Defence & Security Systems International: What role does the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) play in the procurement of the French military’s weapons and equipment?

Colonel Bruno Bellier: The DGA is in charge of procurement for all armament systems used by French forces. Off-the-shelf procurement comprises a small number of cases, and even in these, some adaptations for the French are required. So in practical terms, procurement means the ability to manage a full programme life cycle, from need identification, through assessment phases, development and production. Except specific sensitive topics, the industry is contracted to carry out the development and production. However, the DGA is employed at different levels to verify that the product meets requirements, and many tests are conducted in DGA facilities, most of which have no equivalent in Europe. After delivery, the DGA is in charge of contracting initial support and a first period of maintenance. Following this initial support, renewal of maintenance contracts will be performed by the armies, but the DGA remains responsible during the systems’ operational life for dealing with all events potentially inducing necessary improvements and all major evolutions.

How important is research and development conducted by the DGA in turning initial ideas into mature products?

Colonel Jean-Paul Roves: France has decided on an ambitious policy of investment in research and innovation to maintain a world-class defence ecosystem.

The last livre blanc (white paper) on defence and national security, and its related 2014-19 military implementation planning, confirmed the effort dedicated to defence research and technology (R&T). Taking into account the national strategic ambition, the DGA organises its R&T procurement and cooperation to:

  • ensure the long-term availability of the full set of critical defence technologies, such as those necessary for deterrence or strategic situation assessment
  • preserve or develop the key defence-enabling technologies and industrial skills required to upgrade armament systems in order to maintain operational superiority
  • survey and anticipate the development of high-value emerging and breakthrough technologies for future armament systems
  • preserve or develop the required skills to manage complex programmes, such as system engineering, which is essential to build up competitive products and services.

Can you give us any examples of current R&D work?

JPR: An example of the R&D process led by the DGA can be given through the development of the AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar now in operational use on the Rafale. This major technological milestone has been achieved after a ten-year effort in R&D, conducted by the DGA in order to improve range, power and versatility of the sensor while reducing its maintenance. The result of such a policy is that the Rafale is the only European combat aircraft using operational AESA radar in service.

This kind of work is undertaken in many fields such as future-combat aircraft system (FCAS); naval countermines detection with surface and underwater unmanned systems (ESPADON); smart and precision-guided ammunitions for the next generation of artillery systems; and electronic intelligence and communication intelligence payloads for airborne and satellites systems.

Part of these works directly contributed to the decision to start the development of future armament systems in 2013, including CERES (spatial intelligence systems) and MMP (medium range missile system).

The DGA also strengthens its support towards innovative SMEs and research laboratories through different mechanisms, in particular the "Support system for dual innovation" (Régime d’appui pour l’innovation duale – RAPID). In 2013, 64 RAPID projects were awarded to innovative SMEs for a total amount of €40 million, as well as 150 PhDs to innovative laboratories.

How do you expect the DGA’s role to change given the wind down of recent overseas commitments?

BB: Recent overseas commitments have provided a wide spectrum of lessons, covering purely operational aspects (being able to fight IED in Afghanistan; need to react on short time cycle in Mali in spite of considerable distances, for example) and environmental aspects such as behaviour of helicopters engines when heavily used in specific sandy environments or extreme temperature effects).

To face this reality, DGA is organised to obtain direct feedback from the operations. This also confirms that alongside the classical cycle for armaments programmes, we need more reactive processes in order to adapt our defence tool in a quasi real-time manner. Such processes are now well implemented in DGA methods.

The UK and France have had a long and successful partnership in defence procurement; what are both countries currently collaborating on?

JPR: The Franco-British Summit dated 31 January 2014 confirmed the robustness of defence bilateral cooperation in the field of equipment since it has been boosted by the Lancaster House treaty in 2010. The last summit emphasised the concrete results that the two countries are in position to deliver strategic sectors such as defence/aerospace industries where the UK and France have decided to launch a two-year £120-million feasibility phase for an FCAS; and missiles, where France and the UK have signed a contract for the development and manufacture of the FASGW/ANL missile, with the contract valued at more than £500 million. This is an important step towards the implementation of the global one complex weapon strategy that aims for securing significant efficiencies of missile industries for the future programmes.

France and the UK will continue to deepen potential collaboration in all other fields of defence equipment to deliver savings, capability and interoperability for the benefits of the forces.

Given the recent pressure on government finances following the global economic downturn, do you foresee more international cooperation of this type in future procurement programmes?

JPR: On a bilateral and multilateral basis, France is determined to develop cooperation with foreign partners, in particular European ones, in order to launch future R&D projects and armament programmes that will structure the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB). Several examples of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), missiles, or software-defined radio (SDR) fields could be mentioned here.

Given the current budgetary pressures on European finances, new balances can and should be built under cooperation, partnerships, industrial restructuring on the basis of technical and excellence criteria, rather than based on return of national financial participation. The increasing level of cooperation that we should observe in the coming years will lead to industrial consolidation and enhanced competitiveness of the EDTIB: when looking at this trend on the FR-UK bilateral armament relationship, the convergence of MBDA UK and MBDA FR into a single integrated company, is, one way of consolidation we should keep in mind.