Written by 7:38 pm Europe Economy

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

STUTTGART, Germany — Propelled by an edict to make deep investments in its defense industrial base, France’s Ministry of Defense has unveiled a 2023 budget worth 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 2022 funds. The €3 billion add for 2023 amounts to nearly twice the year-over-year increases seen in the past couple of years, officials noted during a Tuesday press briefing. Between 2019 and 2022′s budgets, the yearly increase stood at around €1.7 billion, which was the target to reach according to the military’s 2019-2025 military program law.

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

The ‘war economy’

Equipment orders take up the largest amount in the budget, standing at €38 billion, or $37 billion. The orders, officials said, reflected French President Emanuel 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] stocks,” Lecornu said in a statement accompanying the budget documents.

The goal is to boost orders of equipment to keep the production lines moving for France’s defense and industrial base, to keep ammunition supplies high and to prevent any capability attrition in the case of an “engagement,” per 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,
  • one lot of medium-range missiles,
  • 22 next-generation multirole helicopters,
  • 22 heavy armored vehicles for special forces.

The navy plans to order:

  • 3 naval counter-UAS devices,
  • 19 naval SATCOM stations for Syracuse IV,
  • one lot of MBDA-built Exocet anti-ship missiles,
  • one lot of MBDA Aster-30 missiles for use on the FREMM multirole frigates,
  • an “exploratory capacity” for the deep sea beds.

In the air and space domains, the orders include:

  • 42 Rafale fighter aircraft,
  • One lot of 320 BK 1 NT Aster missiles,
  • Various equipment kits for France’s Eurocopter EC 725 Caracal helicopters, along with the CN235 and A400M transport aircraft.

Among major developments, the ministry expects to perform the first firing of the next-generation MICA air-to-air missiles built by MBDA, which will equip France’s fighter jets. Munition replenishment in all services takes up €2 billion worth of orders in 2023.

Over €5 billion ($4.8 billion) in the total budget is earmarked for maintenance, a 12% funding increase over last year, which includes investments in digital tools and additive manufacturing capabilities, as well as optimizing supply chain fluxes, per the ministry.

(Relatively) new focus areas

The French Ministry of Defense highlighted “new” areas of funding in the budget, to include €702 million dedicated to the space domain, while €288 million is earmarked for the cyber domain. The ministry plans to recruit about 1,900 “cyber combatants” by 2025. The amount of €467 million is highlighted for information warfare systems.

The most notable “new” funding category is dedicated to seabed warfare, which would receive €3.5 million in 2023. Those funds would cover the protection of sovereign assets deep underwater such as natural resources and deep-sea cables, and invest in tech that could recover “sensitive objects,” per the ministry.

A total of €8 billion is dedicated to research-and-development efforts, including €6 billion for new development programs, while €1 billion is earmarked for “innovation,” the same amount of funding as last year. For R&D, six key priority areas are noted: cyberdefense, counter-UAS technologies, seabed dominance, hypervelocity, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense.

Notable exceptions: FCAS and MGCS

Two French-involved programs stand out in the budget thanks to their omission: the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) effort to build a Franco-German-Spanish next-generation fighter aircraft and associated new systems, and the Main Ground Combat System tank in development by Paris and Berlin. The two programs are nowhere to be seen in the budget documents provided by the ministry.

Both efforts have slowed to just about a complete stop at the moment. French ministry officials on Tuesday asserted there was funding in the budget for both efforts to proceed to their next phases of development, but they declined to provide the numbers.

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

Meanwhile, the budget documents laud European-wide defense measures undertaken in 2022, noting that increased tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to a “collective awareness to strengthen European defense.” Nearly €8 billion, or $7.8 billion, will contribute to European-wide initiatives, and France is involved in 47 of the 61 projects selected for the inaugural European Defence Fund cycle announced in July.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards’ best young defense journalist in 2020.

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