The Étendard's history began with two different design requirements in the early 1950s for light fighters, one for the French Air Force and the other for NATO air forces. Dassault used the same basic design for both these specifications, designated as the Étendard II and Étendard VI respectively, neither of which received any orders. The company also developed a larger and more powerful variant, which was originally designated as the Mystère XXIV, simultaneously as a private venture.
The French Navy showed interest in the more powerful aircraft, which led to Dassault constructing a prototype navalized version; this first prototype conducted its first flight on 24 July 1956. Sufficiently satisfied with its performance, the French Navy would procure for 69 Étendard IVM fighters and 21 Étendard IVP reconnaissance versions. From 1962, these were being deployed aboard the service's newly built Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers, the Clemenceau and Foch.
The Jaguar M, a navalized variant of the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar, was intended to be the Étendard's replacement, but this effort was derailed by political lobbying by Dassault, who favoured their own proposed upgraded version of the aircraft, which would later enter service as the Super Étendard. The original Étendard was retired from carrier service in 1980, and was phased out from active roles in 1987.