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Capabilities and Spending

French Defence response to Russia

Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version

Six years ago the head of the French armed forces, General Pierre de Villiers, resigned in protest over defence cuts. The trigger was a technical issue and for the Ministère des Armées (Ministry of the Armed Forces) somewhat trivial. To meet EU rules on national budget deficits, the Macron presidency proposed a €850 million cut for the 2017 defence budget. In the following year, defence spending would increase by €1.5bn to €34.2bn. By 2025, the defence budget would rise again from 1.77% to 2% of GDP, to meet the NATO target spend.  De Villiers, however, was unimpressed: ‘I know when I am being had.’ 1

Jump forward and the panorama has completely changed.  In policy not witnessed since the Gaullists transformed and created the modern French armed forces in the 1960s, the government has announced it is migrating to a ‘war economy’ (économie de guerre). The centrepiece will be a massive investment in defence equipment, detailed in the Loi de Programmation Militaire (LPM) 2024-2030This article examines LPM 2024-2030 (henceforth ‘LPM’), effectively France’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

France is different

For context is important to understand two aspects of French exceptionalism.  The first is the concept of ‘strategic autonomy’ (known as the ‘base industrielle et technologique de défense (BITD) souveraine’ – the ‘sovereign defence industrial and technological base’).  France is in an exclusive club of four countries (the others are the United States, People’s Republic of China, and Russian Federation) that as a matter of national policy retains sovereign defence capability across the range of military capabilities, from nuclear to conventional. This posture was established in the Fifth Republic (1958-present) under de Gaulle and has not changed.  France designs and manufactures its own combat aircraft, warships, submarines, tanks, artillery systems, and armoured personnel carriers. It also collaborates in pan-European programmes. Space programmes are advanced with launch facilities in French Guiana. French defence kit exports well; major customers include Egypt, Qatar, India, Brazil, the UAE and Malaysia.  In the period 2015-2019 French defence exports jumped 72%.2They subsequently declined but since rebounded with an historic €22 billions worth of sales in 2022.

The second aspect is the legal and financial foundation that supports the armed forces. France has a particularly efficient system of defence budgeting and procurement.  Tax payers can be reasonably satisfied they get their ‘bang for bucks’ (and indeed can verify defence spend because the Ministry of the Armed Forces is obliged by law to publish annual, lengthy and comprehensive accounts detailing how the money is spent).  The overarching legal framework rests in the Budget System Law (LOLF: ‘loi organique relative aux lois de finances’), under which the Ministry is required to meet Military Planning Law.

Two organisations underpin the system. The first is the 8,000 strong Direction des affaires financières (DAF) (Department of Financial Affairs). DAF is responsible for drawing up the budget of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and steering its execution. It is the guarantor of the sustainability of the armed forces budget and monitors defence spend.4

Lastly, the LPM is more than government policy.  It is law.  President Macron’s term ends in 2027.  There will be a new president, government and ministers.  The new incumbents will be unable to change policies, reverse courses or impose defence cuts.  The French armed forces and defence industries have an assurance of stability and continuity of investment until 2030, enshrined in law.  This is acutely important for the latter.  Without such long-term commitment, defence companies and manufacturers do not survive.

Two headline numbers fall out of the LPM.  Defence budget investments for the period will stand at 413 billion euros ($447bn), up from 295 billion euros ($320bn) in 2019-2025, or an increase of more than a third.  And second, the defence budget will increase annually by over 3 billion euros for the next six years. By 2030, France’s annual defence budget is expected to exceed €60 billion. The detail of these hikes is described in the next section.

The Loi de Programmation Militaire (LPM) 2024-2030 – detail

Under the LPM the French state will maintain a 335,000 ‘whole force’ in UK terminology.  This will comprise 207,000 regular service personnel, 80,000 reservists (of which roughly half are ‘under contract’), and 64,000 civilians.  One fifth of the total workforce is female.

Following the recent period of Islamist terrorist attacks, the French government maintains 13,000 service personnel on 24/7 readiness for internal security duties.  A further 22,000 are overseas from which 6,000 are deployed on operations.

The BITD directly employs around 200,000 workers in about ten ‘primes’ (major defence companies).  The BITD ‘list’ fully comprises 4,000 companies, but the Ministry of the Armed Forces more widely places contracts with some 26,000 small and medium enterprises.

