French Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pierre Schill has led the land force since July 2021, implementing a large-scale modernization effort called Scorpion that includes new connected armored vehicles in a shift to networked combat. He oversees a budget that increased 12% in 2024 to more than €10 billion (U.S. $10.8 billion) and a force of more than 110,000 military personnel.

In an interview ahead of the Eurosatory conference in Paris, which runs June 17-21, the general commented on the changing security situation, capabilities the Army will demonstrate at Europe’s largest defense show, and how the armed forces must adapt to the “hyper-lethality” of the modern battlefield and evolving warfare.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Given the evolving security landscape in Europe, what are the most critical areas of ground combat where increased European cooperation in the field of defense can help meet common military challenges?

Meeting common military challenges means being able to fight side by side and, ideally, together. Here I won’t go into the aspects of mutual knowledge and officer exchanges, which are vital but are part of a different time frame.

The first challenge is that of equipment interoperability — that is, the capacity to act in concert in spite of different equipment. This is about designing and producing natively interoperable equipment. On that point, communication networks are key. In this respect, the level of ambition of the CaMo partnership between the Belgian and the French units of the motorized brigade is remarkable. The units in the field will be interchangeable, without any technological or operational obstacle.

In addition to the combat system, Belgium and France collaborate in the field of operational concepts, education and training. This partnership is a model to follow to increase European defense cooperation.

The second challenge is the capability to have military equipment designed and produced by several European countries. We have experience in this area: The Tiger and NH90 helicopters as well as the Milan and HOT missiles have been produced in cooperation between European partners.

The project for the future Franco-German heavy tanks, the Main Ground Combat System, is a vector of dynamism in Franco-German relations in terms of the defense industry. The MGCS will be more than just an improved successor to the Leclerc or Leopard tanks; it will be a new-generation system that will benefit from the best technologies of each of the nations involved in the program.

The third challenge is that of shared experiences. Cooperation is expressed in joint deployments in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and in the Sahel, which have led the European armies to share, interact and coordinate; the deployment of the French-German brigade in Mali in 2018 strikes me as particularly illustrative. Today, we are committed in a common support to the Ukrainian army.

Which key capabilities will the French Army present at Eurosatory? How do they align with France’s defense priorities?

Eurosatory will be showcasing the Scorpion range of vehicles, the variety of unmanned aerial vehicles used in the units and the network-enabled capability — the first steps toward collaborative combat. You’ll have the opportunity to see the Jaguar vehicle, the renovated Leclerc tank, the Griffon vehicle and the Serval vehicle.

The French army is an army of operational deployment and is a reference in Europe owing to its skills in aerocombat, the quality of its equipment and its operational experience. The NH90 Caiman, the Tiger and the Guepard helicopters will be presented to illustrate this air-mobile capability.

The Caesar Mk1 howitzer as well as the new-generation SAMP/T Mamba air defense system will demonstrate the Army’s determination to increase its combat power by speeding up the decision between intelligence collection and deep fires. Moreover, numerous UAVs and anti-UAV solutions will demonstrate our ambition in the field of aerial drone employment in air-ground combat.

Other items of equipment will be presented. You’ll discover how the Army is transforming itself to win tomorrow’s air-land battle.

The war in Ukraine has highlighted new tactics and technologies used on the battlefield. From France’s perspective, what are the biggest surprises or confirmations about modern warfare revealed by this conflict? Consequently, what adjustments is the French Army making to training doctrines and equipment priorities?

Let’s remain modest at this stage in the analysis of lessons learned from this conflict. We should try to discriminate the elements that are situational from what is structural. The extensive use of UAVs, like that of civilian technologies adapted for military use, has changed the dynamics of combat. The vital importance of electronic warfare, intelligence superiority, and the need to control information to influence both national and international public opinion has been confirmed.

Four structural priorities can be identified. The first priority is connectivity. To outclass the adversary, it is necessary to understand the tactical situation, design a plan, give orders, and carry out the maneuver by controlling and reorienting this cycle. Ensuring a smooth and rapid functioning of this cycle makes it possible to be quicker than the enemy and keep one’s freedom of action. The network-enabled combat developed in the framework of the Scorpion program has enabled us to be ahead in this area.

The second priority is the transparency of the battlefield. The use of UAVs and satellites increasingly makes it possible to pierce the fog of war. It makes it more difficult [for adversaries] to conceal intent, setups and movements. To enhance its in-depth detection capabilities, the Army is developing its UAV range, developing its means to analyze the images from all the sensors and is focusing its effort on electronic warfare.

