Should the French armies be specialized in the face of international developments in threats?

If the French authorities like to present their armies as "the first army in Europe", many people explain that if they are, in fact, the only ones, within the European Union, to have all of skills required to lead modern engagements, they have, more often than not, sacrificed mass to achieve this.

In fact, the capacity of these “sample” armies to sustain, over time, a high-intensity engagement against a symmetrical adversary, such as Russia, even in coalition, is called into question by certain specialists on the subject, not without arguments.

While converging voices are pushing for a further increase in the European defense effort to 3% of GDP, we can question the relevance, for France, and for European security, of retaining this army format. global, faced with a more specialized structure to ensure the security of the country, while serving, at best, the protection of peace and French interests in Europe and in its strategic areas?

The global French Army, a model inherited from the Cold War

The global French Army model, used today, is inherited from political, technological and international developments during the Cold War. After the Franco-British intervention in Suez in 1956, and the Soviet and American threats, to push back Paris and London, the French authorities acquired the certainty that it was necessary, to have real strategic autonomy, to equip themselves of all the means required to carry out this policy, in particular military.

Should we specialize the French armies or retain the global army format?
Should we specialize the French armies or retain the global army format?

This doctrine was broken down into two parts. First, France was going to equip itself with a fully autonomous nuclear deterrent, unlike Great Britain, which decided, conversely, to get as close as possible to Washington to defend its interests.

Then, France would equip itself with an army, but also with a defense industry, autonomous and complete, allowing it to act across the entire conventional spectrum, again, in perfect autonomy, relying in particular on an imposing conscription army, supervised by a powerful corps of active professional soldiers.

Although having renounced conscription in 1996, France retained, after the Cold War, this ambition of an Army and a global defense industry. However, faced with the decline in international tensions, the professionalization of forces, and the famous "benefits of peace", which handicapped European defense credits for more than 20 years, this objective could only be achieved to the detriment of the mass.

Thus, today, if the French armies have (almost) all the operational capabilities making up a global army, these are, very often, very limited in volume, with 200 heavy tanks, 120 artillery tubes, a a single aircraft carrier or even 220 combat aircraft.

A strategic context radically different from the Cold War years

If the French Global Army model has lasted beyond the Cold War, the strategic context, which is imposed today in Europe, and in the World, is very different from what it was at the time. that time.

Soviet Army in East Germany
The Warsaw Pact lined up more than 30 tanks and 000 million men along European borders in the 4s.

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13 Comments

  1. Interesting thought, but isn't the counterpart missing? If certain sections and missions of the armies could be strengthened with this perspective of specialization, which ones must be reduced or even abandoned? (What about the future of the battle tank in this configuration?)

    • This is what the section on the Army implies. The idea is to say that having a battle force with two mechanized brigades does not constitute an effective and relevant exploitation of French specificities, including those of its land army, especially since others Allied armies do it very well, that they are ahead of us facing Russia, and that apart from Russia, I don't see where we could need tanks...

      • The logic is valid, unless it starts shooting. In this case, there would be a colossal distortion of efforts. In decode, we French can do this because it is best for us. But we will perhaps not be listened to excessively and the contributions that we can make in this alliance of interests will perhaps not be valued in the same light by our neighbors.
        I think your point makes sense. However, I am not sure that it will be well received by our Finnish or Baltic neighbors.
        Furthermore, if it is useful to have factories far from the front, I am not sure that our European neighbors accept that tank factories are in France. No pain, no gain. Finally, if we take the small countries that are afraid of the Russian Bear, telling these countries that we are going to protect them with nuclear power and fighter bombers doesn't sound serious at all. Telling them that Poland will protect them is not much more credible, even if it is partly. To the Russian battle corps, we must oppose a European battle corps, of which at least we would be part with a few heavy units. And this battle force must be equal in firepower. No more jokes.

