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France Is Europe’s Best Shot At Rearmament
French military procurement has institutionally outperformed its Western allies. With defense budgets poised to expand, France is well-positioned to rearm Europe.
If Europe pivots towards military rearmament in the aftermath of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, it will be starting from a particularly low base. As the head of the German Bundeswehr angrily wrote on LinkedIn at the beginning of the crisis, the cupboard is bare.1 Europe’s overall military weakness is partially a result of integration with the U.S.-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), where U.S. preferences for European states to maintain small, specialized, and interoperable militaries, that ultimately rely on the overwhelming might of the U.S. military as a guarantor of security, tend to win out against any attempts to develop the capability for unilateral military action.2 But even if NATO preferences were to reverse overnight, it is not clear that the institutional capacity to effectively reform, modernize, and expand European militaries is widely available. For many Western militaries, the first two decades of the 21st century were a difficult time, as the pressures of the war on terror caused budget cuts to conventional military capabilities and the delays or even cancellations of modernization programs. In the European Union (EU), military expenditure as a percentage of GDP continued a long trend of decline that began as far back as the 1960s.3
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Despite the challenging environment for military procurement, France’s Direction générale de l'armement (lit. “Directorate General of Armaments,” abbreviated DGA) has evidently succeeded in achieving timely and wide-ranging reforms of the combat tactics of the French military, in tandem with a major modernization of its equipment. As the government agency responsible for all weapons procurement and technology for the French military, the DGA has initiated and overseen the ambitious Project Scorpion,4 a rapid redesign of the French Army’s approach to land warfare informed by the experiences of French military interventions in Africa. As part of an effort to make full use of advances in communications technology for the French version of small unit warfare, Project Scorpion has prioritized light, fast, and low-maintenance vehicles that are nevertheless heavily armed and equipped with advanced electronics to allow military units to rapidly communicate with each other in battle. Among other things, this vision required a whole new generation of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) to be built. Significant cost overruns and delays are common in defense procurement worldwide, but the DGA has already begun delivering a wide range of vehicles for Project Scorpion, largely on time and on budget—a testament to its status as a key reservoir of procurement expertise in the French state.
Similar sweeping plans to modernize Cold War-era vehicles with new electronics systems failed in the United States, United Kingdom, and Sweden, spending billions of U.S. dollars before eventually being canceled without producing a single vehicle. In the U.S., the project was known as the Future Combat System (FCS),5 in the U.K. as the Future Rapid Effects System,6 and in Sweden as Ledsys. But while Project Scorpion remains a work in progress, and will continue through to 2035, the first fully Scorpion-equipped battlegroups are being formed and deployed, and the first Scorpion-enabled brigade is due to enter service in 2023. The French Army will still emerge from Project Scorpion ill-prepared for a major conventional war, insufficiently stocked with precision and area-effect munitions and lacking the numbers to absorb the kinds of casualties that both Russia and Ukraine are currently experiencing.7 But Project Scorpion will be a good base to scale up from should the money and politics allow. The French defense industrial base has been strengthened, with critical skills and experience in modern communications and vehicle design preserved.
In the U.S. and U.K., procurement is typically handled via uneasy relationships between the military and industry. After repeated rounds of mergers and acquisitions since the 1990s, this model has struggled to adapt to the reality of a few large defense contractors dominating national markets. This means every Western defense market has ended up with “national champions” supplying militaries regardless of the intention of policies. In France itself, the procurement process is designed to fit this reality. The DGA plays a more active role in setting the direction of procurement than does the military itself and collaborates far more closely with industry than any Anglosphere equivalent. This relatively un-competitive procurement model has its drawbacks, but is well-suited to a world of constrained budgets and quasi-monopolistic defense markets. It perhaps also helps the state to navigate technological shifts, as its experienced bureaucrats, with long careers in both public and private sectors, are well-positioned to sift industry hype from genuine technological possibilities. Other European states have moved towards procurement models more similar to France’s, such as Germany, which has consolidated its defense procurement bureaucracies over time, and Poland, which launched a unified armaments agency in 2022.8 But with less developed cultures of expert civil service and more reliance on foreign arms imports, which are often dictated by national political priorities rather than the technical expertise of defense planners, other European countries are unlikely to match France’s institutional success in procurement anytime soon.
