Harry Shilling, 26, from Swanley in Kent, will serve a minimum of 20 years. He has also been put on licence for a further five years. He and his gang smuggled 31 machine guns and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition into the UK by boat.
The guns came from the same source as those used in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Gunmen killed 12 people and wounded seven when they launched an assault on the satirical magazine’s offices in Paris in January last year.
Judge Michael Topolski QC told Shilling: “I’m entirely satisfied the truth is you were the man in charge of this carefully planned, well-funded and sophisticated organisation.”
He went on to say that this “dangerous young man” had been motivated by a desire to “maintain, protect and expand” his drug business.
Michael Defraine, 30, from Bexleyheath, south-east London, was also found guilty of gun smuggling and possessing firearms with intent to endanger life. He was given 27 years in jail, plus five years on extended licence.
Shilling and Defraine were part of a gang that brought the weapons on a boat from France to Kent last August.
National Crime Agency (NCA) detectives had them under surveillance and made what they say was the largest-ever weapons seizure on the UK mainland.
Other members of the gang were also sentenced for their part in the smuggling operation.
David Payne, 43, from Cuxton, Kent, was sentenced to 14 years and six months in jail. He must serve a minimum of nine years and six months and has been given an extended licence for five years.
Richard Rye, 24, from Swanley, Kent, has been sentenced to 14 years and 3 months with a minimum of nine years and five months and an extended licence period of five years.
Christopher Owen, 30, from Rochester, Kent, who was caught with two bullets in his pocket, received five years and four months in prison for his lesser role.
These three men had already pleaded guilty to smuggling the weapons into the country, while Payne and Rye also admitted a second count relating to conspiracy to sell the arsenal.
The judge told them: “It has been said that it cannot be exaggerated that guns kill and maim, terrorise and intimidate and that’s why criminals want them.”
The gang brought the weapons to the UK using a ship, which arrived with its “evil” cargo near Cuxton Marina, outside Rochester in Kent, on 10 August last year.
But they were under surveillance by the NCA, which seized the weapons before they could be buried and then passed on.
Rob Lewin, NCA head of specialist operations, said: “The weapons seized here were hugely powerful and the evidence showed that Shilling and his gang would have had no hesitation in using them.
“They thought having this kind of firepower made them untouchable, but we were determined to stay one step ahead of them all the way.”