Five defence questions to Benoît Hamon

Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate in the French presidential election

Benoît Hamon sent us his answers to the five questions concerning their position with regard to the army and the weapons industry that we posed to the 11 candidates in the presidential election.

 

1) In a difficult budgetary context, how much effort should be put into the defence budget?

Given the degraded strategic environment facing France and Europe, a significant effort in favour of our defence is necessary. Like General de Villiers, I believe that the level of this effort must be increased to 2% by the end of the next five-year period if we want to maintain the coherence of our defence model. The budget of €32.7bn (excluding pensions) for 2017 will therefore have to be increased by about €2bn per year if this target is to be reached.

Moreover, I note that the problems of internal and external security are merging closer and closer. In my view, this would justify adopting within a framework law the defence and security budgets. Thus, the funds allocated to this security continuum could eventually reach 3% of GDP. This will allow the necessary resources to be allocated while allowing for a form of flexibility in increasing budgetary resources. Our defence model, which has proved its relevance over the long term, must have its components perpetuated, namely, in addition to protecting our territories, nuclear deterrence with renewed elements, and our ability to be first in theatre.

 

2) Is it the role of the military to undertake operations such as Sentinelle (deployed within France)?

Initially, and because we were in an emergency, it was necessary for our armed forces to participate in securing certain sites and ensuring the safety of our fellow citizens. This is part of what we call domestic operations. Continuing with this operation, which I am well aware mobilises more men and units than is reasonable, must be debated in the light of the context but also of the alternatives, for France cannot lower her guard against the terrorist threat to her interests, her territory and our fellow citizens.

The question today is how long should this operation carry on for. It must be deconnected from the state of emergency. I propose that the missions assumed by the soldiers of Operation Sentinelle should be taken up by the security forces, the police and the gendarmerie, whose numbers must be strengthened, and the National Guard which will grow in the years to come up. This will allow us to turn down the heat being felt by our armed forces.

 

3) Do you think the Army is sufficiently well equipped?

The problem is not so much a question of quantity as the over-use of weapon systems which means they are less available. The operational contracts set by the White Paper have been surpassed by 30% with the multiplication of operations, the potential that is consumed today will obviously not be available tomorrow and the effort in terms of scheduled maintenance of equipment made over the last five years will have to be accentuated. I am also fully aware that some of our equipment, such as the VAB, are extremely old and that we suffer from a structural weakness in terms of air mobility.

So the modernisation of our armoured vehicles (Scorpion) and better availability of new generation helicopters will be part of my priorities for ground forces. As announced in Strasbourg, I particularly want to increase our fleet of NH90 Caymans from 15 to 20 additional units.

 

4) How can we grow our defence industrial base? Do you think that the examples set by MBDA and Nexter should be followed?

France has one of the most comprehensive defence industries in Europe and in the world. Maintaining this high value-added industrial fabric presupposes that tomorrow’s capacity needs have already been identified. This is why the effort made in the field of studies and development must be significantly increased. I will increase the dedicated envelope by almost 300 million so that the R&D effort reaches €1bn per year.

Two requirements must be respected in the years to come to control the costs of our future equipment: the preservation of our technological superiority which must remain at the service of our forces and not the reverse; a control of costs in order to avoid the temptation of developing extremely sophisticated equipment which does not meet specific operational requirements, all to the detriment of human resources. We also need to integrate environmental constraints right from the design of weapon systems, making them more efficient, less energy intensive and less costly to use and dismantle, and therefore more self-sufficient and more attractive to export. I’d also like to stress the dual nature of civil and military technologies and the importance of highlighting this dimension. This means focusing on breaking technologies: artificial intelligence, robots, digital, cyber.

I would also like to strengthen European cooperation in this area by increasing the budget entrusted to the European Defence Agency and supporting the creation of a European Defence Fund as planned in the next Community budget. This policy must obviously be articulated around the restructuring movement that the industrial sector is undergoing today, symbolised by Nexter and MBDA. It would also be a good idea for the military shipbuilding sector to begin to move in order to face increasingly intense competition.

 

5) If you become President of the Republic in 2017 what will your three defence priorities be?

The most urgent need, as stressed above, is the increase in the availability of our equipment and the training of our military personnel so that they can carry out their many missions in good conditions.

I would also like to make a priority of major equipment programmes which are sorely missing: I’m thinking of the Scorpion programme, a renovated helicopter fleet for the Army, but also the MRTTs to replace our half-century old C135F tankers and accelerate the BATSIMAR naval programme to ensure proper security for our exclusive economic zone .

Finally, I would ensure the modernisation of the two components of our nuclear deterrent so that it remains credible beyond 2040. This will require doubling the dedicated budget by 2022. I promise that my hand will not tremble to make the decisions concerning this from the beginning of the five-year term, because it constitutes the life insurance of our national independence.