French industry eldorado: Belgium

Nearly €9.2bn invested in major equipment by 2030, including a record contract for 500 “Made in France” vehicles: has Belgium fired an opportunistic “single shot” or lain the foundation stone of a partnership? France, engaged in a complete overhaul of its military ground tools, is regularly cited as an example by the “Strategic Vision” of Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput. By 2030, this plan could lead to an unprecedented rapprochement between Brussels and Paris with, in passing, a trump card to play for French industry.

What if the sale of 500 Jaguar and Griffon vehicles was just a prelude?
(Photo Credit: MBDA)

The announcement of the Belgian Jaguar/Griffon contract would therefore not be just a coincidence. Indeed, “geographical proximity is essential here in order to organise together the development of ‘training’, ‘organisation’, ‘management and maintenance of equipment’ and ‘infrastructure’ capacities,” says the Strategic Vision. Similarly, it should be noted that the backbone of the future Belgian Combined Motorised Capacity has strong echoes of the central elements of France’s Scorpion programme. We thus learn in the Strategic Vision that “since 2014, our land forces have been reinforced in terms of a concept of joint arms commitment comparable to that of France.” From comparable to identical, there is only one step. And Belgium is going a step further than Scorpion by reflecting on the creation of a real amphibious force in conjunction “with the Netherlands or France, (…) since these two countries possess Marine infantry battalions.” The airmobile capability, currently made up of four NH90 TTHs, is not to be outdone, with the possibility of transferring training for Germany’s pilots to the French Training NH90 Centre.

These synergies can be relied on by French manufacturers to promote its know-how because, according to the Strategic Vision, “acquiring identical equipment offers (…) the best basis for close cooperation in all development areas that support a military capability.” The “Belgian Scorpion” is in reality only the tree hiding a veritable forest of procurement programmes representing a little over €1.2bn and involving new communication systems, an NRBC (nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical) capacity, artillery, and tactical and logistical vehicles. All this at cost savings favourable to France, because the Belgian capability prospects “can only be achieved by a thorough integration with the military capabilities of the strategic partner countries.

Take, for example, the case of artillery. Today limited to a battery of 105mm LG1 Mk II howitzers and some 120mm F1 mortars – respectively produced by Nexter and TDA Armements -, the Belgian strike capacity will evolve between 2027 and 2029 “towards an indirect, long-range precision support battery, equipped with air-transportable wheeled vehicles“, says the Strategic Vision. In other words, Nexter would very clearly have a card to play by proposing a CAESAR self-propelled cannon which has scored a number of export successes in 2017. As demonstrated by Nexter last week at the Paris Air Show, CAESAR is totally air-transportable by an A400M, seven of which will constitute the future transport segment of Belgium’s Air Component. If Belgium has not mentioned the number envisaged, the provisional budget of €48m would be slightly higher than what Denmark recently spent to buy 15 CAESARs.

Nexter’s CAESAR, the future backbone of the Belgian artillery?

But in order to wrest other successes, French industry will nevertheless have to comply with certain predictable rules. For example, the Strategic Vision emphasises the need to optimise spending through a “maximum return of these investments to society through know-how, technology and employment“. All purchases will therefore be tied to an offset system supported, notably, by the 15 June 2006 law authorising the use of industrial offsets as a criterion for the award of contracts. Similarly, the Strategic Vision is clearly in line with a logic of support for national industry, in particular through the establishment of “closer links between the European / international industry and our own industry” which might put some industrial players at a disadvantage. Finally, it is unlikely that Belgium will lay the future of its Ground Component in the hands of a single industrial partner. In the struggle for the Belgian market, France will necessarily have to compete with the appetite of neighbouring manufacturers. All these criteria will have to be met by French industry if it wishes to go beyond the stage of just a flash in the pan and multiply its contracts in Belgium.