Monday, April 29, 2013
France's Defence White Paper
France has finally published its long awaited document of strategic and budgetary guidance for the next decade (2014 to 2025), setting a total budget of 364 billion Euro, with 179 of those committed over the years 2014 - 2019.
34.000 posts within the armed forces will be lost by 2019. Of these, 10.000 posts already were earmarked for suppression since 2008. The document says that the reductions will mainly affect administration and support manpower, but reading the Defence Planning Assumptions does rise more than one doubt about this claim.
Reading the document, it is obvious that cuts and reductions in national ambition are on the way. As widely anticipated, the Navy is, overall, perhaps the service getting the best deal, but, even before we learn the details, it is clear that some sacrifices will be made: there won't be an order for a second aircraft carrier (PA2 has looked more and more unlikely in the last few years anyway, so it is not a real surprise) and there won't be a fourth Mistral-class LHD either, with the Dixmunde, third ship in the class, being the last vessel the french navy will get.
The Fleet is set to have:
1x Aircraft Carrier (Charles de Gaulle)
3x LHD (Mistral, Tonnere, Dixmunde)
15x "First Rank" frigates. This suggests that there will be an increase in the number of high-end escort ships as part of the new strategy.
The documents released do not really detail this figure, but it comprises the 2 Horizon-class air defence frigates (the french navy insists to call "frigates" these units which are destroyers by any other name) and the planned 11 FREMM frigates. This, though, gives a total of 13 hulls, which is the same number of high-end frigates currently available to the french navy. While the White Paper fails to detail this voice, perhaps the FREMM order will be incremented to 13. (NOTE: originally, the french navy was due to receive 17 FREMM ships, but the order was later reduced to 11).
The FREMM program is currently intended to deliver 9 ASW/Land Attack frigates and two FREDA air-defence configured vessels. The FREDA are needed to keep up the number of air defence ships in the fleet: originally, four Horizon units were envisaged, but costs were too high and the order was halved. The FREDA is seen as a lower-cost alternative.
However, the "Dossier Thematiquè" suggests that the reality could be less pleasant: it says that the 15 tier-one ships include "less powerful combat units, notably the frigates type La Fayette upgraded with sonar". If all five La Fayette are similarly upgraded and counted in the total of 15 high-end warships, it would entail a reduction from 11 to just 8.
15x Offshore Patrol vessels. Again, not easy to exactly understand what this entails. Judging from a look at the current french fleet and previous plans, these 15 vessels should include the five La Fayette-class frigates, the 9 A69-class avisos and the patrol vessel L'Adroit which is, however, currently only available for french navy use for a period of three years, as a DCNS move to try and put its new OPV design in the spotlight, with the hope of gaining firm orders. The language of the White Paper is "ambiguous" enough that the number of patrol vessels could probably be dropped to 14 at the end of this three-year concession, but the Navy might also decide to buy the ship by then.
The uncertainty on the future collocation of the La Fayette adds confusion to the whole picture. Anyway, there is plan, known as BATSIMAR (bâtiment de surveillance et d’intervention maritime), which will deliver replacements for the aging patrol vessels.
6x Surveillance Frigates. The current Floréal ships, we have to assume.
The White Paper provides no information on the plans for the smaller coastal patrol vessels and does not give an indication of the planned future of the support vessels. The french navy has a requirement for 4 new tanker/supply ships. The relevant program is known as FLOTLOG (flotte logistique).
There is also no update on the plans for the future of the minesweepers flottilla. There will be one, and the SLAMF (Système de Lutte Anti-Mines navales Futur) program goes ahead to develop the future solution for the MCM requirement. Drones, deployed by a new kind of mothership, are the envisaged solution.
Anyway, it does show that MOD personnel collaborated with the french for this White Paper...!
The Fleet Air Arm will keep its nuclear role, with nuclear-tipped missiles carried on Charles De Gaulle for launch from the embarked Rafale M airplanes. The number of naval aircrafts, helicopters and maritime patrol aircrafts are not disclosed, for the moment.
Programs ongoing include the upgrade of the Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircrafts and the acquisition of 27 NH90 NFH helicopters.
With the total number of Air Force and Fleet Air Arm fighter jets now capped at 225, i would not be surprised to the see the french air force becoming more aggressive in a bid to get an as big share of them as possible: we'll have to see if the french navy fights its corner better than the Royal Navy did when faced with the same problem...
