France has changed course on military reductions, cancelling a good share of the planned reduction in the number of personnel and making a sizeable adjustement to funding, which has brought about an update to the plans, which include a major restructuring of the Army, under project Au Contact!, "in contact".
The main items in the reworked plans include:
- Army's operational, deployable manpower at 77.000 (versus 66.000 target with the earlier cuts)
- 1000 more men to the Special Forces with the creation of the GAOS, Groupement d'Appui Auix Operations Speciales; a support battalion not unlike 1 PARA SFSG in the UK
- 1000 men to the Intelligence and ISTAR forces
- 1000 men to cybersecurity
The Army's new structure will be detailed on May 28, but we know that the restructuring will deliver 6 land manoeuvre brigades (a cut of one HQ, the current 3rd brigade), of which two will be heavy armoured, two medium, wheeled and equipped with the new VBMR 6x6 vehicles and EBRC 6x6 reconnaissance vehicle, one Parachute and one Mountain. These brigades will have some 7000 men each, with up to 7 regiments. Two deployable Division HQs will command the brigades, three each.
One Aviation Brigade is to be formed to bring all helicopter regiments under a unified command. This airmobile brigade will not have organic ground units, it seems, but will provide airmobility to the infantry of the line brigades.
The Navy says that a 7th Commando unit will be raised. Its unit name hasn't yet been selected.
|A first graphic showing the reorganization of the army commands. More details should become available on May 28.|
Several important items of equipment have been added:
- 7 Tiger attack helicopters, bringing total planned purchase up from 60 to 67. The procurement of a laser-guided rocket to complement Hellfire missiles is planned. Hellfire itself will be replaced in 2021, most likely with an air launched development of the new MMP anti-tank missile in development for the Army, would be my guess.
The Tiger will continue to be complemented by around 80 armed Gazelle helicopters. The aim is keeping attack and reconnaissance helicopters at 146 in total.
Replacement for the elderly Gazelle should come under project HIL (hélicoptère interarmées léger) in the 2020s. The HIL should replace Army Gazelle and Air Force Fennec, and Navy Dauphin and Alouette III. The programme used to be earlier known as HC4 - Hélicoptère Classe 4 Tonnes.
- 6 more NH-90 TTH battlefield utility helicopters, bringing planned purchases to 74. These will complement 8 Caracal in use by the Special Forces, plus 26 Cougar and a number of Pumas. The total of utility helicopters in the long-term is set at 115, and more NH-90s are planned to be purchased later to keep the total unchanged as the Puma is phased out. The reductions will be progressive: in 2020 there will still be more than 115 helicopters, considering all types.
- A 3rd MUSIS satellite will be acquired. This is a space based imagery intelligence asset. CERES will deliver national, space-based electronic intelligence.
- An electronic intelligence package for use on MQ-9 Reaper will be acquired. 12 Reaper remain planned, and deliveries are underway.
On Monday 18 may, France also signed a MOU with France and Germany for the cooperative study and development of an european MALE UAV for the 2020s, that will be the Reaper's replacement. This follows the falling apart of the UK - FR TELEMOS project. Ever since, the UK has been silent, and to this day it remains uncertain how the UK plans to move on and still deliver a UAV for the SCAVENGER requirement, which is also supposed to mitigate the loss of Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1 (pushed back to 2018, but still planned). RAF MQ-9 Reaper themselves have a funding line out to 2019, but the way ahead is uncertain. Answers on this vital requirement will be needed soon.
- 2 of the existing 14 C-130H will be fitted with a weapons capability to be employed in special forces support.
|French armed forces have made it clear that they want to keep a number of C-130s for their needs, arming them as well. Will UK special forces manage to get the MOD and government to listen to their well known, identical wish?|
- France will "study", with a decision to be taken by year's end, whether to procure 4 additional C-130s, two of which would be equipped as tankers, in order to provide tactical air refuelling to the Army and Air Force's Special Forces Caracal helicopters. This is due to the delays with A400M, which reportedly include difficulties with the helicopter AAR capability.
- Deliveries of the new A-330 MRTT "Phènix" will be accelerated. All should be delivered between 2018 and 2025.
|Phènix: what the RAF's own Voyager could and should have been, but isn't.|
- 25 new generation targeting pods (the new TALIOS) will be procured in addition to 45 which were already planned.
- The first batch of 60 SCALP cruise missiles renewed and life-extended is expected in delivery during 2019. UK and France were collaborating on a project for upgrading and life extending the SCALP / Storm Shadow. This might imply that the RAF will start to get upgraded missiles in the same years, but we don't really know.
- In 2017, design of a successor to the MICA air to air missile will begin.
- A GEOINT deployable capability will be procured under the GEODE 4D project. There might be an export chance here for the system the UK has recently developed and put into service, the TIGAS.
- In 2019, the Army will seek to replace the EBG, Engine Blindè du Genie, the combat engineer tractor. France has been looking into (and trialing) the british Terrier as a candidate solution, and while the production line in the UK has shut down, BAE has mothballed the machinery in order to be able to re-open an assembly line, eventually abroad. Terrier thus remains a very likely candidate.
- The navy will acquire a 4th B2M patrol vessel. Actually, news released since are that this fourth vessel will be a B3M: Bâtiment Multi-Mission Mutualisé. This is due to the ship being destined to be shared between the military, which will employ it for patrolling French Southern and Antarctic Lands, and the polar research institute Paul-Émile Victor. The B3M will be based in La Reunion, and will replace the patrol vessel Albatros (which will be decommissioned within days) and the ship L'Astrolabe, which supplies the Dumont d'Urville base in Antarctica.
