Laurent Collet-Billon, the director of France’s DGA procurement agency, never forgets that he was once a rugby player and frequently refers to the game when explaining or commenting the DGA’s activities. His press conference earlier this week was no exception when, in order to explain that the DGA “is the leading investor in the nation” he remarked that it all came down to PRP: possession, rhythm and progression, the famous rugby adage for a winning game.
The winning game for 2016 was due in large part to success in exports. Even if Collet-Billon did not want to confirm the figure of €20bn in export contracts announced last month by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the DGA is nevertheless boosting its export team by 300 people, of whom 70 have already been hired. His answer to a journalist’s question about exports was : “We have world champions, I don’t have to spell it out for you. The Rafale is being sold, DCNS is selling ships, Safran exports engines and others things, Thales contributes very strongly to all this. We also have a very, very important contribution from our network of SME’s.”
Looking back on 2016 deliveries to the French armed forces, for which the DGA paid €10.8m (against €11m in 2015), Collet-Billon noted that the six new Tiger helicopters brought the total in the French Army to 61 and that of the 11 A400M transport aircraft delivered, six now had tactical capabilities. He noted that “the tactical capacities of the aircraft are really interesting” even if the capacity to drop more paratroopers still needs working on. “The team around Fernando Alonso [the executive vice president of Airbus military aircraft since March 2015) are good listeners and provide answers and I’m counting on this continuing,” he stated. On 30 March the procurement chiefs of the six European partners of the A400M programme (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom) and OCCAR, the joint European procurement agency that is managing the programme on behalf of the six nations, will meet with Airbus management in Madrid to discuss the way forward with the contract. “But all six nations have to agree. It could take some time,” Collet-Billon hinted.
The DGA spends an average of €730m a year in upstream studies. Although he put no precise figure on how much is being spent on the principal future capacity for ground combat, Collet-Billon made it clear that work was being concentrated on finding a replacement for the Leclerc battle tank “so that it can be withdrawn by 2030” … which sounds a long way off but is only 13 years away. The Leclerc was designed and manufactured by France’s Nexter group which last year created a joint group named KNDS with Germany’s Krauss Maffei Wegmann (you can read about it here). “We’re awaiting the practical applications of this creation,” the DGA’s director said, notably by “marrying their technical and commercial capacities.” KNDS’s major task will be working on developing the future tank “which will be Franco-German” according to Collet-Billon. “I would bet that it will have a German chassis and engine and a French turret but this engages only myself, although I’m rarely wrong!” he laughed.
Monique Legrand-Larroche, the DGA’s director of operations, said €80m had been spent last year to meet urgent operational requirements and that overall the DGA had saved 30% on prices by strictly applying the public market tendering process and thus having companies compete against each other.