France, UK pledge big increases in defense spending for coming years

Rafale jets in flight (Dassault Aviation)

France will be buying more Rafale jets in 2023. (Dassault Aviation)

PARIS — France and the United Kingdom both announced important hikes in their defense budgets this week. But where the UK remained vague as to what the extra money would be spent on, France gave precise details about how it plans to spend the extra euros.

Under a new budget proposal, France’s defense budget in 2023 would be €43.9bn ($42.2bn), an increase of €3 billion ($2.89 billion, a 7.4 percent raise) on the 2022 figure. That continues the upward trend in defense spending that started in 2017, moving the defense budget up 36 percent from €32.3 billion ($31.1 billion) in 2017 — and meeting the NATO requirement for 2 percent of GDP to be spent on defense.

The proposed budget, published on Sept. 27, needs to be discussed and adopted by the National Assembly and Senate within 70 days. But it is unlikely to be rejected, given that it precisely follows the five-year trajectory set in the 2019-2025 military program law adopted by the parliamentarians on July 13, 2018.

The bulk of the budget, €25.6 billion ($24.6 billion), is for procurement. The second biggest spending area is for salary ($12.4 billion), with 29,700 new recruitments planned (of which 24,000 are military, the rest civilian) and 1,500 new jobs created, notably in the cyber defense and intelligence realms.

Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu earlier this month mentioned the need to increase ammunition stocks, a concern raised by other European defense ministers in recent months. The budget calls for €2 billion ($1.93 billion) in munitions, and includes plans for the first firing of the new generation MICA air-to-air missile to occur in 2023.

The next year will also see the French Armed Forces take delivery of a number of key equipment upgrades, according to the budget proposal. Those include 13 Rafale fighters for the Air Force, 13 upgraded Mirage M2000 D jets, three Phénix MRTT multi-role tanker aircraft, two A400M Atlas transport aircraft, five NH90 helicopters, five Tiger helicopters, 18 renovated Leclerc battle tanks, one supply vessel, one nuclear attack submarine, one patrol vessel, anti-UAV equipment and nine tactical UAVs. In addition, the land forces will take in 264 new armored vehicles, including 123 Griffons, 119 Servals and 22 Jaguars.

And €1 billion ($962.7 million) has been earmarked for innovation as part of the €8 billion ($7.68 billion) R&D budget.

In the UK, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in an interview on Sept. 26 with the Sunday Telegraph that defense spending would effectively double by 2029 would reach £100 billion ($107 billion) compared to just £48 billion ($51 billion) today. And this despite the tanking pound and general economic turmoil created by new Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, announced on Sept. 23.

Wallace said Prime Minister Liz Truss had pledged to increase defense spending as a share of GDP to “2.5 percent by 2026 and 3 percent by 2030.” However, Ben Zaranko, an economist with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, was quoted in The Guardian warning that the £100 billion figure “somewhat overstates how big an increase this would be.” The extra £52 billion compared to today’s figure include a real-terms increase of about £23 billion, with inflation (currently at nearly 10 percent) and the impact of future economic growth accounting for the rest, according The Guardian.

Despite the spending increase, Wallace made no commitment to reverse a cut of nearly 10,000 personnel in the British army by 2025. That may change, however, once the defense and foreign policy review commissioned by Truss is published towards the end of this year.

Wallace told the Sunday Telegraph that it’s “highly likely we will grow the Army but it might not be the places that your armchair generals want you to, because what we desperately need is to, for example, invest in our ISR capability. People will always talk about the regiments – ‘will you bring back the Rifles’, or whatever it is. We are more likely to be bringing about artillery batteries and more signals intelligence and more electric warfare, and certainly counter-UAV capabilities. If we can’t bring down those little drones, we are very vulnerable, no matter who you are.”

Like France,  the UK’s defense budget has been rising steadily since 2016 when it hit £41.5 billion ($44.3 billion), the lowest figure since 2003. The biggest jump, from £44.5 billion to £48.6 billion ($47.5 billion to $51.9 billion) came between 2021 and 2022 but that was only slightly higher than the budget had been in 2010/11 at the height of the conflict in Afghanistan when Britain’s defense budget was £48.4 billion ($51.7 billion).

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