War in Ukraine, unexpected ally of French defense

Good listener! On one wall of the National Assembly Hall, which houses the very modest Committee for Defense and Armed Forces, General de Gaulle’s words echo current events. “Defense! This is the first reason for the existence of the state. It cannot fail without destroying itself.” It is obvious that no one in Parliament expected the mandate to end with a war at the gates of Europe. Nobody but a handful of deputies who for five years consult, hear, report, very often without the media noticing, and try to influence the country’s military financial trajectory.

Among them are Patricia Miralles (MP for Hérault, La République en Marche, LREM) and Jean-Louis Thiriot (MP for Seine-et-Marne, Les Républicains, LR), authors of a super-detailed information report dedicated to preparing our forces for high-intensity combat. A nine-month-old work published on February 17, just a week before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Our work was aimed at showing the state of our forces in the face of high intensity war by 2030 with the idea that we must be able to defend ourselves and have an appropriate budget,” summarizes Patricia Miralles. And the least we can say is that some of the numbers speak for themselves.

“In one weekend, Scholz changed the course of history”

In 1991, our army had 1349 main battle tanks. In 2021, only 222 copies remain, and forecasts for 2030 are expected to be barely 200 copies. The same with military aviation (Air Force and Navy): from 686 in 1991, this air fleet was reduced to 254 units in 2021. As for military personnel (including reservists), at the time of the collapse of the USSR there were 453,000 of them, only 203 remained 000 Disarmament, which the former Commander of the Strategic Air Force, General Bruno Maigret, summarizes as follows: “In a high-intensity conflict with an attrition rate close to that of the Falklands in 1982 (8%), the Air Force will be out of aircraft in ten days and presumably without missiles in two days.”

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Obviously the call trajectory. However, the French MPs would like to recall that without the financial efforts of the Law on Military Programming (LPM) 2019-2025, “which restored the army to human height”, as Patricia Miralles recalls, with 295 billion euros allocated over seven years. , the fall would be even more dizzying. The French Parliament believes that “this LPM was a catch-up law. To really modernize, it will have to wait until 2025-2031. We will have to maintain the financial trajectory,” sums up the deputy of the outgoing majority. .

This nationwide effort is already good news for the members of the French Defense Industrial and Technological Base (BITD), which brings together 4,000 companies and 200,000 jobs behind the footholds of Dassault, Naval Group, Thales, Nexter (tanks) or even MBDA (missiles). ). Because, as Dassault Aviation General Manager Eric Trappier recalled at the end of March before this famous defense commission, “War in Europe is a shock. The threat is at our doorstep. We must react quickly. This is the end.” peace dividend.

Presentation of the griffin in Satory (Yvelines), July 4, 2019 in Nexter.

Presentation of the griffin in Satory (Yvelines), July 4, 2019 in Nexter.

afp.com/THOMAS SAMSON

In this sense, “the war in Ukraine is evengame changer for the entire military industry,” the director of Thales abounds. Because French budgetary efforts, capped at 2% of GDP, are beginning to legion in Europe. Following France, Germany and Sweden now decide to rearm.” In one weekend, Chancellor Scholz changed the course of history by announcing an investment of 100 billion euros in his defense. There is before and after February 24, 2022 for us, ”admits the boss of the tricolor industrial group.

If no one yet knows the exact signs of this XXL envelope, then Germany has already rushed to fall into the arms of the Americans, announcing the purchase of F-35 fighters instead of our Rafales in order to be able to quickly take their share in NATO (these aircraft will load US nuclear deterrent). To be honest, not a single French boss in the industry was surprised by this choice, but it raises questions. “The big danger is that these investments will fuel American industry. This will have a divisive and disruptive effect on European industry as we try to encourage people to work together,” warns Eric Beranger, CEO of the MBDA missile company and chairman of the US Department of Defense. Committee of the Council of the French Defense Industry (Cidef).

Moreover, this problem is perfectly illustrated by an example: the future Eurodrone. If a few weeks ago an order for 60 units of these small remotely piloted aircraft worth 7.1 billion euros was registered by major European countries, then its developer Airbus chose the Italian Catalyst engine developed by Avio. subsidiary of the American General Electric. And this is to the detriment of the French specialist Safran, who just offered to work in conjunction with other European partners. The first steps of European defense no longer show any signs of continental preference.

Subcontracting chain vulnerability

As a counterattack, Eric Trappier, who hopes to take a lead over Airbus on the future European combat aircraft (Scaf) expected by 2040, is calling for “private shareholders to get involved in defense activities” since “the state cannot not do everything” as he scored at the end of March in front of parliamentarians. In truth, investors were ahead of his call, according to the stock quotes of French industrialists, for whom the war plays as allies. Thales stock is up 40% in six weeks! Dassault? Almost 30%! “Investors are overestimating the growth potential of defense companies, and some of them are less afraid of ESG criteria. [NDLR : environnementaux, sociaux et de gouvernance]”, explains the expert.

An armed French Army Reaper drone equipped with two 250kg GBU-12 bombs at Niamey Air Base, Niger, December 15, 2019.

An armed French Army Reaper drone equipped with two 250kg GBU-12 bombs at Niamey Air Base, Niger, December 15, 2019.

afp.com/Daphne BENOIT

Indeed, the prospect of stronger European regulation in an environmental or responsible dimension has deterred some funds, notably German ones, which have set a rule to exclude from their investments companies generating more than 5% of their turnover in the tobacco industry. , coal or weapons. Manufacturers also feared that investors would leave because of the new European taxonomy or the application of eco-labels to their products.

“I’m tired of hearing that participation in defense is the same as alcohol or tobacco. Believe me, there are no labels or taxonomies for Americans or Europeans buying American,” Eric Trappier scolded in front of deputies. “The good news is that with the war, those malign NGOs have gone silent,” comments the French boss, who remains on guard. The danger is that after a phase of emotion and urgency, these speeches are likely to reappear in Brussels.

This scenario can hinder recovery while the construction site is huge. “We will need support to bring defense back to the center of society. We have been deindustrialized for many years and we will need weapons within fifteen to twenty years because we are going to renew our entire national fleet,” said Pierre Eric Pommelle, CEO of Naval Group during the same parliamentary hearings.

In their report, deputies Miralles and Thiério accurately pointed out the vulnerability of the subcontracting chain and the risk of loss of skills. An additional danger, knowing that it will be necessary to quickly resupply armies. “The steel production cycle for the Caesar cannon is eighteen months. To be ready in a year, we must start now,” spokesman Marc Darmon, Thales Deputy CEO and President of Groupement des Industries Land Defense.

Express

This issue of deliveries was also brought up for discussion by the General Delegate for Armaments, Joel Barré. During his latest closed-door hearing in parliament, the latter made it clear to MEPs that some ammunition is no longer used, even in training, because its price has become prohibitive. In particular, this applies to anti-tank missiles “Milan” (6000 euros per unit). Accurate, mobile and heavy-duty weapons that France accurately delivered to the Ukrainians. And who, with Turkish-made strike mini-drones and American Javelin missiles, participated in repelling the onslaught of Russian troops in Ukraine.


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