Preserving future

Observers feared the worst, but the details outlined by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on August 2 in the Project de Loi de Programmation Militaire (Military Planning Act) for 2014-2019 is not as severe as first anticipated. In real terms spending will fall by 7.2% and although the number of aircraft to be purchased or kept in the inventory will inevitably decrease, money will be spent to ensure that development and production capabilities are maintained for the foreseeable future. Investments will be kept at current levels during the 2014-2016 period, and progressively increased from 2017 onwards. The number of personnel will nevertheless be significantly cut, at the rate of 7,500 per year, and the percentage of officers within the military will be reduced from 16.75 to 16%, further helping keep budgets under tight control.

As widely expected, a strong nuclear deterrence concept is maintained and investments will continue to prepare the next generation of nuclear submarines and their associated new ballistic nuclear missiles. Similarly, work to upgrade the air-launched ASMP-A (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré, or improved air-to-surface medium range) nuclear missiles arming Mirage 2000Ns and Rafale B/ Ms will begin. Special Forces will benefit from a large expansion of their manpower, with another 1,000 men to be recruited in the coming years. The Charles de Gaulle’s refuelling and major overhaul has been confirmed for the timeframe too, reaffirming France’s commitment to a strong carrier force to be maintained.

Fighter Fleet

According to the Military Planning Act, the number of fighters will be reduced to 215, ten aircraft below the number stated in the French Defence White Paper published on April 29, to be split between the French Air Force and Navy. It is expected that the Aéronavale will keep around 40 Rafale M naval fighters once all Super Etendard Modernisés are withdrawn from use at some point in the 2015-2017 timeframe, while the Armée de l’Air will operate 185 fast jets split between Mirage 2000s and Rafales. This means that squadrons will have to be disbanded, and air bases closed or scaled down. The Mirage 2000D upgrade programme has been approved and the first six modernised Mirage 2000Ds are scheduled to have been delivered back to the air force by 2019. Rafale deliveries are due to be slowed down to 26 instead of 66. Production will remain at 11 per year thanks to anticipated sales abroad, but that plan will be confirmed only if contracts are signed with one, or more foreign customers. Even with just 26 deliveries, the number of Rafales will reach

152 by 2019 (out of 180 on firm order) and investments to further improve the omnirole fighter are confirmed.

It has also been confirmed that the Scalp stealthy cruise missile will be modernised and that a programme for a new air-to-air missile to replace the MICA will be initiated. These two announcements, and the official launch of the MMP (missile moyenne portée — mediumrange missile) to replace the Milan anti-tank missile and the ANL (anti-navire léger — light anti-ship missile) developed in conjunction with British partners, will boost prospects for MBDA and the European missile industry as a whole.

Airlifters, Tankers and Patrol Aircraft

Under the new Military Planning Act the total number of Armée de l’Air tactical airlifters (excluding the fleet of CN235s) will not exceed 50 aircraft including the 14 C-130H Hercules that are due to be upgraded. As a result, it is unlikely that the 50 A400Ms once intended to enter service with the Armée de l’Air will be all acquired, but replacing Transall C-160s with heavier A400Ms will nevertheless result in a significant increase in airlift capabilities. A400M deliveries have just begun and, by 2019, 15 will be operational in the French Air Force. In early 2020, the Armée de l’Air will be equipped with 15 A400Ms, 14 Transall C-160s and all 14 Hercules.

The replacement of the ageing C-135FR/KC-135Rs remains a key priority and a Multi-Role Tanker Transport acquisition programme will be launched in 2014. It will cover the purchase of 12 aircraft (down from an anticipated 14), the first two of which should be delivered by the end of 2019.

The importance of maritime patrol aircraft is re-affirmed and a modernisation programme for the Atlantique 2 fleet is confirmed. The number of aircraft included has been cut from 18 to 15, however, and the initial four are expected to be fully operational by late 2019. The French MoD has stated that these modernised aircraft will soldier on in service beyond 2030.

Helicopters

The French Military Planning Act document published in August describes a common fleet of 140 attack and reconnaissance aircraft, comprising a mix of Gazelle and Tigre helicopters. By late 2013, 43 Tigre HAP/HADs will be in service, and another 16 should be delivered by late 2019 out of a total requirement of 80. The NH90 programme will continue, but with no further orders beyond the 27 naval NFH90s and 68 army TTH90s purchased so far. A total 42 NFH90 and TTH90s are due to be accepted by the French MoD from 2014 to 2019.

In early 2020, French Army Aviation will have 59 Tigres, 81 Gazelles, 38 NH90s, 43 Pumas and 26 Cougars. The French Air Force will field 32 Pumas, Super Pumas and EC725s and 40 Fennecs, while the French Navy will be equipped with 24 NFH90s and 40 lighter types, including 16 upgraded Panthers and the last few remaining Lynx.

Intelligence Gathering

The French MoD has confirmed that the Ceres electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellite programme will go ahead. The system will consist of three satellites orbiting in formation to offer better eavesdropping and geolocalisation capabilities. Ceres development will be conducted until 2019, and the satellites will be launched in 2020 to supplement the Dupuy de Lôme ELINT ship, the Transall Gabriels and the Mirage 2000Ds equipped with ASTAC (Analyseur de Signaux TACtiques — tactical signals analyser) pods. The French MoD says that all of these assets will form a robust, coherent, reactive and global ELINT force. Two MUSIS optical reconnaissance satellites will be launched by France in 2017, as part of a wider European initiative with

Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Sweden, to deliver a whole range of optical and radar reconnaissance capabilities and will replace existing Helios II, SAR-LUPE and COSMO-SKYMED satellites.

France has long tried to field a MediumAltitude Long-Endurance (MALE) drone and only four Cassidian Harfang unmanned aerial vehicles are currently in service. The decision to acquire 12 MQ-9 Reapers through the US Foreign Military Sale (FMS) programme seems to have been made with the purchase of the first two Reapers accelerated for a delivery by late 2013.

The document released by the French MoD also lists exact figures regarding the number of aircraft that should be in service by late 2013 and by early 2020, though the overall size of each fleet in the longer term remains unclear, as deliveries of a large number of types — Rafale, A400M, Tigre and NH90 — are expected to continue beyond that date. For instance, Rafale procurement was expected to include another batch of 60 aircraft to bring the total to 240 (instead of 294), but the acquisition of this additional batch now seems to have been postponed until the next Military Planning Act is published for the period 2020-2025, the result of the financial crisis still affecting France and the greater European Union.

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