Defense issues had been brought into the background during the previous French presidential election, in 2017. The majority of candidates had simply committed to a spending objective of 2% at the end of the five-year term, and had strived to debate a subject without any real foundation, such as the return to conscription, even though the soldiers themselves never ceased to warn about the unrealistic aspect of the proposals put forward. Fortunately, and to the surprise of many, the elected president, Emmanuel Macron, honored his commitments by enforcing a Military Programming Law (LPM) allowing the Armies, if not to rebuild their capacities, at the very least to put an end to the capacity hemorrhage which struck them for nearly 15 years.
However, both in substance and in form, the current LPM, like the defense budget attached to it, remain linked to the objectives of the 2013 White Paper on Defense and Security (LBDSN 2013), written even before global geopolitics got carried away. In fact, the next five-year term will have to face several critical issues in the field of Defense, in order to respond to the security issues which today no longer leave room for interpretation. It therefore appears natural to expect candidates who will run for the supreme office to present clear positions and a program on these issues, numbering 7.
1- National deterrence in the face of new threats
The 2013 LBDSN, like the 2017 Strategic Review, is based on a two-pronged defense tool design, a conventional component in the form of an expeditionary force capable of intervening in external theaters and in low-to-low crises. medium intensity, and nuclear deterrence and its two components, the Strategic Oceanic Force (FOST) strong of 4 nuclear submarines launchers of missiles (SSBNs) of the Triumphant class, and two squadrons of the strategic air forces (FAS) armed with Rafale. On-board naval aeronautics can also, on request, implement the ASMPA missile if necessary. French doctrine, with one submarine at sea and one on alert, is inherited from a period when Russian nuclear forces were unable to maintain operational permanence at sea for their SSBNs, and when China only had of 2 vessels of this type, otherwise inefficient.
Since then, Russia has considerably increased and modernized its strategic posture, with 3 SSBNs on permanent patrol, the modernization of its long-range ballistic missiles, that of its strategic bombers, and the arrival of new weapon systems such as the missile. Kinzhal hypersonic or the Avangard hypersonic glider. China has also deployed important new means, such as the intercontinental ballistic missile DF41, SSBN Type 094, and the imminent arrival of the strategic stealth bomber H-20. In addition, several countries have entered the nuclear race, besides Pakistan and India, such as Iran and North Korea. Finally, systems for the detection and interception of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, whether naval or submarine, are progressing very rapidly. In other words, the very effectiveness of French deterrence today is potentially threatened in the medium or even the short term.
To answer this, it may be necessary to increase the format of the FOST, in order to keep not 1 but 2 SSBNs on patrol at all times. Indeed, if an SSBN has a 98% chance of not being detected, which is far from being high, especially considering the multiplication of ASM (Anti-Submarine) detection capabilities today and in the near future, all the same, this gives a potential adversary a window of 7 days per year during which he can possibly neutralize this threat, and therefore act with impunity. By doubling the number of SSBNs on patrol, on the same basis, it will only have a 1-day window every 7 years to achieve this. Likewise, the FAS must now face integrated multilayer defense systems, for which an escort of planes or drones equipped with powerful electronic warfare and counter-detection systems is essential.
In fact, the deterrence posture must be quickly adapted to the reality of the threats, well beyond the current SNLE 3G programs or the successor to the ASMPA missile, which will only come into service during the next decade. This question, existential for the Nation, but also for the allies of France, is therefore crucial to assess the political and strategic vision of the candidates for the Elysee.
2- The challenge of high intensity engagement
As said previously, the LBDSN 2013 like the RS 2017 simply did not foresee that the French armies could have to be engaged in so-called High Intensity engagements, namely against an adversary equipped with a complete panoply of modern military equipment and forces capable of implementing them. The deployment of Russian forces in Crimea and on the borders of Ukraine in recent days shows unambiguously that this scenario is now possible, and even probable if we are to believe several analysts. Russia is not, moreover, the only potential adversary of France endowed with these capacities, tensions in the China Sea and around Taiwan with Beijing have shown that the People's Liberation Army is now a leading force, capable of competing with the best Western armies in many areas. Iran has considerably increased its operational capacities, particularly in the field of drones, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft systems, posing a constant threat to the French forces deployed in the region, whether they are land, sea or air. Even countries considered to be close allies are now becoming potential threats, as is the case with Turkey, which has very important conventional capacities.
