France boosts defense acquisition budget to 27.3% to enter 21st century warfare, says GlobalData

France’s latest defense budget allocation for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) showcased another increase in acquisition spending, helping the country reach an overall expenditure of US$53.9bn, which preserves its place as one of the top spenders globally, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report, ‘France – FY 2020 Defense Budget Analysis, Competitive Landscape and Forecasts’, reveals that the share of acquisition in the total budget increased from 23.3% in Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) to 27.3% in FY20, reaching US$14.7bn in absolute terms. This year-on-year increase is the most important of the three main budget allocation domains: acquisitions, operation and maintenance, and others including personnel and pensions.

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IMAGE Available: France Defense Burget Split by Domain, 2016-2024

France’s acquisition reflects the country’s strategic transition from low-intensity asymmetric conflict to peer-adversary warfare and great power competition. Acquisition expenditures in FY20 were allocated to procurements such as A330MRTT and A400M strategic transport aircrafts, Barracuda-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, or the Scorpion program for developing land vehicles able to integrate in multi-domain warfare environments.

Nicolas Jouan, Defense Analyst at GlobalData, commented: “The particularity of the French defense budget for FY20 resides in the diversity of its procurements, acquiring 21st century capabilities in each domain of operation: land, maritime, aerospace, space and cyber. It is a feat for a country such as France, which is still considered as a significant military power but is far from the financial heft of the US or China.”

Research and development (R&D) is also enjoying a sustained level of investment, with some major upcoming projects. The Future Combat Air System program is to kick-off officially in FY20 with a joint Franco-German investment for the development of a sixth-generation multirole aircraft. Fresh investments are also allocated to the FDI program, aiming at replacing the Lafayette class with five modular frigates from 2023 onwards, and to deterrence with the modernization of M51 ICBMs.

Jouan continues: “France’s acquisition policy is currently transitioning from historic strategic commitments, most notably in Africa, to future threats of high-intensity conflicts in European or Asian hot spots. As a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, a Security Council permanent member and a nuclear power, France is embedded in a complex multilateral security environment that it needs to synchronise with the defense of its large maritime territory and its continuous military presence in Africa and the Middle East.”

However, France’s ambitious global presence, and the all-encompassing acquisition strategy that flows from, could be problematic in the long run. The slow growth of the French economy necessarily limits budget increases for the military, whose forces are already overstretched in multiple operations and have to deal with growing personnel costs.

Jouan adds: “In order to ensure a sustained level of investment in new platforms and systems, France’s Government needs to reconsider its priorities and pick its battles. Even the US struggles to maintain its military presence in the Middle East while balancing China and investing in 21st century technologies. On a smaller scale, France is facing the same dilemma.”

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