PARIS — Like for the US, the conflict in Ukraine has shown the French military that it must simplify its procurement procedures and ensure the armed forces’ stocks of ammunition are built-up, as the country raises its geostrategic alert level, according to a recent government report.
The report was published Sept. 9 following a meeting between France’s defense minister, CEOs of the country’s principal defense manufacturers, the chiefs of defense staff, the director of the DGA (direction générale de l’armement) procurement agency and the secretary general for defense and national security.
The defense minister, Sébastien Lecornu, told media afterward that normally the acquisition processes is onerous and complicated, a luxury of peacetime. “But in times of war,” he said, apparently referring to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, “when we need to go fast and take risks, we need a different approach.”
Lecornu organized the meeting in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the opening of the 15th biennial Eurosatory land armaments exhibition in Paris in June. There the French president exhorted industry to “go faster, think differently about production rates, ramp-up […] in order to be able to more quickly reconstitute [stocks of] equipment indispensable for our armed forces, for our allies and for those whom we want to help.”
But the meeting was also in response to Macron’s traditional pre-Bastille day speech to the armed forces on July 13 in which he said that in order to prepare France for “a possible high-intensity conflict,” he wanted a new military program law (MPL) for 2024-2030 cutting into the current 2019-2026 MPL which he feels is no longer adequate. MPLs, approved by the French parliament, set defense priorities and provide a framework for acquisition.
The Ministry of the Armed Forces has three levels for qualifying geo-strategic developments: competition, dispute, confrontation. According to the statement published by the ministry after the meeting this month, “the war in Ukraine has pushed France into the ‘dispute’ alert level. This evolution of the threat implies a necessary adaptation of our production tool.”
To help industry adapt to the new situation, Lecornu emphasized four points during the meeting:
1. Focus on quantity and simplicity. Lecornu said he wants procurement requirements issued by the ministry to focus as much on production capacities as on design. He stressed that innovation should not stand in the way of simplicity. To meet the requirements for greater quantities of materiel, the DGA Procurement Agency and the armies “must formulate requests that are simpler to carry out. Each option on a piece of equipment is an obstacle to the speed of manufacturing,” he warned.
In a press conference after the meeting Lecornu explained that “the more options you have, the more sophisticated the equipment, the more complicated it is, the less rustic it becomes and the longer it takes to produce.”
2. Streamline the acquisition process. The minister noted in the meeting that “since February 24, the notions of risks and dangers have evolved considerably and require a change of approach” to acquisition. And so, he said, it is essential that administrative procedures for manufacturers be simplified. Emmanuel Chiva, the new head of the DGA, and his deputy, Thierry Carlier, have received a mandate to work with manufacturers to figure out a process that would simplify procedures whilst not sacrificing the requirement for quality.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to lower our standards of quality but we unquestionably need to know how to take a few risks, including in our procedures by reducing them,” Lecornu said.
3. Bring tech home and protect the supply chain. Lecornu wants manufacturers to relocate their subcontractors in France, or at least the European Union (EU), so as to not be dependent on foreign know-how and to protect French know-how. “The COVID crisis has shown us that anything that is not produced on our territory or at least on European territory, cannot be considered as a secure supply source,” he reminded them.
4. Prepare for the long term. The war in Ukraine has revealed how important it is to have stocks, particularly of ammunition. In the transition to a war economy, the French armed forces will replenish their ammunition stocks, which will now be assessed in light of the potential for a major engagement. In addition, the minister asked manufacturers to build up reserves of raw materials to be able to respond promptly to orders from the ministry.
The idea that defense companies might pool their stocks is currently being studied. “For years, having stocks was considered poor management,” Lecornu told media after the meeting. “But today, we need to return to good household management and, to continue with the metaphor, have a sufficient stock of groceries to hold out.”
For their part, manufacturers have also committed to significantly accelerate production of priority materials. For example, 155 mm shells will need to be delivered in three months instead of nine. The Caesar gun, 18 of which have been given to Ukraine will be produced in just 12 months, half the time as is currently done, according to the ministry.
“This need for speed is not just the thinking in France,” Lecornu noted. “The same reflection is taking place throughout the Western world.”
Lecornu told media he’d also discussed with industry the risks of espionage and sabotage in the upcoming weeks and months, including “Cold War practices which we thought behind us.”
“We have instances of industrial espionage over the past few years which entails stealing a technology to take it home. Sabotage is something else. It harms the production chain, and you can understand the dramatic effects that could have,” he said. “We have noticed and are keeping an eye on a certain number of actions, which I can’t say more about because they’re confidential, but our services have identified a certain number of things, and so our defense industries are working with a number of our services to build resilience to avoid any malicious acts, or even sabotage on vital materiel.”