PARIS — France last year secured arms exports worth an estimated €8.06 billion ($9.1 billion), a level not seen since 2009, and this year is expected to continue that firm path, procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon said on Feb. 9.
Last year was a "good start" in the multiyear military budget law, which assumes wins of foreign deals for French weapons, Collet-Billon, the head of the Direction Générale de l'Armement, told journalists in a review of 2014.
"I think 2015 will allow us to confirm the rising trend," he said.
Lebanon's order worth $3 billion, funded by Saudi Arabia, is included in that export estimate, he said.
The annual parliamentary report on military exports due at the end of May will set the official final figure, he said.
A more up-to-date, unofficial estimate puts the figure slightly higher at €8.3 billion, a source close to the Defense Ministry said
That beats the €8.16 billion sold in 2009, which is the highest hit since 2000. Sales in 2013 were €6.87 billion.
Egypt has told French President François Hollande of the decision to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets and a multimission frigate, with a contract signing to be held in Cairo on Feb. 16, the Elysée president's office said in a statement. This is the first export contract for the Rafale.
"Significant work is in hand" with Qatar on the Rafale, Collet-Billon added. "Discussions are going on."
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went to Doha three weeks ago to see his Qatari counterpart and also spoke to the emir, he said.
Qatar is looking to place an order for 24 Rafales, with an option for 12 more.
India, however, is a complicated issue as New Delhi wants prime contractor Dassault Aviation "to accept responsibility" for local production of the Rafale by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), Collet-Billon said.
Dassault would produce the first 18 units and HAL would assemble the remaining 108 if the deal were sealed.
In Europe, work with the UK is fundamental but not exclusive, Collet-Billon said. In a train, there is the locomotive at the front but wagons can hitch up behind, he said.
France is partnering with Germany on the Optical Space Component, a military spy satellite to replace the Helios 2 system, and Poland is one of the "potential essential partners," he said. "We are proposing to the Poles a true strategic partnership."
That teaming will depend on Warsaw's decisions on acquisition of submarines, surface-to-air missiles and helicopters, Collet-Billon said. Poland could be "a significant partner in the European defense technological and industrial base."
Other steps toward European industrial consolidation were the agreement between Safran and Airbus Defence and Space to build civil space launchers, and talks between Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter to forge a joint venture holding company, called Kant, he said.
The Airbus A400M, he said, is unable to allow inflight refueling of helicopters and has a clumsy design for parachuting from the side doors, he said. The DGA is concerned over a timely delivery, as France is due to receive four more A400Ms this year to add to the six already handed over.
The services need the aircraft for their missions in Africa, where France is "operationally engaged, unlike others," Collet-Billon said.
Airbus had planned an upgrade to the 1.5 standard this fall, and the DGA is keen to hear the new timetable. A spokesman for the A400M program said upgrades including air drops and self-defense are due around the middle of this year.
The French Air Force will fly an A400M to two upcoming trade shows, Avalon 2015 in Australia and Aero India in Bangalore, with the Rafale also flying at the latter exhibition, he said.
France is looking to order four to six A400Ms and two or three multimission frigates this year, funded by the special purpose vehicle, similar to the lease-back system used for airliners, Collet-Billon said. The state-backed leasing companies are needed to find the €2.2 billion needed this year to reach the €31.4 billion defense budget.
The DGA signed orders worth an estimated total €11.5 billion last year and committed feasibility studies worth €782 million. The funding was aimed at maintaining the defense sector across the board and developing technology for future systems, he said.