The threat of Russian military power is a notable pressure to raise defense spending in Europe. But the input of additional funding will have a very different output depending on which institutions it is applied to. The EU still has no defense or security institutions that are set up to absorb a large increase in financial resources and convert it into military power. The partial exception of Frontex, the EU’s border agency and first uniformed service, has so far relied on personnel transplants from the French civil service to manage its rapid growth. Absent an intentional reform of Europe’s security architecture, the default trajectory then is for a renewed focus on defense to simply reinforce the status quo of numerous small national militaries ultimately dependent on the U.S. through NATO. This would postpone further any latent plans to create a “European Army” led by the EU that could unilaterally deter, for example, Russia or Turkey. But functional institutions subsidize all others through their mere functionality;9 if France’s DGA can repeat its successes in developing and deploying new equipment in the coming years, the French military and defense industry could attempt to parlay its procurement skill into playing the role of an EU Army, supplying the next generation of military equipment to other European states quickly and cheaply. In the long run, this would amount to defense integration with France outside the contexts of the EU or NATO and support the French goal of “strategic autonomy.” This too would negatively affect the development of the EU’s latent defense integration plans, but would move the center of gravity towards Europe rather than North America.
The Role of the DGA and French Bureaucratic Elites
Officially launched in 2014 after almost a decade of preliminary studies, Project Scorpion was and is, above all, incubated, developed, and delivered within the DGA. The role this institution plays is not entirely unique to France. In Turkey, the Undersecretariat of Defense Industries plays a similar role in centrally directing defense procurement and it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Turkish defense industry is also achieving milestones, particularly in drone development. The DGA, however, stands out for its technical expertise, long-term orientation, and size—employing over 10,000 people. Unusually for a procurement agency, the DGA is tightly integrated into the production of French strategic research and threat analysis that the state conducts, ensuring the integration of long-term strategic thinking with defense funding.10 Considerable DGA activity is also devoted to monitoring and forecasting trends within the national defense sector over a 10-15 year horizon. The DGA views the maintenance of core skills within industry as a core part of its remit and its leaders believe that industry itself lacks sufficient incentive to take such a long-term perspective. It aims to maintain constant workflows to critical design offices and production lines within strategically important firms.11 In the late 1990s, the French state experimented with a more market-based model, with the DGA temporarily losing responsibility for long-term industrial strategy, but by 2003 this role was once again firmly cemented as a core part of the DGA’s remit.12
Supply contracts and workflow to industry are not, however, the DGA’s only operating model. It funds a sizable “internal innovation” track for small-scale projects, where military and civilian personnel from the Ministry of Defense can access grants of up to €120,000 to start their own companies. Successful prototypes may then undergo further development in the DGA’s own labs. This “internal innovation” track complements the DGA’s extensive links with key French civilian tech and manufacturing clusters that produce dual-use products, such as the Route des Lasers photonics hub in Bordeaux, the Aerospace Valley near Toulouse, and the Pôle Mer marine science and technology grouping in Brittany. The DGA particularly aims to cultivate relationships with the start-ups that concentrate in these areas as it tries to harness entrepreneurship across France for the benefit of the state and broaden its own knowledge base beyond the few large prime contractors that dominate the major procurement programs.13
The DGA is largely responsible for France’s overperformance in defense R&D spending compared to other EU member states—one analysis found that, in 2018, over half of EU defense R&D spending, excluding the U.K. and Denmark, came from France alone.14 The DGA spends considerable sums on basic research and development in academia and industry—almost €1 billion in 2020—in addition to its large portfolio of ongoing procurement programs, through which it places annual orders worth around €13-15 billion.15 This basic research spending, not directly linked to the major procurement programs, has its own institutions that sit within the DGA. The money is largely channeled through the Defense Innovation Agency, a much smaller organization—only 100 employees to manage its billion-euro budget—which, under the aegis of the DGA, functions as a focal point for French academics, defense firms, and civilian contractors to access state R&D funds. Accelerated procurement has also found a home within this agency: it runs a variety of challenges that aim to incentivize industry to provide workable solutions for specific, small-scale problems within a few years. The CAROTTE challenge, which provided a cartographic unmanned ground vehicle to the French Army in 2014, just two years after the challenge began, is a good example of this kind of rapid procurement model.16
Most notable, however, is the degree of technical expertise held by the DGA’s staff, which is exceedingly rare in comparable defense procurement bureaucracies in other major nations. Military procurement is a dedicated specialization in the French civil service to a degree that is unusual elsewhere. Ten out of the last eleven heads of the DGA attended the École Polytechnique, one of France’s highly selective and prestigious grandes écoles, and which is moreover officially under the supervision of the DGA through the French Ministry of Defense. The École Polytechnique was founded during the French Revolution and refashioned by Napoleon Bonaparte into a dedicated military academy with a mission to embed engineering expertise within the French military, a role which it still performs today. Though most graduates of the university go into civilian roles, undergraduates at the École Polytechnique still undergo basic military training and are given ranks as military officers during their time of study. The only recent DGA head not to graduate from the École Polytechnique is Laurent Collet-Billon, who is the son of an engineer famous for his work on France’s nuclear program and attended another elite French military university, the National School of Aeronautics. The school’s graduates form the core of the Corps of Armament Engineers, the military wing of the prestigious, informally-designated “Grand Corps of the State,” which serve to channel elite talent to the service of the French state.
