France prepares long-term modernization plans for the army

France prepares long-term modernization plans for the army

Griffon multipurpose armored vehicle

French army photo

PARIS – While still in the throes of its biggest modernization push since World War II, the French army is already looking ahead.

The NATO member’s army is in the midst of a 20-year modernization program called “Scorpion” that will take it through to 2040.

Colonel Arnaud Goujon, chief of plans at French army headquarters, said the service was already rolling out plans for a second stage of upgrades which he calls “Titan”.

Scorpion seeks to modernize the army’s light and medium tanks and improve their connectivity. Similar to the push by US forces to connect sensors and gunners known as joint command and control across all domains, France is calling its effort “combined collaborative combat”, he said.

The roots of Scorpion took root 20 years ago. Equipment from that program is now being delivered to the force and is already being used in operations in sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

The army received its first batch of Jaguar armored reconnaissance and combat vehicles in February and has since ordered more. They are manufactured by a consortium made up of French companies Nexter, Arquus and Thales.

They will replace three existing vehicle platforms: the AMX-10RC tank destroyer, the ERC-90 Sagaie armored reconnaissance vehicle and the VAB HOT Mephisto armored personnel carrier.

The same consortium builds the Griffon multirole armored vehicle under the Scorpion program. They will replace 4×4 armored personnel carriers, which have been in inventory since the 1970s.

“In light of this success with the realization of Scorpion – and without waiting for it to materialize – the army must already be thinking about the next step,” he said during a conference at the defense fair. Eurosatory in Paris.

Titan will begin in 2030 — a few years before Scorpion ends — and run through 2045 with a focus on upgrading heavy tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Goujon said.

Titan will begin with a series of studies that “will identify the best technology solutions”, he said.

The reason for the two-phase approach is that French military thinkers see the battlefields of 2030 and 2040 as different, he said.

Trends the military will see in two decades are beginning to emerge today and will only worsen by 2040, he said.

Warzones will be more heavily contested with anti-access and area-denial capabilities in all domains – land, air, sea, cyber and electromagnetic, he said.

“We also need to develop resilient forces, a more essential characteristic than ever because if we will not only hit opponents, we will also take hits,” Goujon said.

Resilience was a key theme in a recent study by RAND Corp. which examined in depth the French armed forces.

“A Strong Ally Stretched Thin: An Overview of France’s Defense Capabilities from a Burden-Sharing Perspective”, by Stephanie Pezard, Michael Shurkin and David A. Ochmanek, concluded that France had a highly capable military, but could not maintain a long-term army. conflict.

Like many Western European armies after the end of the Cold War, the French army drastically reduced its numbers. Today it has a standing force of around 119,000 and is considered one of the most formidable ground forces in the region, the authors said.

“The military has made major investments in technology, especially networked warfare technology (as seen in the multi-billion dollar Scorpion modernization program), but it faces a challenge in readiness” , says the report. This was due to past budget cuts and austerity measures, a small number of weapon systems and the continued Operation Barkhane in the Sahel and the internal security operation known as Operation Sentinel, did he declare.

“The result is a struggle to conduct training relevant to conventional warfare and to maintain the readiness of personnel and materiel for any additional contingencies, particularly high-intensity conflicts, which would require sufficient resources and could present high rates of loss. high attrition,” the report said.

“Overall, the French armed forces lack depth, which means that demanding operations would quickly exhaust France’s human and material resources,” he added.

One conundrum is that the military wants to be light enough to fight in sub-Saharan Africa, but also heavy enough to contribute to any conflict with Russia in Europe, the authors noted.

As for the future, Goujon’s thoughts on the war mirror those of American military leaders who are also transitioning from the permissive environments found in Iraq and Afghanistan to potentially contested ones.

“Our forces will have to be more economical because access to battlefield logistics will be more difficult than today,” he said.

Warzones will also be more “transparent”, he said, meaning it will be harder to hide from enemies and launch surprise attacks.

Future battlefields will be more dynamic, faster and digitally connected, he said.

Like US forces and their JADC2 concept, France’s solution to these challenges will be its own robust, interconnected network of sensors and shooters under development called the Scorpion Combat Information System.

“We will develop our own network of sensors to facilitate the exploitation and dissemination of our information,” he said.

The interconnectivity standards and interfaces developed today for the modernization program will lay the foundation for Titan, albeit on a much larger scale as it seeks to integrate more tanks, long-range artillery, and weapons. helicopters, he said.

The French military also foresees war increasingly waged by unmanned autonomous systems and swarm tactics used to overwhelm forces, he said.

These capabilities are developing rapidly and will pose shorter-term threats, he said. French ground forces will have to strike a balance between protection, concealment and mobility, he added.

The military will not only have to develop its own masses of robots, but find ways to protect itself from others, he added.

It will also emphasize manned and unmanned teams, he added.

“We are already seeing these trends with our own eyes in the current conflicts,” he said, referring to the use of loitering tactics with ammunition in the war between Ukraine and Russia.

The French military is lagging behind others in fielding so-called “kamikaze drones”, but this will be corrected soon as it plans to acquire US-made AeroVironment Switchblade drones later in 2022, a he declared.

Connectivity will be the main pillar under which all of this will work, he said. It will start with platoons, work its way up through the ranks, battalion, brigade, and division, and eventually connect to the French Air Force and Navy.

Ultimately, the goal is to have full interoperability with allies, although he noted that work on interconnectivity is already underway with partner nations such as other NATO members. .

“Titan’s future is a series of systems of systems that will co-exist,” he said.

One of the goals is to have up to 7,000 interconnected nodes division-wide, he said.

“It’s a big challenge,” he noted.

Another challenge is resilience. The network must be defended against adversary attacks. The network must be “dynamic”, he said. In other words, he must be able to heal himself.

Ultimately, Titan will inspire the French military to revisit traditional battlefield roles and break down barriers between infantry, cavalry and artillery, he added.

As for the immediate future, the Scorpion program is preparing to integrate two new platforms in addition to the Jaguar and the Griffon.

To date, it has ordered 108 Serval light armored vehicles built by manufacturers Nexter and Texelis.

The 15 ton Serval should complement the 24 ton Griffon. It can move eight people, including the driver and gunner, and is expected to be the primary light vehicle in inventory with some 16 variants, including a patrol vehicle, comms node and scout, according to Army spec sheets. French.

The delivery of the Griffons has also started. The 6×6 vehicle will be used for various missions, including a mobile mortar, a mobile command post and ambulances.

They can carry 7.62mm or 12.7mm remote-controlled machine guns or 40mm grenade launchers.

The French army decided not to include new high-firepower vehicles in its modernization plans, but rather to modernize 200 of its Leclerc main battle tanks. This includes new computers, stronger armor, new sensors and the Scorpion combat information system, according to a fact sheet.

Goujon said none of these vehicles have been autonomous or possibly manned so far. However, robotic systems are envisioned as combatants alongside ground forces under a program called Vulcan, which will operate alongside Scorpion and Titan.

The robots will be integrated in two phases, with experimental vehicles planned to join their crewed counterparts around 2025, he said.

The first step will be a pilot program focused on linking robotic vehicles with their Scorpion counterparts, he said.

“We’re not just interested in adding robots to the battlefield, but making sure they’re fully integrated into the command system,” Goujon said.

The second phase – with experiments beginning around 2030 – will include more autonomous robots that will collaborate with the second wave of new platforms being developed under Titan.

“The rapid evolution of technology means that we have to design all of this very methodically, on a very regular basis, in order to make reliable choices,” Goujon said.

Topics: Land forces, international, global defense market

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