The principal investments in the LPM are shown in the table below:

Area of investment Amount
Special forces €2 billion
Intelligence and counter-intelligence €5 billion
Outre-mer (overseas commitments) €13 billion
Drones €5 billion
Air defence €5 billion
Munitions (maritime, air and land) €16 billion
Innovative technology investments, to include directed energy technology, swarming drones, and robotic capabilities €10 billion
Space €6 billion
Cyber €4 billion
Maintenance and contingency operations €49 billion

The raw numbers tell the LPM will represent a significant boost to French defence firms. Maintenance contracts alone are expected to increase by 40%.

New equipment

Nuclear: The principal investments will be in the air-launched ASMPA-R and successor ASN4G nuclear missiles; and the future, third generation ballistic nuclear submarines (SNLE-3G) and M51 ballistic nuclear missile.

Maritime:  Over the period, the navy will be modernised with the delivery of three resupply vessels (bâtiments ravitailleurs); three medium frigates (known as Frégate de Défense et d’Intervention –FDI); and seven overseas patrol ships (known as Patrouilleurs Outre-mer-POM and also Patrouilleurs hauturiers).  Six Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarines will also be delivered (the first was commissioned last year).

The navy will also be receiving twelve Dassault Aviation Falcon 2000LXS Albatros Maritime Surveillance and Intervention Aircraft (AVSIMAR).  These will be supplemented by maritime drones such as the Safran Patroller which is able to carry an EO/IR turret and maritime radar.

Land: The principal land programmes include the Leclerc tank upgrade (a Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) next-generation tank programme is also being pursued); Griffon 6×6 APC, part of the wider Scorpion EMBR (Engin Blindé Multi-Rôles–‘Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle’) programme; EBRC Jaguar (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat Jaguar – ‘Armored Reconnaissance and Combat Vehicle Jaguar’); VMBR Serval 4×4 (Vehicule Blindé Multi-Rôles); the Griffon MEPAC 120mm mortar carrier; and the Caesar wheeled 155mm artillery system.

Special forces will be strengthened with modernised transport aircraft, Caiman FS medium helicopters, long endurance tactical drones, and a range of upgraded vehicles.

Drones and anti-drone systems are a special focus in the LPM. The Army will be equipped by 2025 with 1,200 drone systems, or more than 3,000 drones including the tactical drone systems (systèmes de drones tactiques (SDT)).  France intends to develop its own class of loitering munitions (drones de contact/munitions téléopérées (MTO)). A SIGINT drone will also be fielded (Système de drone tactique avec charge de renseignement d’origine électromagnétique (SDT ROEM)).

For air defence, fifteen PARADE anti-drone systems are being delivered (Protection déployAble modulaiRe Anti-DronEs).  Air defence will be further reinforced with the Serval Mistral very short range air defence system (also known as Serval LAD fromlutte antidrone); the VL MICA short range air defence system; and the SAMP-T NG long range air defence system.  The French Army will therefore be able to deploy an integrated air defence system from very short range to long range.

Army aviation will be receiving new Tiger attack helicopters, NH-90 and a light helicopter (Hélicoptère interarmées légers(HIL)).

From left to right and top to bottom Jaguar, Griffon, Leclerc, Caesar, and VBCI Source: https://www.defense.gouv.fr/terre/nos-materiels-nos-innovations/nos-equipements-terre/nos-vehicules/vehicules-dartillerie

A ‘top 12’ prioritisation has been set by the DGA – to cue the necessary supply chains in industry.  Among the top priorities are the Caesar artillery system, shell production, and air defence systems.  France is one of few European countries with capacity to manufacture 155mm shells and has recently started production for Ukraine (along with Germany).  An immediate response has been witnessed at Nexter Group. This company has committed 120 million euros to build-up its reserves of gunpowder and raw materials. Nexter Group is also acquiring new machine tools. Production of the Caesar gun will now rise to eight units per month, against two before the war.  Another example is Eurenco which has relocated production of gunpowder to Bergerac in the Dordogne. The move represents a 60 million euros investment. By 2025, the plant will be able to produce 1,200 tons of large-calibre gunpowder for artillery systems, or enough for 500,000 modular charges.