The École Polytechnique graduates enjoy a degree of career longevity that is very rare in the U.S. or U.K., where defense procurement is far more commonly the preserve of generalist civil servants who rotate between departments and military officers serving short tours of duty. The current head of the DGA, Joël Barre, exemplifies the pattern. He began his career at the DGA in 1979 and remained there for almost 20 years, before serving in a number of public and private sector roles within the French space industry. He returned to the DGA as its head in 2017. Laurent Collet-Billon, Barre’s predecessor, spent virtually his whole career at the DGA, working there from 1977 to 2006 in roles ranging from digital integration of air, land, and sea systems to the development of the airborne component of the French nuclear deterrent.
The previous holder of the office, François Lureau, spent 14 years at the DGA from 1968-81 before leaving for a lengthy career at France’s top defense contractors, including Thales, eventually returning to lead the DGA for four years from 2004-2008. For senior civil servants, this kind of career trajectory in and out of the private sector is virtually unheard-of in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, but very common in France, where the practice is commonly known as pantouflage. In large cross-national surveys of elite managers at leading firms, up to a fifth of top managers and a third of French CEOs have had prior experience as a civil servant, compared to just three percent of English and German top managers. In turn, these managers are far more likely to be graduates of grandes écoles than English managers, for example, are likely to be alumni of Oxford or Cambridge.17
While the practice of pantouflage doubtlessly embeds collusive relationships between the large contractors and the state, the revolving door also allows for a constant flow of commercial expertise into the bureaucracy. This industry knowledge is married to the technical education that these elite bureaucrats received at the start of their careers. The last four heads of the DGA all began their careers as weapons engineers; Laurent Collet-Billon began his professional life in an aircraft maintenance and repair facility in Bordeaux, France. In contrast, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the well-respected National Security Advisor to the British Prime Minister—and former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defense, the role most analogous in the British defense bureaucracy to the head of the DGA—has a background in strategic media consultancy. The current Permanent Under-Secretary has spent much of his career working at the Department of Health, while a previous holder of the post was a chartered accountant. In Germany, the head of the Bundeswehr’s procurement office is a civilian and lawyer by training. The most recent head of Poland’s armaments agency is a career military officer who studied engineering, but spent no part of his career in the procurement bureaucracy before being appointed its chief.18 Specialization in elite bureaucracy remains a markedly French concern, while “gentleman amateurs” and generalist administrators still persist to a remarkable degree elsewhere.
The DGA is unique when compared to the procurement bureaucracies of other Western countries, but the elements of its institutional setup are not unique among French state bureaucracies. Much as the École Polytechnique’s alumni dominate the French military bureaucracy, the graduates of the École nationale d'administration (ENA), known in France as énarques and including French President Emmanuel Macron, dominate French politics. The model of highly selective schools funneling young elites into the state bureaucracies is used across the board, with the result that the French state is always receiving the best new talent. The promise of lifetime job security, with the implicit option of managerial positions at what are often at least partially state-owned companies, is attractive enough to prevent long-term brain drain from the state into the private sector, or even foreign countries.19 Selectivity helps create tight networks of elites across multiple bureaucracies and businesses, facilitating informal coordination. The French civil service is moreover awarded a high degree of both formal and informal prestige, with certain branches being called the “Grand Corps of the State,” and the career longevity enjoyed by civil servants means that a large amount of owned power20 can be accumulated over a career. Since France is not ideologically averse to heavy state intervention in the market or public life, keeping a large pool of both competent and connected people in the civil service is one of the key methods used by the French state to effectively wield its power.
The role that the DGA played in the establishment and direction of Project Scorpion was then predictably hands-on. While the U.S. Department of Defense appointed defense industry giant Boeing as Lead Systems Integrator for the failed Future Combat System project, effectively giving Boeing a blank check in running the program, interviews and statements given by prominent French bureaucrats in the DGA suggest that it played a far more proactive role. The DGA established an initial joint venture (called TNS Mars) between three key contractors—Thales, Nexter, and Sagem—to assist with the development of the required digital systems, although at least some technological development work on Project Scorpion’s digital backbone was completed in-house at the DGA’s Technical and Operational Laboratory, with production contracts then distributed to private industry at the DGA’s discretion. Alain Dohet, a DGA official who worked extensively on Project Scorpion, noted the importance of the seven years of preparatory studies from 2005 onwards conducted by the DGA,21 which meant a far longer project timeline (2005-35) than than the Future Combat System allowed for; the U.S. Army’s planners of the late 1990s had planned to field much of the FCS-transformed force by 2010. The early studies and technological development work done from the early 2000s through 2014, when the project as a whole received final approval, have allowed for what now seem like remarkably fast vehicle prototyping and build rates. As noted by former DGA Land Director Dominique Luzeaux, Project Scorpion’s slower pace and step-by-step progress also allowed for the DGA to constantly reassess and retain control at each development phase, whereas the Army had limited visibility into the progress of FCS once it was handed over to Boeing.