The previous 3 B2M vessels are replacements for the BATRAL light transport ships which for years have flown the flag in the french waters overseas. The first B2M will be based in New Caledonia, the second in the french Polynesia and the third in the West Indies.
France is also procuring two light patrol vessels specifically designed to serve in Guyana. Having very limited draft, they will be able to push up into rivers. The Patrouilleurs Légers Guyanais were ordered back in december.
By 2020, the french navy will thus have 4 B2M/B3M ships and 2 PLGs covering overseas committments, and 7 old A-69 vessels, plus another 6 legacy patrol vessels of various kinds. The A-69 and other patrol vessels will be replaced under the BATSIMAR project expected to start in 2020.
6 surveillance frigates based in overseas territories also remain in force. Today this is the Floreal class, but a replacement will be needed later.
- The FREMM frigates are the losers. It is official at this point that the french navy will receive only 8, two of which configured for Air Defence (FREDA variant). 6 ASW vessels will be delivered by 2019 - 2020, despite the selling of Normandie to Egypt: building times will be speeded up. In 2021 and 2022 the two FREDA will be delivered.
From 2023, France now plans to be launching a new design frigate, the FTI, frégates de taille intermédiaire, the design of which is not yet known. There is a possibility that it will build upon the new italian PPA design, with some discussions having reportedly already taken place.
The target of 15 "first rank" warships remains unchanged. The tally is to include 4 anti-air defence warships and 11 frigates. Currently, the total is made up by the 2 Forbin / HORIZON class AAW destroyers, 2 F70 AAW legacy ships, old F70 ASW frigates and FREMM ships entering in service.
The 5 La Fayette frigates will be upgraded and fitted with sonar to help keep the total at 15 as the old F70 ASW ships are withdrawn from service.
The two FREDA will replace the F70 AAW in 2021 and 2022.
Then, from 2023, the La Fayette themselves will be replaced by the new FTIs.
- From 2021, SLAMF (Système de Lutte Anti Mines – Futur) is supposed to deliver new solutions to the MCM requirement. Eventually, the minesweepers will be replaced by 8 systems of unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, deployable at sea with four large motherships.
Apparently, and very surprisingly, five separate ships are also planned as bases for clearance divers, according to the MOD's document.
The development of the unmanned vehicles and general architecture for the umanned, stand-off clearance of minefields at sea is a collaborative project with the UK, with several demonstration contracts awarded in the last few months. The UK's MHC solution will use many of the same drones.
- Funding is provided for 4 Bâtiment de Soutien et d'Assistance Hauturier (BSAH), ocean-going tugs and support ships.
- From 2017, France will be ordering a new assault rifle to replace FAMAS
- For the future replacement of the C-160 Gabriel electronic warfare aircraft, France plans the procurement of Charge Universelle de Guerre Electronique (CUGE), a modular payload which will be embarked on cargo aircraft (A400, or maybe C-130 or even the smaller C-235) as necessary, removing the need for a dedicate, specific platform.
- France will be in the market for a new solution for the training of jet pilots under the Formation Moderniseè et Entrainement Diffèrenciè des Equipages de Chasse. There is a possibility that France will collaborate with Italy, maybe even sending pilots to the 61st Wing training school at Lecce Galatina, Italy, for training.
Other plans remain substantially unchanged from earlier versions. The army will still want to procure a tactical UAV, and the Watchkeeper is a leading candidate.
In 2020, the Navy will seek to launch FLOTLOG, the programme for the acquisition of 3 new supply ships for the logistics of the fleet.
Acquisition of all 630 VBCI will be followed by projects of modernisation, including the addition of turret-mounted missile launchers and enhanced networking within the SCORPION project.
The Army plans to acquire 2080 VBMR, including 358 in "Light", 4x4 variant to replace the VAB.
248 EBRC Scouts will replace the AMX 10RC and Sagaie ERC 90.
At a later date, 1470 VBAE (véhicules blindés d’aide à l’engagement) are expected to be procured to replace the VBL light armoured cars.
200 Leclerc MBTs and 18 Leclerc recovery vehicles are under contract for modernization and life extension. Artillery is going to be a bit short of guns if there will not be additional purchases of CAESAR truck-mounted 155/52 howitzers. Currently, 77 are on order, but as the tracked self-propelled guns retire, more would be needed.
13 launchers are being upgraded to GMLRS.
The Air Force continues to plan for a long-term figure of 185 combat jets, between Rafale and modernized Mirage 2000.
The Navy will add 40 Rafale M of its own, as the last Super Etendard Modernisee is withdrawn by 2017.
The nuclear deterrent will continue to be based on some 300 warheads. Three full sets of 16 M-51 submarine launched missiles will be maintained for the fleet of 4 SSBN; and the air force maintains a stock of some 54 ASMP-A missiles.
The fleet of maritime patrol aircraft will shrink to 15 upgraded ATL-2 over the long period. These will continue to be complemented by a further 4 ATL-2 used for surface surveillance, as well as 4 Falcon 50M, 5 Falcon 200 Guardian and a further 4 Falcon 50 due to be converted and fitted with SAR radar.
The main helicopter of the Navy will be the NH-90 NFH Cayman, 27 of which are on order, along with 14 palletized ASW kits with sonar Flash to employ on them when and where necessary. These will still be complemented by some 40 more light helicopters (Alouette, Panther, Dauphin) in 2020.