Originally published at 3:27 p.m. ET Feb. 15; updated with correction at 2:50 p.m. ET Feb. 16
PARIS — Direction Générale de l’Armament will likely recruit 160 staffers this year to work on export efforts as part of a sharper organizational focus on foreign arms sales, said Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the French defense procurement office.
The recruitment plan reflects a significant reorganization to take “into account what the client requests, notably a structured organization of the project,” he told a Feb. 10 news conference.
That first batch of 160 is part of a plan to recruit more than 500 staff by 2019-20, a DGA spokesman later said.
France won export orders worth an estimated €16 billion (US $18 billion) last year, with the DGA in the front line of the foreign sales effort, Collet-Billon said. There is an optimistic mood with hopes of winning some €16 billion again this year, the spokesman said.
Foreign clients seek a “real partnership” in projects and programs, with detailed requests for specifications and technology that take deals to a “deeper level,” he said. Such approaches draw on staff throughout the DGA, not just the international department.
An example of that integrated approach is DCNS competing in an Australian tender for an attack submarine, he said.
Rafale exports are also promising, he said.
“I am optimistic,” he said, when asked about the sale of 36 Rafale fighters to India. “It will take a certain amount of time,” he added.
Dassault Aviation said Jan. 25 the company expects France to sign a contract with India in four weeks.
The United Arab Emirates is also negotiating an order for the Rafale.
The export prospects this year include other aircraft, Army and Navy deals, he said. Potential deals included artillery for India, and Nexter’s sales through the KANT joint venture with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. On warships, Qatar is looking for an air defense frigate and Saudi Arabia is “a significant target” for naval deals, including a sale of the DCNS multimission frigate, he said.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian recently met his Polish counterpart and told him that if the official selection of the Caracal helicopter from Airbus Helicopter did not lead to a contract, “that changes the situation,” the DGA chief said.
The French minister also said Paris has shown strong signs of support to Warsaw, including canceling the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier to Moscow, Collet-Billon said.
There are major prospects in the Middle East and Asia this year, he said.
On the Qatari order for 24 Rafales and missiles worth €6.3 billion, Japanese banks lent funds for the down payment last year, which allowed the contract to go into effect, said a source close to the deal who declined to be identified.
Egypt is interested in acquiring a 75-meter patrol vessel built by Kership, a joint venture between DCNS and Piriou, a shipbuilder in Normandy, northern France, the source said. Cairo is also in talks to take up options for two more DCNS Gowind corvettes. If the latter deal is signed, the Egyptian Navy would sail six Gowinds and the multimission frigate, the flagship in the Navy.
The Arabian Gulf is the leading market for French arms exports, with those deals expected to lead to demand for loans from international banks rather than domestic lenders, the source said. Among expected deals are 24 Caracal helicopters for Kuwait and 22 NH90 helicopters for Qatar.
CMN, a privately owned shipyard in Brittany*, has negotiated a contract to deliver patrol boats to Lebanon and hopes Saudi Arabia will sign the deal, the source said. Saudi Arabia would finance the order, which requires bank guarantees.
France signed five export contracts each worth more than €500 million last year, with some 10 deals worth more than €200 million. The DGA last year ordered €11 billion of equipment and paid €10.7 billion. By Dec. 31, the DGA had €6 left in the budget, having committed to fully spending its annual funds, Collet-Billon said.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CMN was based in Normandy.