French 2021 Arms Exports: Analyzing the French Government Report


By Pierre Tran

Paris – France delivered weapons to Russia worth a total €344.9 million ($339.2 million) between 2012 and 2020, with a peak of shipments worth €81.7 million in 2014, the 2022 government report to parliament on arms exports said.

That high point of French deliveries in 2014 occurred in the year Russian forces seized the Crimean region in southern Ukraine, and Moscow-backed separatists  seized control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of Ukraine.

French companies did not deliver weapons to Russia in 2021, the report said.

Overall, France won €11.7 billion of export orders for weapons in 2021, more than double the €4.9 billion orders in 2020, with the Rafale fighter jet boosting the orders. The defense ministry had predicted 2021 orders would exceed €10 billion.

On export deals this year, Dassault Aviation declined comment on a Sept. 20 media report by La Tribune that Indonesia has paid the deposit for six Rafale jets, bringing into effect a contract signed in February.

That batch of Rafales, reported to be worth around €1.3 billion, is the first part of Indonesia’s order for a total 42 units, worth €8.1 billion, including missiles.

The figures on exports to Russia are tucked in the back of the official report, in tables giving brief details of delivery, orders, and licenses allowing French companies to pitch weapons in the period 2012-2021.

The French government is called to present the annual report to senators and members of parliament June 1, and then make it available to the public. The defense and foreign ministry has previously presented the report in a press conference.

But this time round the government publication has yet to be officially released, Disclose, an investigative non-governmental organization, reported Sept. 15.

Disclose made the official document available on its website, and reported the publication was sent to parliament a month late, and that the private office of the armed forces minister, Sébastien Lecornu, had told the NGO it was up to parliament to decide when to publish.

The ministries for economy, foreign affairs, and armed forces are due to present the report to the lower house Assemblée Nationale behind closed doors Sept. 27, followed by presentation to the upper house Senate, AFP reported.

Annex five in the report shows French companies won Russian orders worth a total €433.5 million in the 2012-21 period, with a peak of €185.4 million in 2012.

Annex six shows France granted 78 licenses to allow companies to propose their products to Russia, with a peak of 36 licenses awarded in 2015. The French authorities awarded two licenses in 2021.

Annex nine gives summary details of deliveries, with shipments to Russia falling to €58.9 million in 2015, after hitting a high of €81.7 million in 2014. Some €3 million of arms were delivered in 2020.

France had allowed certain contracts with Russia to be observed after 2014 in line with the so-called “grandfather clause,” Hervé Grandjean, the then spokesman for the defense ministry, said March 14 on social media in response to a Disclose report on French arms sales to Moscow.

French contracts signed before the Russian 2014 annexation of Crimea could be observed to completion, and equipment bought before 2014 could be delivered, the former spokesman said.

“This possibility is clearly taken into account in the sanctions regime adopted against Russia in 2014,” he said on social media.

The report to parliament on arms exports in 2021 shows that since 2014, the number of equipment deliveries to Russia has fallen each year, to reach close to zero in 2020, he said. This reflected gradual completion of contracts since 2014.

“No deliveries have been made to Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Disclose reported that the loopholes in the European arms embargo exports had been closed after the NGO’s report in March, and the delivery of contracts signed before 2014 had since been banned.

The report on 2021 dedicates a section of 20 pages on the rigor of inter-ministerial oversight of foreign sales, pointing up adherence to international sanctions, and restrictions on the sale of light and small caliber weapons.

“With €11.7 billion of orders in 2021, France recorded its third-highest arms exports, Lecornu said in the introduction to the government report. “It is already assured that there will be significant results in 2022.”

Egypt, India, Qatar, Saudi, and the United Arab Emirates were the five largest client nations last year, the report shows, with aircraft accounting for most of the value.

The spread of the Covid virus, leading to budgets suspended, trade shows cancelled, and fewer sales trips, hit foreign arms orders in 2020, bringing in orders worth €4.9 billion, down from €8.3 billion in 2019.

But the outlook for 2021 and 2022 had been seen as particularly buoyant, with Thierry Carlier, a senior DGA official, forecasting a total of more than €30 billion of orders over the two years, due to expected sales of the Rafale.

Carlier in September won promotion to five star general, after having been named deputy director of the DGA in July. The procurement office pointed up his five year record of heading its international development department and his work with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, India, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

All these countries have ordered the Rafale.

Dassault received in April a down payment from the UAE for its order for 80 Rafales, bringing that deal into effect. The UAE contract, signed in November 2021, was worth €14 billion, with a further €2 billion on missiles.

That UAE deal alone and the €11.7 billion of 2021 orders comfortably meets the value of orders forecast by Carlier.

The government report points up exceptional measures to help Ukraine, with the raising of a ceiling for free transfer of weapons this year to €300 million from €50 million.

This includes heavy weapons such as the Caesar truck-mounted artillery and the report said the arms are drawn from the armed forces’ existing stock.

France was in close contact with Ukrainian authorities, which regularly expressed their needs and which Paris tried hard to meet, while working with its EU and Nato partners, the report said. There is a section dedicated to working with Ukraine.

Lecornu has called on industry to speed up arms production to allow the French forces and European allies to replenish their stocks.

“A real war economy is being put in place,” he said in the introduction. “We will speed up this transformation.”

Featured Photo: Dassault Rafale during a acrobatic flight 49th Paris Air Show on June 23, 2011. Credit: Dreamstime