Finances concentrated in three areas - equipment availability, modernisation and R&D

The French defence budget has risen for the first time in 15 years, up 7.5% in 2003 compared with this year. The €31.1 billion ($30.3billion) budget "puts France in a position to honour its European commitments and ensure its interests are protected", says the defence ministry. France intends to supply 20% of any European Rapid Reaction Force and to deploy for a year 12,000 soldiers, 75 combat aircraft and 12 ships, including the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Procurement has been allocated €13.6 billion, just under 44% of the total and an 11.2%increase on this year. The money will be concentrated in three principal areas: €2.6 billion to improve equipment availability, €1.9 billion for equipment modernisation, and €655 million on research and development.

The defence ministry says the first objective is to raise aircraft availability across all three services to 75% - it is currently under 50% for army helicopters and less than 60% for transport aircraft. Although a long-term objective, a six-month control mechanism, is being set up to measure results in real time and make necessary adjustments.

The lion's share of the modernisation funding is for the Dassault Rafale, which gets €962 million for development of the F2 and F3 variants, production of 48 aircraft ordered in 1999 and support equipment. Funding for MBDA's Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile, still awaiting German approval but intended to be one of Rafale's principal weapons, is not included.

The Helios observation and Syracuse communications satellite receives €358 million, while €346 million is allocated to Horizon anti-air frigates.

Procurement-related research receives a 10% boost, the biggest increase since 1997. Overall defence budget research funding rises to €1.24 billion from €1.19 this year. This addresses French industry's concerns that the country will lose its technological edge without further research funds.

Italian economy minister Giulio Tremonti has reportedly sought an €800 million cut in next year's defence budget. If approved, €274 million operating expenses and €526 million would be cut from procurement programmes. The Italian air force will see €239 million slashed from its procurement budget, compared with €200 million from the navy and €87 million from the army.


Source: Flight International