However, the French Armies are simply not not able to support such a commitment, both from a technological point of view and from a capability point of view. The French heavy armored forces have in fact been reduced to their simplest form, with only 220 Leclerc tanks, of which only 200 will be modernized, and a self-propelled artillery of barely more than 100 pieces, devoid of armor plating. None of the French armored vehicles in service or on order in the coming years is or will be equipped with active protection system to counter missiles and anti-tank rockets. The anti-aircraft and anti-drone defense of mobile units is also very limited, even though these means have shown their immense capabilities during recent conflicts. The same goes for the air forces, which have no means of electronic warfare or the suppression of anti-air defenses, and for naval forces, whose ships are insufficiently protected against saturating attacks from the air. drones and missiles. In addition, the stocks of ammunition and spare parts are extremely low, making it impossible to sustain an intense commitment over time.
In view of the urgency of the need in this area, the program of a presidential candidate must therefore provide a response and a strategy to respond to it, within deadlines consistent with the reality of the threats. This presupposes reviewing the organization of the armed forces, as well as efforts in terms of equipment which greatly exceed the current planning envisaged by the LPM until 2025. The French Armies may not have the leisure to do so. wait until 2035 or 2040 to receive the MGCS and other SCAF to be involved in conflicts of a completely different technological and military level than intervention in Mali.
3- Adapt the format of the Armies to the threat
Beyond the questions of equipment, there is also the question of the Format of the French armed forces. This is still framed by the LBDSN 2013 and its vision of the engagement of forces resulting from an appreciation of the past threat, which perhaps never even existed. Today, a land Operational Forces of 77.000 men no longer responds to the reality of the threat, especially when the latter, moreover very much in demand for external operations, is only able to mobilize in 30 days the equivalent of 'a mechanized brigade reinforced by 10 or 12.000 men, while the Russian armies can mobilize 10 times more over the same period. The same is true of the air forces which, with 225 fighters, have difficulty in sustaining the current operational pressure, even though the fleet will gradually be reduced to 185 aircraft. As for the naval forces, with a single aircraft carrier, 15 frigates and 6 attack submarines, they simply do not have the capacity to permanently deploy a carrier battle group, nor to maintain more than one carrier strike group. 'a frigate at sea by major theater.
It therefore appears essential to thoroughly rethink the format of the armies, in order to respond to the reality of present and future threats, without having to systematically rely on the support of an ally that the experience of recent years has shown to be most versatile. . If France wants to be able to defend its territory, including its ultra-marine territories and its Exclusive Economic Zone, to provide protection or significant military aid to its allies, and to influence global issues, this cannot be done. only go through a significant increase in the size of its armies. On these questions too, a candidate for the Supreme Judiciary must present his positions, as well as his objectives in a clear manner.
4- Technological, industrial and human resources challenges
It therefore appears that in order to respond to present and future security challenges, the French Armies, but also the industrial and technological Defense ecosystem, must initiate a profound change, which brings up many challenges to be met. The first of these is the technological challenge. No one can now deny that the world has entered a new arms race. Russia, and especially China, are ahead of the game because they have made significant efforts to modernize their armies and equipment over the past twenty years, with a notable acceleration since the beginning of the 2010s. were able to develop new defense technologies that allowed them to catch up and sometimes even exceed Western technological capabilities. During this time, France, like the other Western powers, was satisfied to make evolve its technological capabilities defense in proportion to its only budgetary constraints, without taking into account the profound modifications which were taking place elsewhere.
In fact, while the country and its defense industry still had a comfortable technological advance ten years ago with exclusive know-how, as in the case of the Neuron program for example, it has noticeably eroded, handicapped as much by the lack of political vision in this area, as by poorly defined European cooperation programs hampered by internal constraints. The return to strategic autonomy and an ambitious defense technology policy is therefore essential for the future president. The same goes for defense industrial policy, marked over the past 20 years by important renouncements, sometimes on the altar of international cooperation, and by a lack of medium-term planning, which does not allow manufacturers to optimize their tools to best meet the needs of the French armies as well as of international customers. On these questions, whether it concerns the sizing of the industrial tool as well as its control and its sometimes excessive exposure to the vagaries of exporting, candidates must also express their positions and their strategy.
Finally, it is not enough to decree an increase in the strength of the armed forces to achieve this. These indeed encounter serious difficulties in even recruiting and maintaining sufficient personnel with the required profile, even though the size of the armies has never been so small. In fact, it will be necessary to detail a strategy making it possible to respond to the challenge of Human Resources in the armed forces, for example through a better attractiveness of the armed forces, more suitable career profiles, the creation of scholarships compensated in years. service, or the implementation of a real National Guard capable of significantly strengthening the forces, especially in the event of a major crisis.
