Forces: January 2, 2002

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: According to a shocking series of investigative reports, the French military is little more than a hollow shell and could not defend the country if called upon to do so. The French defense budget, now about $28 billion, has fallen to 11% of the government's budget compared to 15% a decade ago. The budget has been slashed repeatedly since the end of the Cold War, and what little money there is has been sucked into high-profile programs including the Rafale fighter, the troublesome carrier Charles de Gaulle, and the Leclerc "starship" tank. Even worse, converting the military to an all-volunteer force has sent manpower costs through the roof. Without enough money, the shortages show up in training (all but non-existent) and maintenance. Half of the helicopters and a third of the tanks are out of action due to a lack of maintenance funds. The carrier Charles de Gaulle has become the laughingstock of the European naval community due to its frequent breakdowns and design flaws, and is known to its own crew as "the ship of the damned". At some air bases, half of the planes are grounded for lack of parts. Only 32 of the 76 ships of the French Navy are reported ready for sea. One French ship suffered a breakdown at sea and put into a British port, where it was repaired within a day; the same repairs would have taken a month in a French shipyard due to bureaucratic disorganization. The Rafale fighter is a triumph of extravagance over substance. The French insisted on building their own plane out of national pride, but the Rafale is late and doesn't meet its specifications. Any chances of export sales are remote as the Eurofighter and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter cost less than half as much. The French government has never done the one thing every other NATO government has done: threatened to take its business to foreign manufacturers if the domestic ones don't keep the prices down and deliver on schedule.--Stephen V Cole

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