PARIS — France needs to raise its game in supporting arms exports, with moves such as staffing embassies with specialists, fielding trained weapon demonstrators and speeding up license clearances, Christian Mons, chairman of the Conseil des Industries de Défense Fran-çaises (CIDEF), said July 3.
Boosting state support for exports was among the proposals the defense industry trade group made in an industry white paper intended to influence the new government’s planned defense and national security white paper.
The industry is braced for billions of euros of expected defense cuts in an upcoming budget from the new government here, which is trying to balance the budget.
The trade body wants several seats on the panel drafting the official white paper, reflecting industry competencies in research and operations, Mons said.
CIDEF also urged support for defense programs despite tight budgets, closer ties between industry and the Defense Ministry, and renewed a call for lifting spending on research-and-technology programs to 1 billion euros ($1.26 billion) from less than 700 million euros.
Export Leverage Weapon exports help the overall trade balance, and French companies need to sell abroad to maintain competitiveness in the face of rising rivalry from the likes of Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey, Mons said. Israel could also be counted in that group.
For every euro spent on defense, the government gets back 1.2 euros to 1.3 euros through tax, social security contributions and export revenue. At a time when French manufacturing is in decline, the arms sector remains a strong area, and of world-class standing, Mons said.
Exports make up 30 percent to 40 percent of annual defense production, varying from year to year, Mons said. Arms make a “considerable export lever,” he said.
“[Exports are] an indispensable industrial complement in terms of workload,” he said. “There are national stakes at play. Without exports, we would be truly below critical mass. We couldn’t manage.
“Our industry has a very positive trade balance,” he said. “To improve and strengthen our export capabilities, we recommend a strengthening of the state’s organization in the embassy, with staff who are motivated and knowledgeable about the specifics of our market.
“When I say motivated, that’s a euphemism,” Mons said. “I know some French embassy representatives who refuse to talk about armaments, who act ... I was going to say ... Trotskyite, but perhaps that’s a bit strong — who are pacificist, who do not consider themselves as sales people for French industry.”
French embassies should take a leaf from their European and U.S. counterparts.
“We need specialists,” Mons said. “Our competitors, European or American, have in their embassies specialists of their arms industry who are capable to explain on a daily basis to their interlocutors the merits of their equipment and the advantage of acquiring it.”
To promote their respective offerings to foreign governments, Britain has the U.K. Trade and Industry Defence and Security Organisation, while the U.S. has the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC).
London, meanwhile, often looks across the Channel to Paris, a British official said. For instance, there was a certain envy for the “war room” that former President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered up in the Elysée presidential office, which steered arms export campaigns, the official said.
France has state organizations supporting exports and providing training, while French embassies have specialists in aerospace and defense, the official said.
The U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation manages a two-way channel, including the Foreign Military Sales program, between government and industry of the host nation. The office also works with the U.S. Commercial Service (USCS) of the Commerce Department, which supports American companies looking to boost exports.
“Although ODC France is ultimately concerned with maintaining a strong defense relationship and providing the best equipment possible to both U.S. and French forces, we are uniquely able to provide USCS with insights in defense procurement trends, budgets and growing areas of cooperation, which is a great benefit to their mission as well,” said U.S. Army Col. Collier Slade, chief of the ODC here.
Avoid Embarrassment France also needs to create a military unit specializing in equipment demonstrations, Mons said.
“We recommend creation of a military unit able to present equipment used in operations, like the British,” Mons said.
A Caesar artillery demonstration by the French Army on a recent press trip for foreign journalists led to misfires, he pointed out. The gun misfired twice April 10 during a press demonstration ahead of the Eurosatory trade show, which ran June 11-15. An industry official later said an Army officer acknowledged a lack of familiarity by the troops conducting the demo led to the misfires.
Indian journalists were among the foreign press flown in for the Caesar demonstrations, as New Delhi is looking to buy hundreds of guns in two artillery programs.
The Caesar works well in operations and is seen by allies, including the Americans, as an extremely useful means of support, Mons said.
CIDEF also called for an acceleration of awards of export licenses.
Under French law, all arms exports require clearance from the Commission Interministérielle pour l’Étude des Exportations de Matériels de Guerre. The interministerial committee on average takes 45 days to process a request, compared to an average of 19 days in the U.S. equivalent procedure, Mons said. The 600 or so applications proces-sed a month by the committee relate mostly to spares and low-level parts, such as windscreen wipers.
Other CIDEF recommendations include:
A closer working partnership between the Defense Ministry and industry, including designing in the life cost of programs and greater contractualization of support.
Cross-border cooperation based on specific common needs, realistic budgets, and avoidance of national workshares based on the “juste retour” principle.
Sticking to firm orders.
Simple industrial organization with a competent prime contractor and partners.
Designing to cost. For example, set 1 million euros as the unit cost of the Véhicule Blindé Multi-role troop carrier and ask industry to work toward the figure.
CIDEF presented its white paper to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week.
Conseil des Industries de Défense Françaises is the umbrella organization for three French industry associations — GICAN for the naval sector, GICAT for land weapons and GIFAS for aerospace.
Total 2011 industry sales: 17.5 billion euros ($22.1 billion) Employment: Defense industry accounts for 80,000 direct jobs, 85,000 indirect jobs.
Annual exports: 4 billion euros, net positive balance 2.7 billion euros.