5- The Resilience of the Nation
As the Crisis linked to Covid19 has shown, but also the many conspiratorial drifts that have been reported more and more frequently in recent months, the Resilience of the French Nation faced with one or more major crises is today a problem that directly affects defense issues in the face of increasing potential threats. Several countries, notably Sweden but also Russia, have undertaken to organize the resilience of the population to these possible crises, which can result as much from a terrorist attack as from a climatic event, from the appearance of a new pathogen than an attack from another state. The population's dependence on basic services such as water, electricity, communications, supplying supermarkets with consumer products, or electronic means of payment, today represent major vulnerabilities at the level of society. . The permeability observed to disinformation, even to propaganda directed from a hostile state, represents an equally significant threat.
Strengthening the resilience capacities of the French, in metropolitan France as well as overseas, in town and abroad, therefore represents a major security issue related to defense issues, and the Armies hold some of the keys to responding to them, as in the case of dealing with Cyber attacks or protecting critical infrastructures. Candidates for the presidential election must therefore state their perception of this critical point and present their proposals in this area, in order to allow voters to assess its content.
6- The calendar of measures
If there is a highly critical point today in French defense planning, other than that linked to the format, it is undoubtedly the schedule of programs undertaken to respond to new threats. Indeed, whether it is high intensity issues, with the MGCS main battle tank program, the CIFS artillery system, thee SCAF combat aircraft system, or the new generation nuclear aircraft carrier, as responses to the needs of deterrence, with the SNLE 3G program, the ASN4G missile, or European anti-ballistic systems TWISTER, all the calendars aim to enter service beyond 2030, 2035 or even 2040. However, the reality of the threat is immediate, and nothing guarantees that the current status quo will last for the 15 or 20 years required to give the armies the means to answer them. The question then arises, and in a critical manner, of the timing of the measures to be taken to enable the French armies to quickly face these threats.
The answer that a candidate can give to these questions will make it possible to assess the duration of exposure to the risk, but also the solidity of the proposed defense program. Indeed, rebuilding a military tool cannot be decreed over a short period of time. It is essential to implement medium and long-term planning, both in the technological and HR fields, for the armed forces as well as for industries and research centers. It is also in this calendar that the candidates will be able to differentiate themselves, in order to avoid seeing all the candidates again propose a vague program based on a single budgetary objective, not allowing to anticipate the ambitions and the real vision. underlying, such as a tropism in terms of international or European cooperation, or a superficial vision without real will.
7- The Economic Model and the sustainability of the Defense effort
Last, and not the least, of these strategic defense issues for the 2022 presidential election, the question of financing the ambitions presented, and by extension the defense economic model envisaged by the candidates, is proving to be most critical. . Indeed, without going into details, the real budgetary need of the armies to respond to present and future threats requires a significant increase in defense appropriations in the years to come, to reach an increase of the order of 25 to 30 billion. € per year by 2032, i.e. an increase in loans of around € 3 billion per year for 10 years. Such an effort is simply not within the reach of French public finances already hard hit by the Covid crisis. Applicants will therefore either have to reduce the ambitions of their program to meet French budgetary capacities in the years to come, with the certainty of increased exposure to major risks and a downgrading of the country on the international scene, or to propose a model. innovative economic to meet the needs.
Of all the points discussed, this is undoubtedly the most divisive for future candidates, who must not only present their ambitions, but also the funding model and therefore the sustainability of the proposed defense effort. There are solutions, whether they are macroeconomic (Defense with Positive Valuation) or organizational and societal (Base Defense). Some countries, such as the United States and Russia, have applied these principles for many years. Others are evolving to comply, as is the case of Great Britain with its new Integrated Strategic Review. But one thing is certain, the solutions proposed for the financing of the defense effort to come will make it possible to assess in detail both the real ambitions and the solidity of the program proposed by each of the candidates in this field.
Constitutionally, the President of the Republic is the Head of the French Armies. As such, it is the guarantor of the protection of the sovereignty and the interests of the country, and more than anything, of the security of the French themselves, wherever they are. Recent geopolitical developments have shown that the years, and even the decades ahead, will be very different from those we have experienced over the past 30 years, with the resurgence of the risks of major conflict between states and the nuclear threat, but also with the appearance of new threats linked to climate change, the densification of human populations and the democratization of certain technologies. In any case, a candidate for the presidency can no longer ignore or deal superficially with these defense issues.
As we have seen, the stakes are now considerable in this field, on the scale of the risks incurred, and it is no longer possible to be satisfied with a brief program or vague ambitions to entrust it with the reins of the country and therefore of the security of the French. We can only hope, therefore, that the candidates for the presidential election, at least those most likely to play a decisive role in this election, approach the subject with ambition and clarity in their program, and that they will respond to the 7 points discussed here. It will depend on the candidates, of course. But it will also depend on the voters, who will make defense issues an issue of the upcoming election campaign, or not ...