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A New Professional Army for France

A New Professional Army for France

What changes (Part 2)

"Our Armed Forces have undergone several reforms over the past ten years, however none has been so ambitious"… : Jacques Chirac, Paris, 23rd February 1996.

In 1998, the defence budget represented 2.19% of the French GDP and 11.65 % of the State budget. Defense statistics 1997. In order to prepare for the construction of a credible European defence, the President of the French Republic announced major reforms in the national defence.

  • Move from conscription to an all-professional army (1997-2015) cutting the size of French forces from 500,000 to 350,000 and emphasising the capacity of deployment.
  • Restructuration of industrial and technological potential, which will largely enter the European context;
  • Abolition of national service;
  • Confirmation of its commitment to the European Corps, made up of 50,000 troops mainly from France and Germany;
  • Nuclear deterrence remains a fundamental element in French defence strategy; henceforth, it will take on an increasingly European dimension.

In 1998, the French armed forces included 548,280 men and women.

France and NATO

On 5 December 1995, the French government announced that it would move closer to some NATO defence and military bodies, from which it moved away in 1966. It will, however, remain outside the integrated military structure.

Because the Alliance has undertaken a review of its structures and modes of operation since 1994 to meet the different security challenges arising since the end of the Cold War, such as the Balkan crisis, France now feels it can take steps to toward reintegration. This decision was followed up by a number of operative proposals such as regular participation in meetings between defence ministers, participation in the "Military Committee", in which armed forces chiefs of staff usually meet, and full participation in the NATO defence colleges.

1. Professional Armed Forces

At present, Military Service is the main form of National Service. As such, it is destined to progressively disappear within the framework of the new Professional Armed Forces, centred on missions of projection. Within the framework of a renewed National Service, a contribution by young men and women to security and defence, particularly within the National Military Police Force and in the Armed Forces, is still envisaged. This contribution would be of a different nature to that of today and further details will be given after the broad debate which is to take place on the future of National Service.

2. A reduction in the size of the Armed Forces

The transition to professional Armed Forces will be accompanied by a 30% reduction in the overall number of staff. The Army will be reduced from 271 500 men to 170 000 men (military and civil staff), divided into 4 Forces which will comprise about 85 regiments instead of 129 at present (the number of regiments in the Army, including support regiments and regiments stationed abroad will be reduced from about 180 to about 110).

The Navy will be reduced from 70 400 men to 56 500 men and will be hinged around the strategic oceanic force, a naval air projection force and sub-marine forces.

The Air Force will be reduced from 94 100 men to 70 000 men and will eventually have at its disposal a fighter aviation fleet comprising 300 modem aircraft of the Rafale type.

3. A reduction in financial contributions to Defence, but France remains on its guard

The financial contribution allocated by the Nation to Defence is to be reduced within the framework of the governmental policy aimed at controlling public expenditure. The new international environment enables this option. Pursuing the evolution launched in 1993, the sums allocated to Defence over the programming and planning period to begin in 1997 were fixed, in accordance with the decisions reached by the Defence Council these past months, at 185 Milliard FRF (constant 1995 FRF). The sums allocated to equipment have been reduced by 18% with regard to the annuities voted in the 1994 programming bill.

Our priority over the next few years will be aimed at the success of professionalisation and the modernisation of the equipment indispensable to the new classic forces.

This budget will maintain France among the leading European countries as far as security and defence are concerned.

4. Newly defined functions for the Armed Forces

The Head of State requires the missions of the Armed Forces to be organised around four major operational functions in order to be in line with the new security context.

Deterrence is maintained at an adequate level, although slightly reduced.

Prevention becomes a new priority.

Projection is to be the major aspect of the means disposed of by the Armed Forces.

Protection is to progress towards a new concept of domestic security.

5. Nuclear deterrence based on two weapons

Conformably with the trends expressed in Spring 1995 by the President of the Republic, the surface weapon of our force of deterrence is to be abandoned. In the future, our strategic forces will be based on a sub-marine component, constituted by a new generation of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile armed submarines (SNLE/NG) and a new strategic missile (M-51) and on an airborne component centred around a new missile (improved Middle Range Air-Surface missile (ASMP)).

Sites which were profoundly representative of the first phase of French deterrence are to be progressively closed : the Albion plateau, the plants in Pierrelatte and in Marcoule, the Pacific Test Centre.

6. A restructured Defence industry

The Defence industry is to be substantially adapted to suit the new-style Defence. Its structures are to be modernised in order to take into account management factors and to continue the construction of European armament.

Sources: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence

French Embassies in London and Washington.

For more information, go to French National Defense.

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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