French Military Interventions in Africa
The goals and structure of Project Scorpion were deeply shaped by France’s long history of unilateral military operations, which remain remarkably little known outside of France. In the postwar era, successive French politicians devoted enormous attention and national resources to “strategic autonomy,” most famously epitomized by Charles de Gaulle’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military command structure in 1966.22 De Gaulle, who served as President of France from 1959-1969 after founding the French Fifth Republic, was the key architect of this shift, promulgating an ideology of “Gaullism” that promoted a strong centralized state and French exceptionalism. Owing to a distrust of Anglo-American leaders and a belief that France should remain a major world power, de Gaulle initiated France’s nuclear weapons program, sought closer relations with West Germany, and tried to preserve French influence abroad during decolonization. Gaullism has remained influential in the French elite long after de Gaulle’s death in 1970. While the British nuclear weapons program, for example, is today entirely dependent on American technological expertise,23 France retains its own major domestic nuclear industry and expertise.24 While France and the United Kingdom are often compared as former colonial powers, they have vastly divergent institutional and geopolitical relationships to their former colonies. France remains far more involved in its former empire and a surprising number of institutional colonial relics survive to the present. Perhaps the most notable such example is the CFA Franc, which technically refers to two currencies—the West African CFA Franc and the Central African CFA Franc—created by the French government in 1945 as common currencies for its African colonies. Pegged to the Euro and guaranteed by the French treasury, the CFA Franc is still the official currency of fourteen African states with a total population of over 200 million people, including Mali, Chad, Niger, and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
France has also been consistently militarily involved in its former African colonies. French military interventions in Africa averaged a staggering one per year from the 1960s through the mid-1990s, as a cross-party “Gaullist consensus” supported an activist foreign policy in its sphere of influence.25 Post-colonial politicians in these states were almost exclusively drawn from a small francophone elite and thus dependent to a considerable degree on France to retain power. The United States tacitly supported the Françafrique policy as a means to counteract Soviet influence in the region, but the end result was a French military that built a deep reservoir of combat experience in fighting in this theater. There seems to be no sign that this consensus has disappeared today: it was the Socialist President François Hollande that launched France’s war in Mali in 2013, called Operation Serval, while a 2015 report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly discusses France’s history of African wars in largely positive terms on the military level, although it raises questions about the long-term political successes of these interventions.26 Emmanuel Macron, who has served as president since 2017, has engaged in a concerted effort to “rebrand” France’s colonial legacy and relationship with Africa.27 This diplomatic policy has had some successes, such as the normalization of relations between France and Rwanda.28
French military interventions in Africa have varied in duration and scale, with some lasting just a few weeks and others involving the deployment of forces on a semi-permanent basis. For example, France was more or less constantly engaged in the Republic of Chad from the 1960s onwards through operations Limousin, Tacaud, Manta, Épervier, EUFOR Tchad, and Barkhane, backing a succession of authoritarian presidents against both domestic insurgents and the Libyan military during the long Chadian-Libyan War that lasted from 1978-1987. Today, the French military base in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital city, is one of the major logistics hubs for France’s operations in the Sahel, where about 5000 French troops are engaged in active operations.29 France maintains a small force of about 700 soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire, where French troops fought periodically from 2002 to stabilize the country during its civil war, and eventually participated in successful military operations to remove former President Laurent Gbagbo from power in 2011. The same year, France took a leading role in NATO coalition operations in Libya, deposing its long-standing foe Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had long been a thorn in side of French regional policy.30
While Project Scorpion was already well underway by the time Operation Serval was launched in 2013, it serves as a recent showcase of how the French Army fights and why it needed a modernization program to maintain its capabilities. Operation Serval was an emergency operation launched on very short notice to stabilize Mali’s government against Islamist insurgents, who launched successive waves of attack from the north of the country. Serval saw French armored battalions routinely drive 500 km distances in 48-hour periods and remain near or in contact with the enemy for up to six weeks without repairs or returns to base. Though France benefited from logistical support from its partners in the Chadian military, its units were operating at the absolute limit of their sustainment capabilities, just barely getting sufficient resupply of food, water, and fuel, while air conditioning, showers, and toilets were nowhere to be found. One French colonel commented that, after some weeks in the field, the force more resembled “Napoleon’s army before the Italian campaign” than a modern military, with considerable danger and discomfort accepted in order to maintain operational speed.31 While France’s aging armored vehicle fleet still performed well in Serval, there were clear signs that it needed an overhaul, but new generation vehicles would still require the same low maintenance requirements as their predecessors, even as greater digital connectivity enables this kind of dispersed operation.