Aerospace:  The two priorities are upgrades to the Rafale fleet and reinforcing the strategic transport fleet.  The Ministry of the Armed Forces is expected to procure 32 new Rafales from contractor Dassault Aviation within the LPM, which will be delivered between 2030 and 2032. The air force is also seeking to acquire three new ISR aircraft (ARCHANGE), based on the Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X. By 2030 the service also hopes to field eight Eurodrone systems.

Conclusion

No Western leader did more to engage with Russian President Putin than Emmanuel Macron.  In the run-up to the invasion the French president spent 100 hours in telephone or face-to-face meetings with Putin, including the marathon six hour session in Moscow, across the now notorious 20-foot long table.  Three days before the invasion, Macron rang Putin.  The latter promised to examine new proposals made by the French government, then excused himself on the grounds that he was going to play a game of ice hockey.  After the invasion, Macron spoke of Putin’s duplicité.

Paris has responded to this duplicity with the biggest hike in defence spend since de Gaulle’s reforms of the armed forces in the 1960s. The navy, air force and army will all benefit.  Defence industry can look forward to stable growth. By the time Macron leaves office, French defence spend will be on a trajectory to increase by 50% by the end of the decade.  The Russian president should not have been so cocky.

Main image – Ministère des Armées France, Accessed 1 Oct 2023 – https://www.defense.gouv.fr/en/ema

Sergio Miller

Sergio Miller is a retired British Army Intelligence Corps officer.  He was a regular contributor and book reviewer for British Army Review.  He is the author of a two-part history of the Vietnam War (Osprey/Bloomsbury) and is currently drafting a history of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Footnotes

  1. BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40653756
  2. Defense News, Here’s what’s behind France’s 72% jump in weapons exports, 10 Mar 2020, https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2020/03/10/heres-whats-behind-frances-72-jump-in-weapons-exports
  3. General Secretariat of Administration, Financial Affairs Department, https://www.defense.gouv.fr/sga/nous-connaitre/organisation-du-sga/directions/direction-affaires-financieres[\note]

    The second is the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) (General Directorate of Armament).[iv] Established in 1961, the DGA is an example of good French organisation. The Directorate is the French Government’s defence procurement and technology agency. It is responsible for the project management, development and procurement of weapon systems for the French military.  It also coordinates pan-European programmes (14 underway currently) as well as exports. Lastly, it undertakes the testing and assessment of equipment and military technologies in specialist test centres across France.  Over six decades it has ensured France remains a top military power with an advanced technological base and modern equipment.

    Source: Ministère des Armées, Chiffres clés de la Défense 2021 (last available data)

    Loi de Programmation Militaire (LPM) 2024-2030 – overview

    The LPM was the fruit of long deliberation.  In contrast with the British system where the defence budget is essentially an annual negotiation between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, in France, defence policy and budgeting is longer term and a matter for the President’s office.  Three personalities were instrumental in formulating the LPM: Macron, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, and Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu. Work began in the spring of 2022 with announcements made in November (when Macron presented the main points from the Revue nationale strategique (RNS) (‘National strategic review’) on amphibious helicopter carrier Dixmude), and in April at a press conference.  The law has now been submitted to the legislative bodies.

    The first and important point to understand about the LPM is that it is about making France’s armed forces capable of fighting and sustaining a high intensity conventional war.  New concepts or doctrine are not being promoted. The organisations and structures of the armed forces are not changing.  Rather, the same forces will be boosted by major new investments and yearly incremental increases to the armed forces budget.

    The second point is that the LPM is not another exercise in ‘military tokenism’ or ‘budget fire-fighting’, common criticisms of European defence budgets. Rather, it is about reversing decades of defence cuts (‘un effort de réparation de nos forces, abîmées par plusieurs décennies de coupes budgétaires’ – ‘an effort to repair our forces, hollowed out by many decades of defence cuts’). The LPM will increase the French defence budget by 40% by 2030.  In total, since President Macron assumed the presidency in 2017, French defence spend will have increased by roughly 50% in real terms. Under Macron, the post-Cold War peace dividend is clearly over.  Or as the French President has put it: ‘We need to be one war ahead.’3Directorate General of Armaments, https://www.defense.gouv.fr/dga

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