Nuancing the French defence budget

with Christina Mackenzie

Redressing the defence effort of our country” is the motto of the French Defence Budget 2018 presented on 27 September by Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly. The budget, unveiled in broad terms by President Emmanuel Macron on 13 September, will rise by €1.8bn to €34.2bn (excluding pensions) in 2018, an increase of 5.8% or 1.82% of of GDP against 1.77% this year.

The Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Armies, General François Lecointre (Credit: Ministry of the Armed Forces)

This rising trend will continue until the end of the five-year presidential term, hitting €41bn in 2022, thus enabling France by 2025 to reach the 2% of its GDP spent on defence as recommended by NATO. “Over the entire five-year period, the army’s resources will increase by €30bn compared to the previous two five-year terms,” said the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

So… an effort is certainly being made, but one which must be nuanced. Of this €1.8bn increase, one must subtract nearly €1bn to comply with the measures taken in the era of previous president, François Hollande, such as the increase in the number of employees and hence the payroll, as well as an additional €200m granted to operations abroad (known as OPEX in France), whose 2018 budget climbs to €650m. So that leaves a real increase of just €600m. Add to this the €850m cancelled during the summer, which the ministry hopes to recover by renegotiating some programmes, as well as the €700m frozen in 2017 over which Parly intends to negotiate with her colleague in the Finance Ministry in October, and you end up with a bit of a mirage budget.

Similarly, even if the provision allocated to OPEXs in the initial budget has risen significantly, it is far from attaining the real costs of these operations which have been well beyond €1bn since 2013. This year, for example, the cost of foreign operations will exceed €1.32bn, when the Armed Forces have only €1.13bn to finance them. Who will pay the residual €190m? The same goes for domestic missions whose additional costs are expected to amount to €203m in 2017 of which only €41m have already been paid. What about the remaining €162m? And these figures do not take into account the cost of this month’s emergency operations put into place by the Ministry of the Armed Forces to help the populations of the West Indies in the wakes of hurricanes Irma and Maria … So, before rejoicing over her increased budget for 2018, the former secretary of state for the budget’s first task is to balance the books for 2017.

Beyond this, it should be noted that the Ministry of the Armed Forces will nevertheless make a significant financial effort in terms of equipment, whose total budget will reach €18.5bn, a rise of €1.2bn from the 2017 equipment budget.

This increase will enable the Army to rest easy both in terms of delivery of materiel and in the conduct of programmes. There is no question, for example, of touching the precious Scorpion programme, apart from the development of the turrets for the Griffon multi-role armoured vehicles (VBMR), designed by Renault Trucks Defense, which will be impacted. In 2018 the first three Griffons will be delivered as will the prototypes of the Jaguar reconnaissance and combat armoured reconnaissance vehicle (EBRC) for their first trials, and the first Scorpion Battle Information System (SICS).

The same trend applies for deliveries of materiel that should follow their planned schedules. In terms of Projection-Mobility, the Army will therefore have 40 new PPT multipurpose military trucks, an unspecified number of heavyweight special forces vehicles, known by their French acronym PLFS (poids lourds des forces spéciales), and the first 500 polyvalent light tactical vehicles (VLTP-NP).

Deployed primarily as part of Operation Sentinel, the VLTP NPs “will enable the forces to deploy very quickly in congested urban areas as well as in rural areas.” The airborne dimension will receive eight NH90 Caymans, five HAD Tigers and 1,050 Fighter Parachuting Sets.

In the field of personal protection, the Ministry of the Armed Forces plans to acquire new composite helmets, accelerate deliveries of SMB (ballistic molecular structure) type bullet-proof vests which are “lighter and more protective than the models currently in the inventory” and the first flame retardant F3 combat outfits. The whole for an overall budget of €60m.

Finally, the “Commitment to Combat” component, will receive 125 medium range missiles (MMP), 8,000 HK416F rifles and 4,253 “lightweight Feline outfits”.