Building a Faster and Cheaper Army
Project Scorpion’s low profile and seemingly modest budget—just €6.8 billion over 11 years—should not disguise the ambition of French defense planners. The project encompasses not just new or modernized armored vehicles and modern data link integration, but a whole new tactical and operational strategy governing how the French Army fights. The Project Scorpion strategy continues to change over time as the French Army rapidly scales up its experiments with and integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at the tactical level of war, but at its core is a drive to establish small combined-arms battlegroups reliant on the most advanced electronic communications technology, called groupement tactiques interarmes (GTIA). These units are somewhat analogous to the Russian Battalion Tactical Group or the Chinese High-Mobility Combined Arms Battalion, but instead of the Russian focus on artillery and tanks, France substitutes speed and digital communications integration down to the level of infantry units.32
The focus on speed, high mobility, and low sustainment burden was already a feature of French AFV design. Even before World War II, the French Army had built an extensive track record in the design, manufacture, and operation of lightweight but heavily armed armored cars. Traditional postwar French military doctrine calls for reconnaissance and screening forces, equipped with these types of vehicles, to cover large areas ahead of the main force while maintaining the firepower to fight enemy heavy units they might encounter.33 As products of this thinking, the Panhard EBR and AML-90 armored cars saw extensive combat service in Algeria and Chad in French colonial and post-colonial wars. Exported to Israel and Lebanon, the AML-90 successfully destroyed far larger main battle tanks in the 1967-70 Arab-Israeli War of Attrition, while its descendant, the ERC 90, won large orders on global markets.
While France’s modern iterations on the armored car concept are heavier and better protected, as modern warfare becomes more lethal, the same design focus on speed, mobility, and a low sustainment burden have remained. France is one of the only countries in the world to have entirely dispensed with the traditional tracked infantry fighting vehicle in the tank support role, phasing out the AMX-10P in favor of the wheeled 8x8 VBCI with its 25mm autocannon. The French Army today is an all-wheeled force with the sole remaining exception of the Leclerc tank, a sign of how it has carefully adapted itself over many decades of procurement cycles to both its limited budget and its likely theaters of operation, the former African colonies and, increasingly, mainland Europe. Wheeled armor is generally more fuel-efficient and, in most conditions, considerably less prone to mechanical breakdown, a vital consideration when conducting high-tempo operations over large distances such as Operation Serval. While the lower surface pressure that tracked vehicles exert on the ground might be ideal for navigating deep mud or driving straight over prepared obstacles such as trenches, the lower mechanical reliability and worse fuel-efficiency makes them far less than ideal for France’s typical operations.
Project Scorpion took this underlying base of French doctrine and operational experience to produce the Jaguar EBRC, a 6x6 wheeled specialized reconnaissance vehicle with an extensive sensor suite, anti-tank missiles, and a 40mm autocannon, as well as the Griffon armored personnel carrier (APC), a much cheaper but still digitally networked 6x6 with about 70% component commonality with Jaguar, a vital consideration for keeping maintenance costs low across the AFV fleet. Estimates for Jaguar’s unit cost range from about €3-4 million,34 the cost kept relatively low by the use of commercial truck components in both the chassis and the engine.35 In contrast, the troubled British Ajax, a tracked reconnaissance AFV armed with the same gun but over double the Jaguar’s weight, is projected to cost at least £9 million per unit, and is currently blocked from entering service after crews testing it suffered severe injuries linked to excessive noise and vibration. British defense commentators have frequently drawn the unfavorable comparison between the prospect of Ajax’s eventual cancellation and the loss of at least £3.5 billion in unrecoverable costs on the one hand, and the smooth progress of Jaguar and the rest of the Project Scorpion fleet through testing.
New AFVs, however, are just one-third of the Scorpion project. At its core is the SCI-S digital network, built by French IT corporation Atos, to link the fleet’s communications together, now being retrofitted into the older Leclerc tank and VBCI infantry fighting vehicles. French Army officers conducting initial testing with SCI-S equipped Griffons have spoken positively of its use in exercises,36 and, over time, the French military plans to spread this data integration throughout the French AFV fleet and extend it to the French Army’s artillery and aviation assets.