This leads us straight to the Air Force.
As i just said, France now aims to a force of 225 fighter jets in total, comprising Air Force and Navy airplanes. With the imminent withdrawal from service of the navy's Super Etendard and of the Air Force's Mirage F1 CR, the fleet will be composed only by Rafale and Mirage (several variants).
In the future, a monotype fleet of sole Rafale is in sight, but for many more years the Mirage will continue to be a precious workhorse.
In recent times, the plan had been to procure 234 Rafale for the Air Force and 60 Rafale M for the navy, with the air force hoping to have, on its own, 225 aircraft by 2022. The drop in expected numbers is obviously very relevant, and the Air Force / Navy proportions might have to change as a consequence.
The Navy wants 60 Rafale M because it aims to have three embarkable squadrons, each having (on paper) 18 airplanes. The squadrons are the 12F, 11F and 17F, the latter being the last unit to fly with the Super Etendard.
The announced purchase of 200 Meteor missiles and the integration of the weapon on Rafale (by 2018) seem to still be planned.
The new White Paper will undoubtedly cause a lot of big and small changes and plan rethinks in the coming months and years, but it is worth remembering that in recent times France had been planning to:
- Retire the Mirage F1CR. The withdrawal of this reconnaissance aircraft is to be balanced by the integration of the RECO NG Aeros pod on the Rafale. 12 such pods are planned for the Air Force and 6 for the Navy, along with 3 ground control stations.
- Mirage 2000N: to remain in service until 2018, it is compatible with the RECO NG pod but its main role is as nuclear strike aircraft, armed with the ASMPA cruise missile.
- Mirage 2000D: the intention is to upgrade these strike fighters so they can employ the ASTAC (Analyseur de Signaleux TACTiques) pod to provide ELINT reconnaissance. Data Link 16 and ROVER image downlink also planned. The 2000D was seen likely to be in service until 2021 or even 2025.
A new generation laser designation pod remains planned.
- Mirage 2000-5 and 2000C: these air defence aircraft should retire by 2018.
The White Paper signals a reduction in the number of new tanker aircrafts to purchase, from 14 to 12. The program will be launched next year, with the A330 MRRT aircraft as the choice. Differently from the RAF, which ordered the passenger variant of the A330, the french will purchase the fully multi-mission cargo/passanger variant. In exchange for this great capability, the air force will lose the 5 A310 and A340 aircrafts currently used as strategic cargo aircrafts.
It would appear that the full order for 50 A400M tactical cargo aircrafts is confirmed without reductions, but there is some controversity still. The A400 order could still be reduced, with the air force keeping its small fleet of C130s or some of its C160s for Special Forces use instead.
The small transport aircrafts of the CN-235 type are not mentioned in the White Paper, but they are believed not to be part of the figure of 50 tactical cargo aircrafts. They should be (relatively) safe.
Studies for a future UCAV will go ahead, so to build up options for a future program of acquisition of a novel unmanned air combat platform in the 2020s.
In the missiles section, the document gives a welcome promise that the FASGW(H) / ANL will get the go ahead, along with the MMP missile destined to replace the MILAN.
An upgrade program for the SCALP / Storm Shadow is also confirmed, which will keep the missile relevant out to 2030. These confirmations mean good news for RAF and Royal Navy.
The White Paper also promises to go ahead with the ASTER 30 modernisation (Block 1 NT) which will also expand anti-ballistic capability. Italy is interested in this development, while it is not clear if the UK will join.
A new missile to succeed to the MICA is promised. Can't quite understand if this successor to MICA is the Meteor, or if they are talking about a new missile (presumably short-range, to complement the Meteor).
The document also promises 7 aircraft for "air detection and surveillance". I immediately thought of the E3 Sentry AWACS, but France only has four of those. It is not specified in the document, but i'm assuming the total of 7 comes from adding in the 3 E2C Hawkeye owned by the Navy.
Not better specified manned light reconnaissance and surveillance aircrafts are mentioned, along with a planned 12-strong fleet of "drones for theatre surveillance", which should be Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) machines: it has been widely reported that France is seriously considering ordering the US Reaper for this role.
