Is the French army facing a cataclysm with the withdrawal from Africa?

The withdrawal from Niger and French disengagement in Africa sounds like a wake-up call for an Army hitherto entirely focused on power projection and external operations. What are the foreseeable or necessary consequences on its organization, as well as on its major current equipment programs, when operational perspectives have radically changed in just a few years?

It is therefore through the back door that the French forces will have to leave Niger, and with it, considerably reduce their presence in Africa, breaking with more than a century of uninterrupted presence having largely shaped it.

After the Central African Republic in 2015, Mali in 2022, and Burkina Faso in 2023, the French armed forces will therefore leave Niger in 2024, as President Macron has just announced, at the end of a decade of intensive fight against the jihadist threat in the Sahelo-Saharan zone.

Beyond the political and operational context specific to these successive withdrawals, they also mark the end of an era during which the French armies had developed great skills to intervene in this theater, both from a tactical and logistical point of view, giving them an aura of seasoned and effective professional strength in the world, and more particularly in Europe.

The influence of the African campaigns on today's Army

However, these military successes, for lack of having been political, were not achieved without certain renunciations. Thus, the French Army today has a force of four medium or light brigades trained and specially equipped for this type of mission, and only two heavy brigades, more suited to symmetrical engagements.

Army VBMR Griffon Africa
The Army is structured for power projection, as shown by its armored fleet made up of 80% vehicles weighing 24 tonnes and less.

This over-representation of light forces, such as the Marine infantry, the Legion, the Alpine hunters or the paratroopers, are also found at the top of its hierarchy.

80% of Army leaders since 2010 have come from light forces

Indeed, of the nine Chiefs of Staff and Major Generals of the Army appointed since 2010, only two, General Ract-Madoux (CEMAT 2011-2014) and General Margueron (MGAT 2010-2014) They were not from it, belonging respectively to the armored cavalry and the artillery.

This de facto specialization of the Army, very useful when it was necessary to intervene in Afghanistan, the Levant and the sub-Saharan zone, is now proving to be a handicap in the face of the needs in NATO's European center.

80% of French armored vehicles in 2030 will weigh less than 24 tonnes

Thus, if the Army is, and will remain beyond 2030, the one which will have the greatest number of armored combat vehicles in Europe, with 200 Leclerc tanks, more than 600 VBCI, and above all almost 1900 VBMR Griffon, 300 EBRC Jaguars and more than 2000 Servals, it will also be one of the lightest, with only 200 tracked armored vehicles weighing more than 32 tonnes, the Leclerc, while the majority of its fleet will weigh between 16 and 24 tonnes.

However, as the AMX-10RC sent to Ukraine showed without surprise, light armored vehicles, however mobile they may be, also prove to be significantly more vulnerable than heavier and better protected vehicles in a high-intensity engagement. .

AMX-10RC Ukraine
The AMX-10RCs showed that they were vulnerable as they approached the line of engagement in Ukraine.

What's more, in addition to the lack of protection, French armor sometimes also suffers from a lack of firepower. This is particularly the case of the VBCI, the Army's infantry fighting vehicle, whose main armament is based on a 25 mm cannon which is known to be light compared to medium armored vehicles such as IFVs. or light tanks, and unsuitable against battle tanks, even old ones.

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