The French defense industry is today recognized on the international scene as one of the most efficient and comprehensive on the planet. From nuclear-powered submarines to combat aircraft, including reconnaissance satellites, armored vehicles and missiles, the major French defense companies are present in all niches, and as such assume the 3rd largest places defense technology exporting countries after the United States and Russia, but ahead of China, Germany and Great Britain. As such, it represents not only the pillar of French strategic autonomy, but one of the country's key export industries, both in the field of foreign trade and international relations, and currently employs nearly 200.000 people. , for an average annual turnover of $ 20 billion, 40% of which comes from export contracts.
However, the French defense industry has come a long way. Almost wiped out by the German occupation during the Second World War, it was able to rebuild itself in the 50s and 60s with great international success, such as the Mirage planes from Dassault Aviation, but also the Daphne and Agosta submarines from DCN, and AMX armored vehicles. Later, came other major equipment, in the field of missiles (Magic, Exocet, Milan), helicopters (Alouette, Gazelle, Dauphin ...), as well as many other defense technologies. And in fact, at the end of the 80s, it had very advanced technological skills, sometimes even against the United States, with the arrival of Stealth Light Frigates, the Hades ballistic missile, Tiger helicopters, Rafale or even Char Leclerc. After the difficult post-Cold War years, it must once again demonstrate its capabilities and performance to respond to rapidly evolving security challenges in a global market undergoing restructuring. Under these conditions, what are, today, the strengths, but also the weaknesses of this strategic industry for the country, for its defense, its economy, and for its international position?
Innovation and performance / price ratio
If we had to sum up in sentence the first quality of the French defense industry, it would undoubtedly be "doing a lot with very little". Indeed, to meet the needs of the French armies, and the political will not to depend, in terms of defense, on the American ally, the French defense industries have always had to succeed in the feat of doing at least as much. although their competitors, with means often much inferior to them. This aspect can be found in many modern programs, such as the Rafale, whose development cost € 45 billion, half that of the Typhoon, and 10 times cheaper than the F-35 program. Likewise, the new Suffren-class nuclear attack submarines are sold by Naval Group for € 1,2 billion to the French Navy, 40% less expensive than British Astutes, and 65% less expensive than American Virginia. In the field of armored vehicles, the VBMR Griffon has, meanwhile, been designed so that its unit price does not exceed one million euros, where the American Stryker, with identical function, is sold for $ 4,9 million.
In addition, this equipment being above all intended to equip the 3 French Armies, which make intensive use of it in the various theaters of operation in which they are deployed, prove to be particularly efficient, to the point of inspiring the allies of France. This was particularly the case with Nexter's CAESAR system, recognized as one of the most precise and efficient mobile artillery systems in the West, and which has largely inspired the design of similar models in many countries, including the United States, China, or India. Even in certain fields of predilection of the US industry, the capacities of the French engineers made it possible to develop systems as powerful, and sometimes even more, than the material coming from across the Atlantic, as was the case of the air-missile. air Magic vis-à-vis the Sidewinder AIM-9B, then the Magic 2 vis-à-vis the IAM-9J / L, and finally the MICA vis-à-vis the AIM120 AMRAAM.
To achieve this, the French defense industry has made a specialty of active innovation, with a real capacity to gain momentum in certain areas for all industrialists on the planet. This was particularly the case at the end of the 80s when the Leclerc tank, the first tank capable of firing in motion all terrain while maintaining its precision and rate of fire, or the stealthy light frigate, so innovative, arrived simultaneously. that she was one of the main characters in a James Bond. This ability to innovate continues today, with programs such as the Neuron stealth combat drone, the Suffren nuclear submarine, or the armored vehicles of the SCORPION program.
Chaotic program management
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