French defense budget for 2023 adds $3 billion to fund ‘war economy’

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STUTTGART, Germany — Propelled by a decree to invest deeply in its defense industrial base, the French Ministry of Defense has unveiled a 2023 budget billions more than the previous year to launch a new “war economy.”

The proposed €43.9 billion ($42.8 billion) for the French military represents a 36% increase over the 2017 budget and a 7.4% increase over the 2022 funds. The addition of 3 billion euros for 2023 is almost double the year-on-year increases seen in the past two years, officials noted at a press briefing on Tuesday. Between the 2019 and 2022 budgets, the annual increase was around 1.7 billion euros, which was the objective to be achieved according to the 2019-2025 military program law.

The increase was planned by Defense Minister Sebastian Lecornu when he met with French lawmakers this summer.

The “war economy”

Equipment orders represent the largest amount of the budget, amounting to 38 billion euros, or 37 billion dollars. The orders, officials said, reflected French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration in July of a “war economy”.

The new funding will launch the “transformation of our industry’s production model towards a ‘war economy’, and guarantee our sovereignty by renewing our [munition] inventory,” Lecornu said in a statement accompanying the budget documents.

The objective is to increase orders for equipment to keep production lines moving for the French industrial and defense base, to maintain a high level of ammunition supply and to avoid any capacity attrition in the event of an emergency. “commitment,” according to ministry documents.

In 2023, the French army plans to order:

  • 420 Serval light armored vehicles,
  • 8,000 HK416 assault rifles,
  • 46 satellite communication ground stations for the Syracuse IV constellation,
  • a batch of medium-range missiles,
  • 22 new generation multirole helicopters,
  • 22 heavy armored vehicles for special forces.

The Navy plans to order:

  • 3 naval anti-UAS devices,
  • 19 naval SATCOM stations for Syracuse IV,
  • a batch of Exocet anti-ship missiles built by MBDA,
  • a batch of MBDA Aster-30 missiles intended for FREMM multirole frigates,
  • an “exploratory capacity” of the deep seabed.

In the air and space domains, orders include:

  • 42 Rafale fighter planes,
  • A batch of 320 BK 1 NT Aster missiles,
  • Various equipment kits for the French Eurocopter EC 725 Caracal helicopters, as well as the CN235 and A400M transport aircraft.

Among the major developments, the ministry plans to carry out the first firing of the new generation MICA air-to-air missiles built by MBDA, which will equip French fighter jets. The resupply of ammunition in all services represents 2 billion euros of orders in 2023.

More than €5 billion ($4.8 billion) of the total budget is dedicated to maintenance, a 12% increase in funding over last year, which includes investments in digital tools and capabilities additive manufacturing, as well as the optimization of supply chain flows, according to the ministry.

(Relatively) new areas of interest

The French Ministry of Defense has put forward “new” areas of funding in the budget, including 702 million euros dedicated to the space field, while 288 million euros are intended for the cyber field. The ministry plans to recruit around 1,900 “cyber combatants” by 2025. The amount of 467 million euros is put forward for information warfare systems.

The most notable “new” funding category is dedicated to seabed warfare, which would receive €3.5 million in 2023. These funds would cover the protection of undersea sovereign assets such as natural resources and cables submarines, and would invest in technologies that could recover “sensitive objects”, according to the ministry.

A total of EUR 8 billion is devoted to research and development efforts, including EUR 6 billion for new development programs, while EUR 1 billion is devoted to ‘innovation’, i.e. the same amount than last year. For R&D, six key priority areas are noted: cyber defense, anti-UAS technologies, seabed dominance, hypervelocity, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense.

Notable exceptions: FCAS and MGCS

Two French programs stand out in the budget by their omission: the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) aimed at building a new generation Franco-German-Spanish combat aircraft and the new associated systems, and the Main Ground Combat System tank in development by Paris and Berlin. The two programs do not appear anywhere in the budget documents provided by the ministry.

Both efforts have slowed to a complete halt for the time being.. French ministry officials said on Tuesday there was funding in the budget for both efforts to move into their next phases of development, but they declined to provide figures.

A request for Department of Defense funding numbers by Defense News was not returned Wednesday night. Last year, the minister budgeted €282.7 million for the FCAS program to fund ongoing studies and preparations for the demonstrator phase, while the MGCS program was to receive €58 million for Ongoing studies.

Meanwhile, the budget documents praise Europe-wide defense measures taken in 2022, noting that rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to a ” collective awareness to strengthen European defence”. Nearly 8 billion euros, or 7.8 billion dollars, will contribute to European-wide initiatives, and France is involved in 47 of the 61 projects selected for the first European Defense Fund cycle announced in July.

Vivienne Machi is a journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany, who contributes to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously worked for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defense Media Awards’ Best Young Defense Journalist in 2020.

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