Such grand visions of technologically advanced warfare are easy to come by, but a military bureaucracy that can make them a reality is a much rarer thing. The vast defense budgets of the United States mean that U.S. procurement bureaucracies can often, though not always, throw more money at problems until they go away to compensate for a lack of procurement skill. For smaller nations with more financial constraints and more existential security concerns than the U.S., the stakes are much higher. Procurement failure is likely to be absolute, unsolvable by a more generous appropriations grant from Congress. Budgetary restrictions place a premium on bureaucratic skill to manage the whole procurement process from requirements shaping through to manufacturing and testing. The success of Project Scorpion can be credited to the French military’s consistent ability to punch above its budgetary weight due to the systems and culture that underpin the functioning of its bureaucratic elites who specialize in defense procurement.
Exporting the French Model to Europe
Should Project Scorpion continue to deliver on time and on budget, its success is likely to advance France’s strategic position considerably over the next few decades. To begin with, it is hoped that France has succeeded in modernizing its army’s vehicle fleet to effectively fight wars in the Sahel. While Macron recently announced the official end of Operation Barkhane in Mali over disputes on strategy with the Malian government,37 French forces are reportedly going to be redeployed in neighboring states like Chad and Niger, rather than permanently returned to France.38 While some African states like Rwanda and Botswana39 have achieved a great degree of political stability, many others continue to suffer from low state capacity and ethnic conflict, even when enjoying streaks of economic growth, like Ethiopia. Africa’s young, rapidly growing population and wealth of natural resources will keep the continent highly relevant to global affairs in coming decades, even as the overall security situation remains poor. As has been the case since the end of colonialism, an effective and rapidly deployable French military will be a very useful tool for France to maintain and even expand its economic and diplomatic relationships in Africa. France will face competition in this context: Russia, China, and the United States are all reportedly increasing their military activities in Africa.40
But the institutional functionality of the DGA also points to a new and perhaps even greater opportunity for France to expand its influence in Europe. It now seems far more likely than it did just a few weeks ago, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that European defense budgets will grow substantially over the next decade. Smaller European nations lacking a substantial defense industrial base of their own, with no time to build on, may well look to France to supply their needs. Belgium is already a partner for Project Scorpion and is buying 412 Griffons and 60 Jaguars,41 but the demand may well stretch beyond France’s traditional allies. Traditionally, the U.S. was the favored weapons supplier for Western-aligned nations, but today the support and maintenance costs for high-end U.S. equipment are often prohibitively high, in part due to the divergence between American and European salaries that has resulted from U.S. economic overperformance in the years following the 2008 recession. The French defense industry is well-positioned to win a growing share of European defense business, with France increasingly attractive as a core NATO member, but one with a degree of strategic autonomy and independence from American foreign policy. After the U.S. repeatedly blocked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from acquiring the F-35 fighter jet over the UAE’s refusal to break its relationship with China’s Huawei, the UAE instead ordered $19 billion worth of French Rafale fighter jets.42 Intense diplomacy by Emmanuel Macron, that included several foreign visits between 2020 and 2021, also resulted in orders for Rafales from Greece, Croatia, and Egypt.
Success breeds more success, and if money begins to flow towards French defense contractors, France may be emboldened to take even more of a lead role in the next generation of defense megaprojects. The Franco-German Future Combat Aerial System, an ambitious plan to build the next generation of fighter jets to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, has already been rocked by rumors of antagonism between Paris and Berlin over the project’s scope and direction.43 In a similar vein, French politicians have openly criticized the “obese” Eurodrone, a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV built with two engines due to German fears about the drone crashing into an urban area after an engine failure.44 France and Germany are also partners, for now, in the Main Combat Ground System program, which aims to build the next-generation tank to replace both the Leclerc tank and the German Leopard II, but even this collaboration is hardly guaranteed to last. Despite its wealth and deep industrial base, Germany’s more pacifist, anti-nuclear foreign policy has always made it a difficult partner for France. Should Project Scorpion inspire a wider revival of French defense exports, however, its dependence on Germany could weaken as it takes a dominant role in pan-European procurement.
In the near term, it seems unlikely that any country will be able to easily replicate the French bureaucratic model that underpins its successes in military procurement. A culture where elite talent is primarily put towards the service of the state, rather than business, is not something that can be built overnight. Nevertheless, the importance of a highly-skilled, well-staffed, civilian-led procurement agency, such as the DGA, is applicable across borders. Militaries are prone to factional empire-building and requirement over-specification, while the fast churn of officers through posts is an uneasy fit with the long timelines of all defense procurement. Generalist civil servants, on the other hand, simply lack the technical expertise to make good judgments. Institutions such as the DGA may seem like a very obvious solution to the problem, but are still surprisingly rare across the world’s largest military powers. For the militarily weaker states of Europe, the growing political desire to build up militaries will likely outpace the institutional capacity to deliver on effective military reforms and modernizations. If France can figure out how to allow its neighbors to outsource their procurement needs, it will be a major move towards shifting the balance of power in Europe towards France and away from the United States, the European Union, and Russia.
