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France Boosts Arms Spending, Eyes C-130 Buy

May 20, 2015 (Photo Credit: French Air Force)

PARIS — France has set aside an extra €1.5 billion (US $1.7 billion) to acquire additional equipment, including the C-130 Hercules, and maintain weapon systems over the next four years, reflecting the intense operations of the armed forces in sub-Saharan Africa, defense officials said Wednesday.

The fresh funds are part of the €3.8 billion increase in military spending for 2016-2019 that President François Hollande announced April 29 after a meeting of the high-level defense council.

Helicopters, transport and inflight refueling aircraft, intelligence gathering, cyber defense and maintenance of equipment are the key elements, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in the introduction to the information pack for the parliamentary review of the draft military budget law.

Of that €1.5 billion, an estimated €330 million has been set aside for a planned acquisition of four Lockheed Martin Hercules C-130 transport planes, of which two would be armed with the Griffin missile and two would be equipped for inflight refueling of helicopters, the officials said.The four units would join the present Hercules fleet which entered service in 1987.

"A decision has not been taken but the studies have been launched" for the Hercules, with a decision due to be taken by the end of the year, an official said. That could be a purchase or a lease of the aircraft, which could be the J or K model. There would also be an order for night-vision goggles.

The French Air Force and special forces are keen to acquire the US aircraft, needed to plug a gap left by the late delivery of the Airbus A400M transport. The cargo planes are particularly needed to support troops in the sub-Saharan, or Sahel, campaign against Islamic insurgents.

The French forces are flying the C-130 and C-160 a great deal, and the A400M is in a different class from the former, a US official said. The US special forces arm C-130s with the Raytheon Griffin. The Hercules is the largest item for the US on the French acquisition list.

Procurement officials will order a further seven Tiger attack helicopters, lifting the order to Airbus Helicopters to 67. The delivery of six NH90 transport helicopters also will be accelerated. These orders are tied to Sahel campaign needs.

Delivery for the last three of a total fleet of 12 Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft will be accelerated, with deliveries due between 2018 and 2025.

There is progress on the planned intermediate-sized frigates, which are due for first delivery in 2023 to the Navy. The vessels will be lighter versions of the multimission frigates.

The Lafayette class of stealth frigates also will be upgraded with sonars.

France has agreed with Germany to add a third spy satellite, under the optical space component program dubbed Musis, with Berlin funding some two-thirds of the extra satellite. Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor.

Lessons learned have led to a planned order for an electromagnetic sensor for the Reaper to detect radar and radios, boosting the intelligence-gathering capability of the General Atomics drone.

A further 25 Talios new-generation laser targeting pods will be ordered for the Mirage and Rafale fighter fleets, with a certification of the Thales sensor due in 2018.

There will be delivery of a fourth multimission vessel, which will be based in the Reunion island and maintain French sovereignty in the southeast of the Indian Ocean; four offshore support and assistance vessels also will be acquired for sailing around France.

At least a further 1,000 staff, both military and civilian, will be recruited for cyber defense.

Those who drafted the 2014-2019 military budget assumed exports of the Rafale, as that foreign sale would raise the funds needed to finance the spending. The sale of the twin-engine fighter to Egypt and Qatar will help fund the budget as the government would have needed €4 billion to maintain the annual 11 aircraft production rate.

"These successes thus contribute to secure the military program built notably on the structural hypothesis of the Rafale's export success," Le Drian said.


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