Forces: June 1, 2005

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:   France, as a military power,  has been the butt of jokes since the controversy over the liberation of Iraq in 2003. But France is a major world power, with a professional military that has superb equipment, much of it indigenously-designed and produced. France spends about $45 billion a year on defense, about 2.6 percent of Frances GDP.

One of the biggest claims France has to major power status is its nuclear arsenal. Consisting of four SSBNs, three Le Triomphant class and the LInflexible, each of these carries sixteen M4/M45 missiles, which have a range of 5300 kilometers, and carrying six MIRVs packing a 150-kiloton nuclear warhead. France also has a force of 70 Mirage 2000N bombers carrying the ASMP cruise missile, with a range of 300 kilometers and packing a 300-kiloton warhead. Super Etendards flying from the Charles de Gaulle can also carry this missile.

The French Army is also a powerful force. This force consists of eight brigades, and is now all-volunteer. This has made is much more capable. Equipped with a mixture of LeClerc (240) and AMX-30 (780) tanks, 1050 AMX-10 IFVs, 3820 VAB APCs, and a mix of artillery (216 towed 155mm artillery pieces and 372 self-propelled artillery pieces). The French Army also operates 80 Tigre attack helicopters and 267 Gazelle attack helicopters. Since shifting to an all-volunteer force, the French army has become much better in terms of quality, backed by career non-commissioned officers. This force has carried out operations, mostly in Africa (4,400 in Cote dIvorie/Ivory Coast, 1,200 in Chad, and 200 in the Central African Republic), but also in Bosnia (500 troops), Afghanistan (1,800 troops), and Kosovo (3,000).

The French Navy is also a force to be reckoned with. It operates the only CVN outside the U.S. Navy, the Charles de Gaulle. It also has a force of 12 destroyers (two guided-missile destroyers of the Cassard class, a single Suffren-class destroyer, two Tourville-class destroyers, and seven Georges Leyuges-class destroyers), and fifteen frigates (five Lafayette-class and ten DEstienne dOrves-class frigates). In addition to the four SSBNs, France also operates six Amethyste-class SSNs. This navy is slightly behind the Royal Navy the French have a carrier that operates the Rafale, which outperforms the British Sea Harrier, but the British have a larger submarine force and the Royal Navy arguably has the best personnel on a man-for-man basis.

The French Air Force is also one of the best in the world. Among its aircraft are the Mirage 2000, which comes in several variants: The Mirage 2000C, which is primarily an air-defense fighter; the Mirage 2000D, a ground-attack version capable of carrying a wide variety of bombs and missiles join with the Mirage 2000N, which is the backbone of the French Air Forces nuclear deterrence arm. France also has the Rafale, a powerful multi-role fighter that has some stealth features. France is retiring the older Mirage F1 and Jaguar fighter-bombers, while the Mirage 2000Cs are being upgraded to the Mirage 2000-5, making them potent multi-role aircraft.

France also has the industrial infrastructure many of its military designs are indigenous, and produced in France. While this can be expensive, it also means that France does not rely on anybody elses designs. France has worked with other countries in the past (most 
notably with England on the Jaguar). As a world power, France arguably ranks fourth at the present, behind the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia due to its nuclear arsenal and professional military. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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