Training for deployment in France – part 2

Yesterday we published the first part of our report on General Arnaud Sainte-Claire Deville’s audition by the French Parliamentary Defence Committee in which he described how the French Army is trained.

Here is part 2:

Members of the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment patrol the Christmas market on the Champs Elysées in Paris on 23rd November 2015.

Members of the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment patrol the Christmas market on the Champs Elysées in Paris on 23rd November 2015.

The General stressed that “the tragic events of [13th November] have strengthened my conviction that our land forces must more than ever contribute to the protection of our fellow citizens in our country.” He reminded the parliamentary defence committee that in January (following the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly) the army deployed 10,000 men in three days within France and since then more than 58,000 soldiers, of which 36,000 in Paris, have been deployed “without major incident.” And this even when soldiers face verbal or physical aggression (once on the Paris subway and once in Nice) and the fact that deployment in the Sentinelle operation is not easy: patrols can be from five to 23 hours long during which a soldier will walk between 15 to 20kms; for some, 2015 will equate to more than 200 days away from home.

A three-person patrol armed by the 515th Transport Regiment patrols in Paris' business quarter, La Défense, on 23rd Nov. 2015.

A three-person patrol armed by the 515th Transport Regiment patrols in Paris’ business quarter, La Défense, on 23rd Nov. 2015.

But he stressed that joint operational training has suffered heavily because of this massive deployment within France’s borders. He said that almost all the training sessions between January and October had been cancelled “and that thus since 7th January the capacity for joint manoeuvres of our land forces is inexorably decreasing.” He added that “this means that today we would not be able to undertake an operation such as Serval [in Mali] in the same conditions and it would be very difficult to engage land forces urgently on a new theatre of operations. To engage on an unplanned theatre at short notice we need to have a good level of joint training,” he stressed.

Sainte-Claire Deville said the conditioning prior to deployment was continuing but only for those units that were going to “the most demanding” theatres, which were, he stressed “a clear priority.” By these he meant Barkhane (the follow-up of Serval) and Sangaris (Central African Republic). Conditioning for other theatres is “reduced to the bare essentials.

But he stressed that “the erosion of our operational capital must be tempered by the solid experience our regiments have acquired in foreign theatres over the past 20 years.

And he added “an equilibrium will be acheived” thanks to a French government decision in April to allow the army to recruit a further 11,000 personnel, even if “we will not recuperate the same training possibilities that we had before.” He said that starting in October 2016 a renovated operational training programme would be introduced to take into account the “professional maturity and experience” of the units “by decentralising the procedure even further towards the future commander of the two divisions and by giving more initiative to the commanding officers in the construction of their operational training programme.

Before 7th January a soldier spent 15% of his time on foreign theatres and 5% on French deployments. Since then he still spends 15% of his time on foreign theatres but between 40 to 50% on Sentinelle deployments.

A Sentinelle patrol outside the Louvre museum in Paris.

A Sentinelle patrol outside the Louvre museum in Paris.

But, Sainte-Claire Deville said, “once we have recruited, instructed, formed and trained our 11,000 recruits, the soldier will still spend 15% of his time on foreign theatres but 20 to 25% on missions to protect his fellow citizens” within France. And the remainder of the time will be given over to training and “some sort of social life to better the balance between time spent within and without the barracks.

This rise in the number of recruits “will enable us… by the summer 2017 to return to an acceptable level of training for a first rank professional army,” he said.