The third priority is lethality. In the context of high-intensity warfare, lethality is characterized by tactical targeting through the use of increasingly powerful, accurate and sophisticated means of destruction — and in sufficient numbers to be able to cause considerable damage in a very short amount of time.

The fourth priority is protection. Hyper-lethality puts increased pressure on the survival and resilience capacity of high-value targets, including command posts, which are particularly easy to detect due to their electromagnetic footprint. Their protection must be enhanced; the command methods must be diversified to ensure their operational continuity in case of attack.

For the Army, this translates into the use of armor in the framework of the Scorpion vehicles; the entry into service of the ARLAD armored personnel carriers as of this year; and the development of ground-air defense through the modernization of the PAMELA vehicles.

How will emerging technologies influence the role of the French soldier in the coming decade? What measures are taking place to prepare Army personnel for an evolving battlefield?

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems will profoundly transform the soldier’s environment in the coming decade. AI will enhance decision-making by providing rapid, synthetic and accurate analyses of the combat situations. As for robotics, it will take on dangerous or repetitive tasks, such as mine clearance or reconnaissance in hostile terrain. Autonomous systems, such as UAVs and unmanned vehicles, will provide continuous surveillance and a rapid-reaction capability; our soldiers will therefore be less exposed.

In short, these technologies will provide greater security and an increased operational efficiency, redefining the missions and the required skills of the French soldiers in an increasingly technological operational context.

The French Army started to deploy Scorpion in 2021, one of the most ambitious modernization programs among Western land forces. What were the initial lessons learned, what challenges are being addressed and how has all this modified the way the service fights?

The Scorpion program is aimed at renewing and modernizing the contact combat capabilities of the Army with new platforms — such as the Griffon, Jaguar and Serval vehicles, as well as the MEPAC mounted mortar — and a single combat information system, known as SICS, over the 2020-2030 time frame. It ensures consistency between the capabilities of the combined arms battle group all the way to brigade level.

To achieve this, it federates and connects the platforms and combatants to promote collaborative combat, called “Scorpion combat,” consisting of understanding, deciding and acting more quickly than the enemy. The current development of Scorpion corresponds to a first level of collaborative combat, thanks to the modernization of the combat units around a command and information system bringing all the stakeholders of the combined arms battle group into a network.

Next, Scorpion will extend interconnection to all the players of the third dimension and to support units. A division-level experimentation exercise, Capstone 4, took place last March in the United States. It demonstrated our ability to implement “Scorpion combat” in an allied context. It highlighted the need to speed up our data transmissions at the joint level as well as with our allies.

Modern warfare is taking place across more domains — land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. How is the Army adapting to this multidomain battle space?

Modern warfare takes place in all the environments — land, air, sea, cyberspace and space — and fields —nonphysical and electromagnetic. We talk about multidomain, multi-field operations. In addition to the ground environment, the Army plays its part in the cyber domain and in the nonphysical fields.

To achieve that, in the framework of the Army transformation, I created the command for ground, digital and cyber support, known as CATNC, in January 2024. This command ensures the coherence of the organization as well as the overall functioning, operational deployment and evolution of the digital and cyber support fields in the defensive information technology warfare domain.

The Army also plays a crucial role in the information domain. Without the capacity to convince and to counter adverse influence, any military engagement can fail. The emergence of social networks has reinforced this notion and has significantly accelerated the dissemination of information, whether true or false, while increasing its volume, reach and resonance.

France has played a leading role in strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. What have you learned regarding the mobility and readiness of the French forces? Where is there room for improvement?

In response to the war in Ukraine and at the request of the allies, the armed forces deployed on Feb. 28, 2022, just four days after the Russian invasion, as the “spearhead” battalion of the NATO rapid reaction force to Romania. This rapid deployment made it possible to mobilize more than 500 French Army soldiers in a few days.

Since May 1, 2022, the deployed force has evolved into a multinational battalion, of which France is the framework nation. The French Armed Forces have also deployed a Mamba air defense detachment since May 16, 2022, a national support element, and a brigade forward command element. In total, more than 1,000 French soldiers are present in Romania.

These successive deployments show the reactivity and preparedness of our troops. The difficulties in the administrative, customs, interoperability and training domains have been overcome. We’re drawing the lessons with our European partners.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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