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.
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.
At least a further 1,000 staff, both military and civilian, will be recruited for cyber defense.
"These successes thus contribute to secure the military program built notably on the structural hypothesis of the Rafale's export success," Le Drian said.