Paris is investing in a major upgrade of its nuclear deterrent force through 2030, with plans to modernize cut//the nation’s strategic submarine and aircraft fleets, missiles, warheads, communications networks and production facilities.
Since the end of the Cold War, France has roughly halved its nuclear arsenal and eliminated the option to conduct land-based strikes. It now has 300 warheads in its stockpile.
Despite reductions in other areas of its annual €31.4 billion ($41 billion) defense budget, the new six-year spending plan reaffirms the nation’s long-standing policy of deterrence and the general makeup of its //Frenchnuclear forces, which include four Le Triomphant-class Sous-marin Nucleaire Lanceur d’Engins (SNLE) submarines equipped with M51 ballistic missiles and two squadrons of fighter/bomber squadrons comprising Mirage 2000N andF3 fighter/bombers carrying nuclear-tipped air-to-ground missiles.
Between 2014-2019, France will spend more than €23 billion ($31 billion) to continue modernizing its air- and sea-based nuclear force components while preparing for the next generation of strike capabilities. In 2014, the navy will update strategic installations and continue modernizing its nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines while French shipbuilder DCNS begins design work on a third-generation vessel, the SNLE 3G. At the same time, M51 prime contractorAstrium will start development of a future version of the missile.
Also next year, funding will continue for ///France will continue to fund the midlife upgrade of an advanced variant of MBDA’s Air-Sol Moyenne Portee () standoff missile, while technology studies begin for its successor. The French air force also will renew its fleet of aging C-135FR refueling tankers, starting with the purchase of new Multirole Tanker Transport ///(MRTT) aircraft///planes, the first two of which are to be delivered before the end of the decade. In addition, the first twin-seat Rafales designed to replace the Mirage 2000Ns will be delivered in 2014.
The French also are developing new warheads for both sea-//launched and air-launched missiles: the Tete Nucleaire Aeroportee, a warhead //outfitted on the ASMPA; and the Tete Nucleaire Oceanique, designed for the M51.
Moreover, France will renovate communications infrastructure, mainly for long-range networks, which will be hardened for both the air and sea components. The defense ministry also will continue funding the €3 billion Laser Megajoule (MJ) project, an inertial confinement-fusion device being built by France’s nuclear energy agency. Similar to the U.S. National Ignition Facility that studies thermonuclear processes, the laser is expected to deliver 1.8 MJ of energy and will be used to refine fusion calculations for nuclear weapons when it enters service in late ///at the end of 2014.
Under its proposed military program law spanning ///the period 2014-19, France is budgeting between about €4 billion a year for maintaining its ///the nation’s strategic deterrent. In ///Duringthat time, the country expects to spend 23% of its €102 billion defense equipment budget on nuclear force capabilities, cut//an amount that represents a 30% increase over the military’s previous five-year budget in 2009-13.
“It is strong growth,” Adm. Edouard Guillaud, chief of the French defense staff, told lawmakers here in October. “But it must be considered in the light of the funding provided for in the previous programming law over the same period, which is actually a reduction of 11 percent.”
Despite losing one of three nuclear-capable fighter/bomber squadrons under the previous program law, France’s nuclear deterrent will go largely unscathed in the coming budget cycle. In recent years, the French have used money from the one-time sale of assets, such as real estate and radio-frequency spectrum, to supplement defense spending. But with a dwindling number of assets to sell, the defense ministry says it is willing to rob other major capital spending items to fund modernization of the deterrent force.
“The absence of revenue from non-budget sources, combined with the increasing power of the nuclear component in preparation for a renewal of our deterrent forces around 2020, might lead to restrictions in so-called major effects programs,” //French defense procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon told lawmakers in Paris last month, referring to ongoing or new project developments for which funding could be reduced or delayed.
Likewise, he said that funding needed to modernize nuclear forces is ultimately expected to sap resources now devoted to basic research in key areas such as aeronautics and space.
Specifically, he noted that saidsome €190 million in funding earmarked annually for French aerospace research lab Onera and the nation’s space agency, CNES, will take a hit to fund studies on new nuclear-strike technologies.
“Around 2015, a substantial part of this will be devoted to basic research on deterrence . . . which will have the effect of crowding out the rest,” Collet-Billon said. Guillaud, when asked whether it might be fiscally prudent to do away with the airborne component of France’s nuclear strike force, said savings from eliminating the nation’s two remaining fighter/bomber squadrons would not amount to much, especially when the portion of the defense budget that pays for nuclear forces is also being used to cover the cost of purchasing new aerial refueling tankers and jammers for air force planes.
“Challenging the second component of nuclear deterrence would have resulted in virtually no economy,” Guillaud said. “While it’s true that deterrence will cost €3.5 billion in 2014, this money benefits the entire French air force.” cut for space only////Specifically, he said some €190 million in funding earmarked annually for French aerospace research lab ONERA and French space agency CNES will take a hit in order to fund upstream studies on new nuclear strike technologies.
cut for space///“Around 2015, a substantial part of this will be devoted to basic research on deterrence, which will have the effect of crowding out the rest,” Collet-Billon said