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Report: Simpler Gear Could Cut French Spending

Nov. 14, 2012 - 12:31PM   |  
By PIERRE TRAN   |   Comments
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PARIS — France needs to build simpler weapons, open maintenance contracts up to competition and review its nuclear deterrent as the military faces big spending cuts, a parliamentary report said.

Parliament member François Cornut-Gentille made the recommendations in a special report on the 2013 defense budget, published Nov. 2 by the finance committee of the National Assembly, the parliament’s lower house.

In parliamentary debate, Cornut-Gentille said Nov. 7 that French military spending is closer to 1.5 percent than 2 percent of the gross domestic product, which risks downgrading the armed forces.

“The risk is all the greater that we maintain — on paper — capabilities we are, in reality, in the process of losing,” he said.

A review of nuclear weapons is needed; otherwise the deterrent becomes a modern-day Maginot Line, Cornut-Gentille said. Building and maintaining the Maginot Line in the 1920s and 1930s consumed much of defense spending, starving French forces of funds for modern equipment. It also rooted doctrine in static defense, which proved useless when the German Army swept into France in May 1940.

If the government sticks to its policy of avoiding a real increase over inflation, this will lead to a funding gap of 50 billion euros ($60 billion) from the 420 billion euros recommended for 2009-2020 in the 2008 defense white paper, said the report, titled “Defense: Prepare for the Future.”

Savings from a planned annual 8,000 job cuts and the government’s severe budgetary constraints mean the spending trajectory in the previous white paper will fall by the wayside, the report said.

“The gap expected between the predictions of the previous white paper and their execution calls for a thorough review of our defense policy, the missions and the means,” the report said.

Cutting orders and delaying programs will not save enough money, and the author recommends a number of proposals, including simpler gear.

“A review is needed on the nature of the equipment we deliver to our armed forces, and the suitability of this materiel to their requirements,” the report said.

The present policy consists of acquiring multipurpose, very high-technology kit, leading to a race for sophistication that sometimes hits the limits, the report said.

“In certain areas, less complex, indeed more rustic equipment could allow the missions to be accomplished, at lower cost as much for their acquisition as for maintenance over their service life.

“And finally, a too-high level of complexity could be a brake on exports of this equipment in the aerospace and naval areas,” the report said.

The FREMM multimission frigate suffers in export markets because its technical sophistication requires highly trained crews, which cuts its appeal to world navies, Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the procurement office, told the National Assembly defense committee Oct. 10.

Another source of savings is the 5.5 billion euros spent on maintenance. Naval company DCNS is the only company providing maintenance for frigates, nuclear-powered submarines and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, while in aerospace, Dassault and Thales dominate.

Opening up competition could save 30 to 40 percent, the report said, quoting the national audit office.

A pooling between ministries of the Airbus A400M airlifter, due to enter service in 2016, and the A330 multirole tanker transport in 2018 would avoid leasing costs and deliver greater service, the report said.

A pragmatic European sharing of equipment, initially bilaterally and then multilaterally, could cut costs, the report said.

The report points to a linking up of French and German medical services and the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force set up in the Anglo-French Lancaster House treaty.

Cooperation with London on maritime patrol aircraft and an anti-ship missile should be among the common programs, the report said.

Selex UK and other companies in Britain sidelined by a planned Anglo-French consolidation in the missile sector are pushing London to launch the Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) program without Paris, the report said. The bilateral industrial restructuring, dubbed One Complex Weapons, is based on launch of the FASGW program.

On bilateral cooperation with London, Collet-Billon said, “The evolution of Anglo-French relations is realistic and pragmatic. We feel there are no second thoughts. The British are in a waiting phase concerning our budgetary choices.”

As for the nuclear deterrent, Cornut-Gentille cited the Maginot Line, which “froze military doctrine and slowed down modernization of our industry.”

France spends an annual 3.4 billion euros on the deterrence, compared with annual equipment procurement of about 10 billion euros. That level of spending called for open debate on whether the money was effectively spent on the delivery systems and was not an attack on the deterrent itself.

The parliamentary report called for “new structures which could help the review of our defense in an innovative and uncompartmentalized way.”

The government has called for an update of the defense white paper report, due to be published by the end of the year.

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