STUTTGART, Germany – The French government is proposing a €44 billion ($45 billion) budget for its military in 2023, including a €3 billion ($3 billion) increase over last year’s budget.
Newly appointed Minister of Defense Sébastien Lecornu revealed the proposed funding numbers during a July 7 hearing before the Defense Committee of France’s National Assembly. If enacted, the increase would be nearly twice as much as France had previously committed to boosting its year-over-year budget in the last two years.
In pitching the funding increase, Lecornu referenced President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the recent Eurosatory trade conference, in which the newly reelected president declared France had entered a “war economy.”
Lecornu noted that France is in “a delicate situation” when it comes to the ongoing war in Ukraine, and that the support Paris is providing to Kiev in its self-defense has prompted several updates to the budget. The military will need to replenish munitions and equipment that have been sent to Ukraine, along with fighter jets that have been exported to nations such as Greece.
The government is also looking to fund major modernization efforts such as the army’s Scorpion program, to support ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, and to boost its defense industrial base, he added.
With the hybrid war in Ukraine as a backdrop, France must also work to improve its capabilities in cyber offense, space, and unmanned systems, Lecornu said.
France’s parliament will have a say in the final budget amount, and the Assembly’s defense committee plans to interview additional government leaders as well as industry chiefs in the months to come, said Committee President Thomas Gassilloud. Joël Barre, chief of the military procurement office Direction Générale de L’Armement (DGA), will appear before the committee July 13 in a closed session.
Lawmakers grilled Lecornu on a matter of topics in his first hearing as defense minister. On many lawmakers’ minds was the future of the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, known in France as the système combat aérien du futur, or SCAF.
The Franco-German-Spanish program has been at a standstill for months as two of the prime contractors, France’s Dassault and Germany’s Airbus, have reached an impasse on workshare agreements related to the keystone pillar of the program, the next-generation fighter. Indra leads the Spanish industry’s cooperation on FCAS.
Pressed for time, Lecornu commented only briefly on FCAS’ status, assuring lawmakers that the program was active, industry negotiations are ongoing, and that he continues to discuss the program with his German counterpart, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht. The Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), another major joint equipment program between France and Germany, is also ongoing, he added.
Lecornu told lawmakers that the ministry’s next five-year budget plan – known as the loi de programmation militaire (LPM) – will include a strong focus on France’s naval fleet, specifically on its aircraft carriers.
France currently operates one aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, and has launched a program to build a new ship beginning in 2025, which is due to enter service upon the retirement of Charles de Gaulle.
The ministry will be discussing the possibility of returning to a two-aircraft carrier model, and will include parliament in those discussions, Lecornu said.
Some lawmakers expressed concern about the proposed €3 billion budget increase, calling it obsolete and insufficient in the wake of rising inflation and the supplies to Ukraine.
Lecornu acknowledged their worries, but said that the real question should be regarding the rate of inflation in 2023.
“And about that, I’m not an economist, but there are some optimistic scenarios and some more pessimistic scenarios,” he said.
He pushed back on a lawmaker’s description that the nation’s defense industry was in tatters. “There is an incredible know-how in France. I believe many, many, many nations dream of having our defense base, our defense industrial and technological base,” he said.
“That we need to do better, that we can surely change some things, I’m not saying the contrary,” he continued. “But to say that our defense apparatus, or that our defense industrial apparatus is in tatters, is just not true.”
In 2022, the French ministry of defense allocated €40.9 billion (U.S. $47.9 billion) to its military budget, a €1.7 billion increase over the 2021 enacted budget.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.