        • Why an effort distortion. If instead of dedicating 60 Rafale on the Eastern Front, France employs 120 or 180, this will be an effort just as sensitive, probably even more sensitive than two heavy brigades not being able to regenerate their losses, right? Furthermore, it is not a question of withdrawing ground troops, but of exploiting what French units know how to do best, very mobile, autonomous GTIAs, capable of acting where necessary, with short delays, and multiplied effects. In spirit, this amounts to creating a new intermediate echelon at regiment level (GTIA), between line units and special forces.

          • What bothers me is not the budgetary cost. This is the number of deaths. If a certain category of Europeans perceives that it takes more physical risks than others, the bloc disassembles. This is the case between residents of large Russian cities and residents of Siberia or other remote regions who pay the high price.
            Afterwards, we generally define an initial order of battle, then the conflict follows its own dynamics and the initial order of battle quickly becomes an old memory.

          • Not false. In any case, we should certainly sit around the table with the Poles, the Baltics, the Scandinavians and the Romanians, to ask them what they think would be the most useful. In any case, it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask.

  2. This business is heading in the right direction. I think that if we went back to a fleet of 300 combat planes plus drones, 2 more SSBNs, a little more serious artillery and naval patrols properly coordinated with the British, the Spanish and the Italians, the whole would be interesting. That said, the Germans, Poles, Romanians or Scandinavians should not perceive it as abandonment. Otherwise...it won't work. When in an alliance, one of the partners is not ready to pay blood money at the time of the test, it is immediately much more complicated. Consolidation mechanisms will be needed.

    • Returning to 6 SSBNs, however attractive this option may be, cannot be done with the snap of a finger. Beyond the construction and availability times of the buildings linked to our industrial capacities, this will involve the training of 4 crews of which the navy does not have the first man. Such a rise in power will take around 10 years to be effective, at best.
      The same goes for the air force to have a number of trained pilots and suitable infrastructure.
      As for the surface fleet, the recurring personnel problem is also on the agenda: 2 PA = 2000 additional sailors + frigates with additional crews (x2) because if it is a question of returning to the principle of PA1 operational and PA2 unavailable with crew transfer this would make no sense in this period of insecurity and anticipation of high and long intensity war.
      All this is well and good, but such achievements will require a transition to a real war economy and budgetary choices that it is not certain that the French will accept.
      All this is not a personal opinion but a simple analysis because, in my opinion, such a rise in power should have been started a long time ago!

      • I would say more like 15 years. Because such a hypothesis can only be undertaken within the framework of the SSBN 3G, and the first four buildings will already have to be built.
        Yes, this requires a massive increase in funding. Reason why the article starts from the postulate of a move to 3% GDP of the defense effort imposed by the United States, focusing on the aspect: how to best use the additional 1%? Note that this does not alter the current trajectory of the LPM and the use of the 2% planned until then. It's only in the hat.

  3. The Russian population today is only 145 million, while the Soviet Union reached 286 million in 1990, more than the United States (246 million), but less than the European countries of the NATO (315 mh).
    This argument is specious: How many Europeans are ready to die for this mafia “Danzig” that Ukraine has become? How many Russians to defend their homeland?

    • It is specious because you consider it only in terms of military force, not economic and social force. Furthermore, as long as we are not at war and directly threatened, it is very difficult to know what public opinion will respond to such aggression. Finally, to say that a majority of Russians are ready to defend the homeland is very exaggerated. For the most part, they have no choice, whether due to economic pressure or the transformation of conscription. You focus your attention on the million soldiers recruited or conscripted since 2022. You forget that 1,5 million young Russians left the country during the first 4 months of the war, precisely to avoid this risk.

  4. Hello,
    The statement does not seem shocking to me, and I think that I could agree with it, except that I think that we should not abandon anything, just preserve without increasing in number the capacities that we have in a sample manner. . Indeed, we should not make the mistake of getting rid of something that could be useful in the longer term.
    So for the Army, I would argue for keeping the projectable format of a division, but making it a real complete division with real artillery, engineering, anti-aircraft, drones, electronic warfare, etc. resources. For the nuclear forces, I cannot be relevant, and for the air and maritime forces the project described here seems good to me

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