Officially, the Reaper would be "an interim solution", but in these times of extreme budget tightness, i can't see France being much willing to committ to TELEMOS after acquiring the Reaper. TELEMOS is the joint BAE-Dassault program for the development of an european MALE, which is hoped could meet both the british SCAVENGER requirement and the french needs.
In the end, the MQ-9 Reaper might win the day in both countries.
Lastly, the White Paper says the Air Force will have 8 batteries of medium-range air defence missiles. This means that the SAMP-T order, which was expected to deliver 10 batteries, will be cut short.
As had been reported in the last while, the Army is going to be the service hit hardest by the reductions. The White Paper says that the Army will restructure on 7 brigades, two of which will be Heavy, 3 will be Medium/Multi-Role and 2 will be light.
Studying the current structure of the french army, and the distribution of recently purchased, critical equipment such as the VBCI, it is possible to formulate an educated guess regarding the identity of the brigades to remain in the force:
2° and 7° Armoured brigades as the two Heavy formations
1°, 3° Mechanised brigades plus the 9° Amphibious brigade as the Medium / Multi Role formations
11° Parachute brigade and 27° Mountain Infantry Brigade as the two light formations.
The above is, at the state, only my guess. The White Paper seem to suggest that the brigade to be cut will be one between the 1st, 3rd and 6th Mechanised brigades, assuming that the two heavy brigades will remain the same and expecting that the amphibious, parachute and mountain capabilities will be protected.
The new army will have a core of around 66.000 deployable personnel comprising the Special Forces, the seven combined arms brigades mentioned above, Combat Support and Combat Service Support units, "prepositioned units" and the garrisons located in overseas territories.
In terms of equipment, the White Paper announces a reduction in main battle tanks (from 254 Leclerc in active service to a planned 200). There will also be around 250 "medium tanks". Quite what vehicle is indicated by this definition is not really clear, by i think it could be the AMX 10 RC rénové. This wheeled tank, armed with a 105mm gun, is the only vehicle in the french arsenal which i'd dare calling medium tank. 256 such vehicles been upgraded ("rénové", in fact) by 2010, and their out of service date is set into the 2020s, so i think this is it.
Continuing with the generic, never detailed trend, the White Paper promises a fleet of 2700 armoured vehicles, with no real indication of what it comprises. The fate of the SCORPION modernisation and digitalisation programme for the army, as a consequence, couldn't be more confused.
The french army hopes to replace the ERC90 Sagaie reconnaissance vehicle and the AMX 10 RC as well, with the EBCR (Engine Blinde de Reconnaissance et de Combat).
There is also a requirement for the replacement of the aging VAB (Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé) with a new vehicle known as VBMR. How the White Paper impacts all these programs, and what is counted in the "2700" figure is impossible for me to say at the moment. Among the armoured vehicles currently available and on order we can count 191 Vikings on order, well over 3000 VABs in all variants, 700 VBCI, 1610 light armored cars Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL) and 1500 small protected vehicles Petit Véhicule Protégé and small numbers of Buffalo, Aravis and Sherpa vehicles, ordered for use in Afghanistan.
Assuming that the Vikings and VBCI orders won't be touched, even expecting the old VBL to be retired from service in the near future, it is clear that there will be reductions and changes and the hoped-for 2326 VBMR and 292 EBCR could end up coming in much lower numbers.
EBCR might become the new "medium tank", so that would mean 250 vehicles according to current plans. The VBMR, the VBCI and the lighter vehicles including Viking should make up the 2700 figure.
The Army will have 30 "tactical" UAVs. The french are currently trialing the british Watchkeeper, which, if selected, would fullfill this requirement.
The Army will have 140 attack and reconnaissance helicopters, which should include the full planned 80 Tiger helicopters on order. Of these, 40 are in the HAP variant (armed only with gun, rockets and Mistral air to air missiles) while the remaining 40 are in the much improved HAD variant, which can also armed with Hellfire II missiles.
115 utility helicopters will also be available. Of these, a significant proportion should be made up by NH90 TTH helicopters (known as Caïman in the french army), but as of this month France is hesitating in placing an expected order for 34 such machines. The publication of the White Paper should be a step forwards in the right direction.
34 machines are already on order and an initial capability for the type was reached in February this year. The NH90 is mainly meant to replace over 90 PUMA helicopters used by the ALAT, the french army aviation.
