France Looks For U.S. Cue On Tanker Needhttp://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/FRANCE043009.xml&headline=France%20Looks%20For%20U.S.%20Cue%20On%20Tanker%20Need&channel=defense
France would like the U.S. to make up its mind on a tanker aircraft so they can plan modernization of their own aerial refueling fleet with 14-15 new aircraft, a senior French official in Washington says.
In addition, the French Air Force has made modernizing its airborne and seaborne intelligence fleets a new strategic priority, notes French Air Force Major Gen. Gratien Maire, defense attaché to Washington. Some of the effects of advanced intelligence data fusion using ships, aircraft and UAVs already have been seen in the military’s recent handling of abductions by Somali pirates.
French defense officials plan to beef up France’s staff assigned to NATO to 900 persons from the current 100. They also are considering moving more troops out of Kabul and into combat in eastern Afghanistan.
Give and takeWhile the French government does not think it is being asked to give the U.S.
more than it gets in return, the veteran pilot does point out that the defense trade balance between Europe and the U.S. is 4-to-1 in America’s favor. In particular the French Air Force “needs new [aerial refueling] equipment,” he says. And while France plans a competition for at least 14 tankers, if the U.S. Air Force were to choose the Northrop Grumman/EADS tanker candidate it would be an easier sell for the French politically, cut acquisition costs and ensure that the fighter and tanker fleets of both countries are completely
While “we [also] still want competition,” because of the difference in acquisition processes “cooperation is necessary” between U.S. and French governments and military forces to ensure compatible tanker programs, he says.
France also is looking at the British model of letting industry help finance a tanker fleet. However, he points out that right now there is no specific schedule for the program.
Interoperability also extends to intelligence gathering and fusion. The last white paper on French strategic defense plans added a new strategic function to improve “knowledge and anticipation” of future problems through broad improvements in “all-spectrum intelligence,” Maire says.
ObligationsAnother big agenda item for France is the manpower and financial commitment to NATO operations in Afghanistan. Planners intend to increase France’s commitment to the NATO staff to 900 officers, NCOs and civilians from the current 100, Maire says. They will add about 400 million euros annually to the
defense budget even as the French military is being reduced in size. The up-tick in NATO participation is to better balance France’s relationship between NATO and the European Union and “to be part of the planning process in dealing with crises,” he says.
Meanwhile, there is a desire by Paris to move French troops out of Kabul — after passing control to the Afghans — and to focus more on combat operations in eastern Afghanistan. Troops will stay “as long as needed,” Maire says.
He did caution that the French government has to work on maintaining public support for the troops in Afghanistan and show “political will” in supporting operations there. They don’t want to risk the perception that the U.S. is taking over in Afghanistan, and that can best be done by ensuring the French that the
international community is committed to stopping the violence there. “The fact is that the U.S. has the resources and will have more people,” Maire says. “The population has to understand that everybody is there to help.”