by Christina Mackenzie and Nathan Gain
France signed €16bn-worth of defence export contracts in 2015, a rise of nearly 100% on the €8.2bn recorded the previous year. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French TV station BFMTV on 14 January that “€16bn, [is] a record. It’s double the previous year’s figure and that one was already twice the one of the preceding year .” The minister was being somewhat over enthusiastic as doubling the 2013 figure of €6.87bn would have brought the 2014 one up to €13.74bn!
A large chunk of the 2015 record, €11.5bn, is accounted for by the sale to Egypt and Qatar of 24 Rafales each. Qatar has a time-limited option for a further 12 aircraft. Not all of this money, however, went into the pockets of the aircraft’s manufacturer, Dassault Aviation; some also lined MBDA’s and Thales’ pockets. Both these companies are major sub-contractors on the Rafale, the first providing the weapons systems and the second much of the electronics.
France’s naval systems group, DCNS, is another major beneficiary of the 2015 windfall. Even if the sale of the two Mistral-class helicopter landing docks to Egypt (those originally built for Russia before France cancelled the contract in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea and fighting in Ukraine) is not included in the 2015 financial figures, given that they were accounted for in 2011, DCNS nevertheless sold and delivered a FREMM multimission frigate to Egypt [the Normandie, initially destined for the French Navy].
If France finally signs the contract for the sale of 36 Rafales for India – and that could happen this coming weekend during French President François Hollande’s visit to the sub-continent – and Australia selects DCNS to provide between six to 12 submarines to replace its troubled Collins-class vessels, then 2016 could be another bumper year for French defence exports.
Meanwhile, exchanges between France and Lebanon have been re-established following the re-activation of the €2.2bn contract signed in November 2014 by France and Saudi Arabia, Lebanon’s great paymaster.
France should deliver 250 combat vehicles, seven Cougar helicopters, three corvettes, and communications and surveillance equipment to Lebanon between now and 2022-23. In addition to supplying this materiel, France will also train 70,000 Lebanese Army personnel for seven years and ensure the maintenance of the equipment delivered for the next 10 years. “There is a Franco-Saudi consensus that it is in our interest that Lebanon remain uninvolved in the Syrian crisis and the best way to achieve this is by strengthening the multi-confessional institutions of this country, starting with the Lebanese army,” sources in the French Defence Ministry say.