Friday, December 1, 2023

Long-range rocket launchers: France has all the technological bricks necessary to do so.

Questioned by the deputies of the defense committee of the National Assembly on the subject of the replacement of the long-range LRU rocket launchers of the Army, the General Delegate of Armaments, Emmanuel Chiva, suggested that the hypothesis of the development of a national system, was under study , to determine its feasibility and relevance.

It is true that the Army only plans, within the framework of the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law, to acquire at best only a dozen of these precious, but expensive, long-range artillery systems , capable of strike in the depths of the opposing system, and that it only plans, in the long term, to have only 26, in the best case scenario, the questions of development costs are decisive.

Advantages and constraints of the development of a French long-range rocket launcher system

Certainly, having a national weapon system, as important as long-range rocket launchers, which also use ballistic missiles, has many interests, in particular with regard to freedom maneuver and decision of political power and armies.

By turning to the American Himars , the South Korean K239 Chunmoo or the Israeli PULS , as other European countries are doing, the Army would certainly make substantial savings, by avoiding having to finance the development of a reputedly complex weapon system.

PULS elbit long-range rocket launcher
The Israeli PULS has already been selected by the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, and could be chosen by Spain soon.

The question is all the more pressing as many armies, European and beyond, have already turned to these systems, which limits, in fact, the opportunities for export, or even technological partnership, from Paris, for a very long-range artillery system of French construction.

On the other hand, it would partially cede its decision-making autonomy to one of these countries, whether to deploy its systems, to implement them, as well as to acquire new munitions, or even new systems.

Propulsion, guidance and calculator: French manufacturers have all the technological building blocks required

But, in this area, it turns out that the French defense industry already has the technological building blocks necessary to be able to develop, independently, such a system, which could significantly reduce both costs and development times.

A long-range rocket launcher system is, in fact, made up of three major technological building blocks. First of all, it is necessary to design and manufacture a rocket, or even a ballistic missile, and more particularly its propulsion system.

MBDA Aster 30
The French Defense Industry has a high level of expertise in the field of missile and rocket propulsion. Here, the Aster 30 medium-range surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting aerial targets more than 100 km away.

Through its experience in missiles, including ballistics, the French defense industry, and in particular the missile manufacturer MBDA and Société Nationale des Poudres et Explosives, already have the skills, but also the technologies, for such development. , in particular to design and manufacture the propellant of the ammunition, and its various military charges.

The second technology required concerns the control of the trajectory of the ammunition and the precision of the strike. Here again, the French Defense Industry has proven know-how, whether it is MBDA which designed the SCALP and ASMPA cruise missiles, or Safran, which designed the AASM Hammer propelled guided bomb.

The third and final technological brick necessary for the design of an effective long-range rocket launcher and its munitions concerns the Baltic computer, and the information and communication system essential in a high-intensity environment that is now very dynamic.

CAESAR Ukraine
The Caesar's ballistic computer coupled with the SAGEM inertial unit allows battery activation in less than a minute, as well as high precision, including with conventional and long-range shells.

In this area, the skills acquired by Nexter and Sagem around the CAESAR ballistic calculator and its inertia control unit are proving decisive .

They allow, in fact, the French cannon to permanently know its position, that of its target(s), and to dynamically calculate a ballistic trajectory of great precision, even at long range, with a particularly short time to put into battery, of the order of a minute.

An operational and technological potential exceeding the immediate needs of the Army

Obviously, all these technologies will have to be reintegrated, modified and transposed to give rise to an efficient long-range artillery system of national quality. We understand, however, why the hypothesis of national development is seriously explored by the DGA.

The subject is all the more important as the needs for this type of systems are, it seems, more likely to grow in the years and decades to come, rather than to decline as one might think, it was only a few years ago.

Regaining advanced expertise in this area would finally allow France to once again equip itself, if necessary, with a short or medium range nuclear strike capability, that is to say in the range from 300 to 1 000 km, like, for example, what the Russian Iskander and Kinzhal allow, also capable of transporting nuclear charges.

Iskander-M Russia
Russia would have 160 to 200 9K720 Iskander-M ballistic systems, each armed with 2 SRBM missiles with an announced range of 490 km, and potentially capable of implementing a nuclear warhead of 5 to 50 kt.

While everything suggests today a return to the arms race and ostentatious nuclear postures, having short or medium range ballistic systems, armed or not with nuclear warheads, can enable France to respond effectively to a standoff started by Russia based on a form of nuclear blackmail.

This response would be all the more effective since, unlike submarines and Rafale , Carrier-Erector-Launchers or TELs, armed with these missiles, like the Hades and Pluto were during the Cold War, can be openly deployed. so as to show French determination to protect itself, or to protect its allies, including with low-intensity nuclear munitions.

The budgetary constraints of the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law

The fact remains that the development of a long-range rocket launcher system for the Army can only be part of the zero-sum budgetary game defined by the LPM 2024-2030, therefore to the detriment of other programs, which we can also assume are critical.

It will undoubtedly be the number of figures making up the total cost of the program, if it were to be developed in France, which will determine its future, or on the contrary, will confirm its abandonment.

Let us hope that French industrialists will be able to perceive the strategic potential that being the only European country to have this technological competence will give them in the years to come, and that they will make the necessary efforts so that the squares making up the cost of the program, can enter into the small circles of the budgetary envelope mobilized by the Hôtel de Brienne.

Article from November 3 in full version until December 1, 2023

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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