Sabine Siebold, “ German army chief 'fed up' with neglect of country's military”, Reuters, February, 24, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/german-army-chief-fed-up-with-neglect-countrys-military-2022-02-24/
Samo Burja & Matt Ellison, “Why America Prefers a Weak and Peaceful Europe”, The National Interest, June 30, 2019, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-america-prefers-weak-and-peaceful-europe-64826
“Military expenditure (% of GDP) - European Union,” World Bank, accessed March 26, 2022, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=EU
A French language abbreviation for synergie du contact renforcé par la polyvalence et l'info valorisation.
For a history and analysis of the failures of the Future Combat System, see Christopher Pernin et. al, “Lessons from the Army’s Future Combat Systems Program”, RAND Corporation, 2012, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2012/RAND_MG1206.pdf
For a lengthy history of the Future Rapid Effects System, see Think Defense, “The Story of FRES,” August 9, 2014, https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2014/08/story-fres-summary/
For a discussion of the limitations of modern European armies in a plausible war scenario, see Michael Shurkin, “The Abilities of the British, French, and German Armies to Generate and Sustain Armored Brigades in the Baltics”, RAND Corporation, 2017, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1629.html
Jarosław Ciślak, “Poland Launches a Procurement System Reform. Armament Agency Is Born”, Defence24, September, 10, 2019, https://defence24.com/poland-launches-a-procurement-system-reform-armament-agency-is-born-analysis
Samo Burja, “Functional Institutions are the Exception”, July 9, 2018, https://samoburja.com/functional-institutions-are-the-exception/
Laurent Collet-Billon, “La recherche stratégique et la DGA,” Revue Défense Nationale, October 2015, https://www.cairn.info/revue-defense-nationale-2015-10-page-11.htm
Laurent Collet-Billon, “Pas de souveraineté sans industrie forte,” Revue Défense Nationale, May 2017, https://www.cairn.info/revue-defense-nationale-2017-5-page-31.htm
Nathalie Lazaric, Valérie Mérindol, & Sylvia Rocchia, “Changes in the French Defence Innovation System: New Roles and Capabilities for the Government Agency for Defence,” Industry & Innovation, 2011, 18 (5) 509-530, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13662716.2011.583464?journalCode=ciai20
Jean-Pierre Devaux & Gaspard Schnitzler, “Defense Innovation: New Models and Procurement Implications: The French Case,” Armament Industry European Research Group, 2020, “https://www.iris-france.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/63-Policy-Paper-Def-Innov-France-September-2020.pdf
Nicholas Wallace, “Europe ramps up defense R&D,” Science Magazine, vol. 370, no. 6522, December 11, 2020, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.370.6522.1259
Jurgen Hensel, “To be better equipped and better armed: Interview with Joel Barre”, European Security and Defense, October 21, 2021, https://euro-sd.com/2021/10/articles/exclusive/24108/to-be-better-equipped-and-better-armed/
Jean-Pierre Devaux & Gaspard Schnitzler, “Defense Innovation: New Models and Procurement Implications: The French Case,” Armament Industry European Research Group, 2020, https://www.iris-france.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/63-Policy-Paper-Def-Innov-France-September-2020.pdf
Eric Davoine & Claudio Ravasi, “The relative stability of national career patterns in European top management careers in the age of globalisation: A comparative study in France/Germany/Great Britain and Switzerland”, European Management Journal, 31 (2) 153-63, 2013, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S026323731200062X?via%3Dihub
Defence24, “Brig. Gen. Bogdan Dziewulski becomes the new head of the Armament Inspectorate”, Defence24.pl, November 27, 2020, https://defence24.pl/sily-zbrojne/gen-bryg-bogdan-dziewulski-nowym-szefem-inspektoratu-uzbrojenia
Patrick Mehr, “France's Golden Handcuffs,” The New York Times, December 15, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/16/opinion/16iht-edmehr16.html
Samo Burja, “Borrowed versus Owned Power,” SamoBurja.com, March 23, 2018, https://samoburja.com/borrowed-versus-owned-power/
See p. 191 of Lars Löfgren, “Managing Mega Technological Projects : The Case of the Defence industry and Network-Centric Warfare projects,” Institut Polytechnique de Paris, 2020, https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-03043952/document
Erin Blakemore, “When France Pulled the Plug on a Crucial Part of NATO,” History.com, February 9, 2022, https://www.history.com/news/france-nato-withdrawal-charles-de-gaulle
Jake Wallis Simons, “How Washington owns the UK’s nukes,” Politico, April 30, 2015, https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-trident-nuclear-program/
