land bases, where it would fly far out over the sea to guard French ships from aerial threats. It was most certainly not an attempt by the French Navy to compete with the Armée de l'Air with its own naval “air force”. Rather, it was the result of a practical assessment of the operating environment and realistic capabilities of France's carrier air groups pitted against the threat of Soviet Naval Aviation. In that role, Aéronavale F-14 units would often migrate from NATO base to NATO base during a carrier’s Mediterranean cruise, truly living up to its name of “Vagabond”.