Friday, December 1, 2023

Can France open the door for Belgium to board the FCAS program?

A few days ago, while he was questioned by the Senate Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs as part of the examination of the Military Programming Law 2024-2030, the CEO of Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier, had strongly expressed its opposition to other European partners joining the SCAF programme. According to him, the industrial sharing around this program is already sufficiently complex and difficult to balance with Germany and Spain, while new partners would only make the whole thing even more unstable, with the risk of causing its collapse. .

Above all, taking the example of Belgium, Eric Trappier highlighted that this country, which we know is inclined to join the program, had chosen to equip itself with the F-35A, and that the F-35A , to replace its F-16s, and that as such, it had not shown a particular attachment to the emergence of European strategic autonomy in matters of defense, as well as to the preservation of the skills of the European defense aeronautical industry.

Obviously, this declaration, which was very undiplomatic in the mouth of one of the most influential industrialists in Europe, was not very popular across Quiévrain, and many voices, including within the armies, were offended by the position expressed by the French CEO.

IMG 3537 2
In 2018, Brussels preferred the F-35A to European offers to replace its F-16s

It is true that if Brussels arbitrated in favor of the Lockheed-Martin F-35A in 2018, to the detriment of the European Typhoon , Gripen or Rafale , the Belgian authorities have implemented a significant effort, particularly in the field of Defense , to appease the ire of Paris.

Thus, just a few days after the announcement of the acquisition of the American fighter, Brussels and Paris announced the launch of the CaMo program, through which the land armed forces of the two countries would become perfectly interoperable, in particular through the acquisition for the Belgian army of 382 Griffon and 60 Jaguar vehicles, all info-valued, delivered from 2025.

A few months later, the Belgian and Dutch Navies awarded the consortium formed by the Belgian ECA and the French Naval Group a mandate to design and build 12 large mine warfare ships, 6 per country, with a €2 billion contract . More recently, Brussels has once again renewed its commitment to Franco-Belgian interoperability, by ordering 9 CAESAR NG cannons, an order which will subsequently be increased to 28 motorized cannons in July 2022 .

From the Belgian point of view, in fact, if preference was indeed given to the F-35 in 2018, a decision largely conditioned by the commitment to interoperability with the Dutch air forces already equipped with the aircraft, the country showed , since then, all its determination to strengthen the emergence of European strategic autonomy, and in particular by getting closer to the French defense industry.

EBRC Jaguar Nexter e1680614153485
Between the CaMo program and the design of Belgian-Dutch mine warfare ships, French industry has obtained, in recent years, an overall amount of orders identical to that of the Belgian F-35A program.

Furthermore, and this is far from negligible, the Belgian authorities claim to have never received a formal offer from France for the replacement of its F-16s, the only French proposal in this area having been made by Florence Parly then Minister of the Armed Forces, during a renunciation with her Belgian counterpart in May 2018 .

Whether it was formalized or not, it is unlikely that the French offer was actually considered by the Belgian government, and especially by the Minister of Defense at the time, Steven Vandeput, a fervent defender of the American apparatus. . This is also why Dassault justifies not having followed up.

However, by putting end to end all the events and decisions that have followed one another since 2018 regarding Franco-Belgian defense cooperation, it appears that the situation is probably more nuanced than presented by Eric Trappier, even if the latter has objective reasons to contain industrial participation around the FCAS program in the 3 initial countries.

the extension of the FCAS program to other European partners will complicate the already tense industrial sharing around this program
the extension of the FCAS program to other European partners will complicate the already tense industrial sharing around this program

Furthermore, it is likely that Dassault's firm opposition to the strong requests from Brussels, again reiterated a few days ago by Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder , to join the SCAF program, could deteriorate the current dynamic in land and naval domains. In this case, can we escape from this self-perpetuated vicious circle by actors sure of their rights?

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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