France is characterized by an extremely sophisticated and competitive defense industry, which includes global players such as Thales, EADS, Dassault, the Safran Group (merger of Snecma and Sagem) and DCNS. Politically, France and the U.S. are long-standing, close allies. Despite occasional differences of views, the U.S. and France work together on a broad range of trade, security and geopolitical issues. Under President Sarkozy’s leadership in 2009, France made the decision to rejoin NATO’s military command, once again becoming a fully integrated member of the Alliance. France’s last Defense and Security White Paper (“livre blanc”) was published in late June 2008, responding to President Sarkozy’s request for a complete review of the Ministry of Defense and a new strategic vision for French defense. The White Paper addressed policy, strategies, hardware needs and operational capacities, base closures, troop and operational deployment reductions, limits on platform acquisitions (Rafale aircraft and surface combatants), and the postponement of a decision on the second aircraft carrier until 2012. Spending increases in C4ISR, satellites, and UAVs were anticipated as a result of the creation of a new force capability for “global awareness”. The other main driver of the "livre blanc" is confirmation of deterrence forces and an enhanced appreciation of the global threat.
The current 2010 defense budget is about EUR 32.15 billion (excluding pensions), of which nearly EUR 17 billion is for equipment purchases, many of which were incurred before President Sarkozy took office. Defense spending in real terms is expected to remain at or near 2% overall, in accordance with E.U. and NATO requests.
France is and will remain a major world player in defense. It has the one of the most forward-deployed armed force in the world after the U.S., and is strongly engaged in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), the Balkans, Africa and other locations. They are, in fact, almost everywhere that U.S. forces are (with the exception of Iraq), and in many places the U.S. is not strongly present. As such, and when our policies coincide, they serve as a key force multiplier to the U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. policy in general. In order to rationalize defense expenditures, France is seeking to increase multi- and bi-lateral cooperation, specifically with the United States. Current topics for deeper U.S./French cooperation include Command and Control Systems, maritime domain situational awareness, theater ballistic missile defense, chemical biological defense and interoperability. The French are particularly interested UAV/drones, and have multiplied their budget for unmanned aircraft ten-fold over the last decade. Nevertheless, in 2010 this should still only represent about 1% of France’s total budget for military equipment.
By Cara Boulesteix