Hans M. Kristensen & Matt Korda (2019) French nuclear forces, 2019, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 75:1, 51-55, DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2019.1556003, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2019.1556003
Tony Chafer (2005) Chirac and ‘la Françafrique’: No Longer a Family Affair, Modern & Contemporary France, 13:1, 7-23, DOI: 10.1080/0963948052000341196, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0963948052000341196
The full report can be read here: https://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/rap-info/i2777.asp
Victor Mallet, Neil Munshi, and David Pilling, “Why Macron’s attempt to reset French ties to Africa has hit trouble,” Financial Times, October 27, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/cea9cdd9-c500-41bc-a2ae-2e4c01eaf2e8
Collins Mwai, “What tasks await the new French envoy to Rwanda?,” The New Times, August 10, 2021, https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/what-tasks-await-new-french-envoy-rwanda
David Gormezano, “Barkhane, Takuba, Sabre: French and European military missions in the Sahel,” France24, February 16, 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220216-barkhane-takuba-sabre-french-and-european-military-missions-in-the-sahel
Grand, Camille. “The French Experience: Sarkozy’s War?” In Precision and Purpose: Airpower in the Libyan Civil War, edited by Camille Grand, Karl P. Mueller, Gregory Alegi, Christian F. Anrig, Christopher S. Chivvis, Robert Egnell, Christina Goulter, et al., 183–204. RAND Corporation, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/j.ctt16f8d7x.13
Michael Shurkin, “France’s War in Mali,” RAND Corporation, 2014, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR700/RR770/RAND_RR770.pdf
For an overview of how the French Army envisages Scorpion’s effect on the infantry, see Fantassins magazine, no. 36, Spring-Summer, 2016: https://en.calameo.com/read/000009779038ce32036ba
Jean Marzloff, “Light Armored Units,” Armor Magazine, July-August 1973, https://mcoepublic.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/library/CavalryArmorJournal/1970s/1973Jul-Dec.pdf
Pierre Tran, “Nexter secures bulk of work in new French military vehicle order,” DefenseNews, April 26, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/land/2017/04/26/nexter-secures-bulk-of-work-in-new-french-military-vehicle-order/
For an overview of the Jaguar, see: https://thaimilitaryandasianregion.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/jaguar-ebrc-6x6-reconnaissance-and-combat-armoured-vehicle/
See comments by Captain Antoine in: https://www.edrmagazine.eu/1-scorpion-experience-from-the-field
Neil Munshi, “How France lost Mali: failure to quell jihadi threat opens door to Russia,” Financial Times, December 22, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/5153ca21-bdbc-4c65-b058-cecf184e2ad1
“Barkhane commander visits Chad military base to deploy new equipment,” AfricaNews, February 25, 2022, https://www.africanews.com/2022/02/25/barkhane-commander-visits-chad-military-base-to-deploy-new-equipment/
Samo Burja, “What Botswana Can Teach Us About Political Stability,” Palladium Magazine, May 9, 2019, https://palladiummag.com/2019/05/09/what-botswana-can-teach-us-about-political-stability/
Federica Fasanotti, “Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa: Influence, commercial concessions, rights violations, and counterinsurgency failure,” Brookings, February 8, 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2022/02/08/russias-wagner-group-in-africa-influence-commercial-concessions-rights-violations-and-counterinsurgency-failure/; Steve Beynon, “1,000 National Guard Soldiers to Deploy to Africa as Mid East Wars Wind Down,” Military.com, November 29, 2021, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/11/29/1000-national-guard-soldiers-deploy-africa-mid-east-wars-wind-down.html
Grant Turnbull, “Belgium aligns to France’s ‘Scorpion’ programme,” Shepherd Media, June 26, 2017, https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/landwarfareintl/belgium-aligns-frances-scorpion-programme/
Chyrine Mezher, “The UAE is buying the French Rafale. What does it mean for the F-35?”, BreakingDefense, December 8, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/12/the-uae-is-buying-the-french-rafale-what-does-it-mean-for-the-f-35/
Vivienne Machi, “FCAS warplane program stalls, as Dassault and Airbus fail to reach key industry deal,” DefenseNews, March 4, 2022, https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2022/03/04/fcas-warplane-program-stalls-as-dassault-and-airbus-fail-to-reach-key-industry-deal/
Vincent Lamigeon, “Le futur drone européen risque-t-il le crash définitif ?”, Challenges, July 2, 2019, https://www.challenges.fr/entreprise/defense/crash-en-vue-pour-le-futur-drone-europeen_661643