By Pierre Tran
Paris – France will next year order 42 Rafale fighter jets, worth some €4 billion ($4 billion), and take delivery of 13 units, major line items in the draft 2023 defense budget which will total €43.9 billion, up €3 billion from this year’s arms spending.
The government presented Sept.26 the draft 2023 national budget, which requires parliamentary approval. The defense budget is the second-biggest item in the overall budget, after €60.2 billion earmarked for education.
The order for 42 Rafales was around €4 billion, an armed forces ministry official said, following a Sept. 27 telephone press conference.
The aircraft builder, Dassault Aviation, had said in July that a French 42-strong order might well be made next year, comprising a batch of 30 Rafales in tranche 5 and 12 to replace French air force units sold to Croatia.
Next year’s delivery of the 13 fighters to the French air force will mark the end of a four year drought for the service, as the government had set priority to delivering Rafales to export client nations including Egypt, India, and Qatar.
That shipment of Rafales to the French service reflected Dassault having increased annual production of the fighter, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégique, a think tank.
The domestic orders and a large number of export deals for the Rafale marked a “conjunction of events” for Dassault, he said.
The 2023 budget included funding for projects for a future combat air system (FCAS) and the main ground combat system (MGCS), a second ministry official said.
On the FCAS, and MGCS project for a new tank and unmanned vehicles, there will be a Franco-German council of ministers meeting at the end of October, giving “a few weeks” to draw up a demanding timetable, the defense ministry said following a Sept. 22 meeting of the French and German defense ministers in Berlin.
Work on FCAS could start in two years’ time, the ministry said after the Berlin ministerial meeting, and the companies were “converging on a statement of work.”
The FCAS program is the very symbol of a “strategic convergence” between France and Germany, the ministry said.
“This is a priority project because we need this innovation,” French defense minister Sébastien Lecornu said in a statement.
Dassault and Airbus Defence and Space have yet to reach agreement on management of the FCAS project, with the latter seeking effectively a joint prime contractorship on the new generation fighter at the heart of the FCAS. Dassault insists on a sole program leadership.
The French air force will also receive next year 13 upgraded Mirage 2000D fighters, part of a long-delayed program which saw the modernization cut to 55 units from 71.
A previous air chief of staff, Jean-Paul Palomeros, previously said that upgrade cost some €10 million per unit, seen as a modest amount, and should have been adopted some time ago.
Macron Upholds Spending Pledge
President Emmanuel Macron said July 14, the Bastille day national holiday, the government would observe the 2019-25 military budget law, signalling the planned €3 billion increase would be observed.
The 2019-2025 military budget law set out a €3 billion rise in 2023, followed by similar annual increases to hit a target of €50 billion in 2025.
There had been doubt in 2018, when parliament adopted the multi-year budget law, on whether the spending pledge would be observed, as that required re-election of Macron in 2022, Maulny said.
Macron won the presidential election this year, which meant the budget law would be observed, he said. Macron’s losing a parliamentary majority was unlikely to thwart the pledge to boost military spending.
An industry executive said it was one thing to have announced the 2019-25 military budget law, but quite another to see it executed, as there was doubt hanging over the 2022 election.
Macron’s victory effectively secured €3 billion, “a significant amount,” the executive said, all the more so with the heavy cost of the Covid crisis.
That €3 billion marked a 36 percent gain over military spending in 2017, and a large rise compared to an annual increase of €1.7-€1.8 billion in previous years, a ministry official said.
Macron’s administration had set the €50 billion target for 2025 before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That incursion has sparked inflation, raising concern whether the spending increase will go as far as had been hoped.
Contracts have standard clauses addressing inflation, the industry executive said.
Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, billed as “special military operation” by Russian president Vladimir Putin, led Macron to say France was now in a “war economy,” and called on French companies to speed up arms production.
There are, however, concerns over the supply chain, energy prices, and access to essential raw material.
Macron has called for drawing up a 2024-30 military budget plan in the wake of the Russian invasion, bringing forward the spending review.
A major concern has been a low level of French stocks of ammunition.
The 2023 budget earmarked €2 billion to place orders and €1.1 billion to pay for all types of munitions, including ammunition, missiles and bombs, with the aim of replenishing and increasing stocks.
The €2 billion of munitions orders next year was almost an 18 percent increase on an average €1.7 billion over the period 2019-2022, the ministry said.
On munitions, the briefing document of the 2023 budget refers to the first firing of a new generation Mica air-to-air missile and delivery of a new one-ton bomb next year, and there are pictures of shells and rounds, and truck-mounted Caesar artillery firing canon shells. The document makes clear the new bomb will be built by French industry.
The restocking of French weapons can be seen with the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office ordering July 13 18 Caesar truck-mounted artillery pieces from Nexter, replacing those sent to Ukraine as part of weapons support.
A swift delivery to the French army meant those guns will be the Mk1 version, with shipments due in summer 2024 at the latest, the company said in a July 29 statement. The Caesar Mk2 version is due to be delivered to the army in 2026.
Lecornu told French senators in July that buying the 18 Caesars for the army would cost some €85 million. The then prime minister, Jean Castex, signed in February a contract worth €600 million for Nexter to develop and build an armored and updated version of the Caesar, with an order for 33 units and delivery in 2026, AFP reported.
Orders and Deliveries Next Year
Next year’s orders include unspecified batches of MBDA MMP anti-tank missiles, Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles for frigates, Exocet naval missile, and Aster Block 1 new technology missile.
Some of those orders could be the DGA taking up options included in an order for an initial batch of weapons, an industry executive said.
There will also be orders for 420 Serval light armored vehicles, and work on the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
In deliveries next year, the army is due to receive nine tactical drones, namely the long awaited Safran Patroller unmanned aerial vehicle, 18 upgraded Leclerc tanks, upgrades for five Tiger attack helicopters, five NH90 transport helicopters, and 200 MMP missiles.
The navy will take delivery of a nuclear-powered attack submarine – the second in the Suffren class, an upgraded Lafayette frigate, a new fleet auxiliary ship, and three upgraded Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft. There will also be delivery of Exocet anti-ship missiles and a vessel in an unmanned mine countermeasure system, dubbed SLAM-F.
The air force will receive three Airbus A330 MRTT multi-role tanker transport jets, two A400M airlifters, nine Pilatus PC-21 training aircraft, and upgraded Scalp EG cruise missiles, Mica missiles with new engines, and a Syracuse IV secure military telecommunications satellite.
Some €14.2 billion has been set aside for procurement of major weapons, while €5 billion will go to service support, a rise of 12 percent, reflecting an attempt to boost availability of weapons.
That hefty amount for maintenance reflected a relatively low availability of modern helicopters and the A400M fleet, a defense specialist said.
Exports allowed Dassault to double its production rate of the Rafale to two units a month. The company previously built 11 per year, the minimum rate seen as needed to keep the assembly line open at the Merignac factory, near Bordeaux, southwest France. The factory closes for the month of August for summer holiday.