Re-birth of French munitions sector

A few months ago I would hardly have dared hope for this moment.” With these words, spoken on 17 March in Pont-de-Buis-Lès-Quimerch (Brittany), French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared the renaissance in France of a small caliber war munitions (5.56mm, 7.62mm and 9 mm) industry. “It is the rebirth of a sector that was abandoned in the late 1990s at the same time as production of the FAMAS [rifle],” he said.

The sector will be the fruit of an industrial agreement signed between “three exceptional French companies,” explained Le Drian, pointing out in passing that “we‘ve acted Made in France, not just talked about it.” The three companies are the “world leader in powder, the world’s leading manufacturer of ammunition producing machine tools and (…) Thales.”

The ammunition will be manufactured at a new assembly line in Pont-de-Buis-lès-Quimerch by Nobelsport (a subsidiary of the Sofisport group), the world leader of hunting and shooting ammunition with 30% of the global market, and Thales TDA Armements which will handle the design by bringing to the new venture its technological know-how in the manufacture of ammunition cases and projectiles. The electronics giant already equips the Australian army with assault rifles and ammunition. The third partner, Manurhin, a machine tool specialist “exporting 100% to 60 different countries”, will supply the cartridge machines.

NobelSport and Thales are expected to finance the investment of less than €100m and then amortize it on the price of the ammunition (€0.30 to €0.40 per unit according to our colleague writing in French economic daily La Tribune).

Within the next three years the production line is expected to have ramped up to produce 100 million pieces of ammunition a year, 90% of which will only be used for training by the Ministries of Defence, Interior, Justice and Finance. But the industrial partners are also targeting the export market. To succeed in this new enterprise, they will have to guarantee to the ministries “the same price and quality of ammunition as their competitors and the same delivery times. Otherwise we will not buy.”

So, it would appear that the 16 December 2105 report by the National Defence and Armed Forces Commission of the National Assembly which was concerned about “the lack of an industrial means of producing small-caliber ammunition in France” and the “situation of total dependence” France had on “supply exclusively from abroad” has led to a remarkably quick response and to what Le Drian declared as an “act of national sovereignty with the renaissance of this sector.”

The adventure actually began “almost a year ago to the day” when Le Drian came “to see powders [and then] it seemed to me that the road that separates the hunting mission from the military mission is not, perhaps, frankly impassable. And from this observation was born a long and dense phase of elaboration of a project to re-implant a small-caliber ammunition industry in France…”