Revised downwards are also the Defence Planning assumptions. France is planning to be able to deploy abroad significantly smaller force packages.
A package of 5000 men will be kept at High Readiness, in order to enable the constant availability of
a very high readiness Joint Reaction Force numbering 2300 men. This force will be able to deploy "up to 3000 km away from the homeland" within 7 days and will comprise a 1500-strong battlegroup, Special Forces contributions, helicopters, 10 fighter jets and other supports. It will be able to deploy with the support of a small naval task group centered on one LHD.
There is an assumption that the Army will be required to carry out multiple (up to two or three simultaneously) "crisis management operations", comparable to the british army "non-enduring operations".
To make this possible, the armed forces will be able to draw from a combined force of 6000 to 7000 army soldiers and SF operators with armored vehicles up to the mysterious "medium tank" and helicopter support. The Navy will be able to provide a frigate, and/or an LHD task group, eventually with the presence of an SSN "depending on the circumstances".
The air force would provide "a dozen fighters spread on the different theatres", and the wider forces of Air force and Navy could provide long range strikes with cruise missiles (SCALP and SCALP Navale).
Like the british armed forces, the French are also keeping their options open for the delivery, with suitable warning (6 months notice, according to the Paper) of a non enduring "divisional effort", while retaining "some of the responsibilities already assumed in other open fronts".
This "best effort", to say it with the words that the british SDSR used, would mean deploying a Division HQ (if needed) to lead the force (which would be multinational, it is specified). The combat power would come from two brigades, representing a force of roughly 15.000 men.
These would get the support of up to 45 fighter jets (provided by Navy and Air Force together) and of a naval task group comprising the aircraft carrier, escorts, two LHDs, one SSN and support including maritime patrol aircraft. The White Paper document goes as far to suggest that it will only be possible to sustain such a level of naval support only if the british collaborate and bring to the party their own assets, as decided with the Lancaster House Agreement.
Following such "best effort", the french armed forces would be able to provide a smaller force to participate in post-war stabilisation operations.
There is also a capacity to provide up to 10.000 men in support of internal security.
Regarding the nuclear deterrence, the White Paper confirms an arsenal of "less than 300 nuclear warheads". The ASMPA air-launched cruise missile will receive a mid-life upgrade and the submarine-based ballistic deterrent will be fully supported, with work continuing on the M51 missile, which will replace the older M45 on the first three SSBNs (the fourth already had the M51 at its entry in service).
Finally, there are relevant Satellite plans ahead.
The MUSIS Earth Observation constellation is confirmed, with France planning to put into orbit two optical satellites.
The CERES programme is also confirmed: it will deliver a space-based ELINT capability.
There is also a New Generation COMSAT programme that will have to deliver, from 2020, a successor satellite communications system to replace the current SYRACUSE. UK-France collaboration on this requirement is a possibility, as the UK will need to think about the future of SKYNET roughly in the same period.
I'm sure we will talking again about this document and its consequences in the coming months. There are some really important developments, and some promising, much awaited news.
It is, however, rather worrisome to see that, after the UK, France is following in significantly reducing its arsenal and military capability.
Surprisingly, France is reducing its conventional force even more than the UK (in certain areas): the difference is not so much in the 200 main battle tanks against 227, obviously, but in the maximum effort that France is capable to make: 2 brigades and 15.000 men, against 3 brigades and 30.000 men.
The numbers, which are the most relevant for Europe, are starting to get truly worrisome. Capability is reducing dramatically. The numbers are truly low.
Observing the french effort, i will just add, once more, two considerations that i've made many times already:
The Royal Navy is damaged by the total absence of a "second line" of warships. The direct comparison between RN and Marine Nationale makes it very evident: while the RN leads, by quality and quantity, in terms of SSNs and high-end escorts (assuming that all 13 planned Type 26 are effectively put into service), the RN, while having just as many far and dispersed standing tasks all over the world as the french navy, totally lacks a second-tier flottilla of light frigates and large patrol ships.
The french have 21 such vessels, of various classes. The RN desperately needs to find a solution to this problem: it needs its own flottilla of "standing task" ships.
The second point i want to rise, once more, is that the UK is, in my opinion, not doing enough to exploit Space. Access to US satellites is fantastic, but are we really sure that the lack of a national capability for earth observation and space-based intelligence is a good thing?
I think it is not.