I am well aware that this article does not concern digital sovereignty as such, but rather our industrial sovereignty in a very specific field, that of defense. I wanted to write an article on this subject, which from my point of view is crucial in terms of industrial sovereignty. And if we look at the SCAF project, there are undeniable digital aspects.
Indeed, most of the combat systems of the future, whether they are air, naval or land-based, require a strong data integration and secure communications capability.
1. State of play on current projects
What are the projects currently concerned, in terms of Franco-German cooperation, in the field of defense? To date, there are two main projects :
- The Future Air Combat System (SCAF), which initially Franco-British became with the Brexit, from 2017 a Franco-German project. Then it became “Franco-German-Spanish”. Industrial cooperation involving Dassault, Airbus (Germany), Indra and Airbus Defence Spain (Spanish subsidiary of Airbus Germany) …
- The Main Combat Ground System (MGCS) tank of the future, led by Nexter System and Kraus-Maffei Wegman, initially at 50-50
The start-up of these two projects is not going smoothly, as has already been reported in the press (Opex360 / La Tribune ).
The reasons for these difficulties are, in my opinion, related to the following key elements:
- A geostrategic divergence
- A difference in industrial imperatives
Why a geostrategic difference, first of all Germany remains fundamentally subservient to the United States in its conception of defense. Vassalage to America is the direct result of the outcome of the Second World War, Germany having renounced to be part of history, and focusing on industry and economy. Moreover, Germany has remained on the East-West confrontation in Europe, a vision imposed by the United States, where only Russia is the enemy, and the nuclear deterrent, the protective shield comes from the United States…
And the definition of needs is done with this vision in mind. Indeed, Germany, on the MGCS program, imposes the construction of a heavy tank, necessary to confront the Russian armored vehicles in the great plains of the East. France, given these operational theaters, needs lighter, more agile tanks adapted to urban guerrilla situations…
We find this difference of opinion on the SCAF project, which was already expressed in the previous attempt at collaboration that failed and resulted in the Rafales on one side and the Euro fighter on the other. In this case, we need a multi-role aircraft, and a penetration aircraft, since the air component of our nuclear deterrent is key since the dismantling of our land-based ballistic missiles. In addition, we have a sizeable naval component and theaters of external intervention that require certain capabilities.
Here again, there is an important difference with Germany, which needs a component more focused on air superiority, to put it briefly.
Here again there are two very different approaches. Over the last 35 years, France has abandoned its industry in favor of service activities. Although this trend has been less marked in the field of defense, things have changed since the days of General de Gaulle, when we were able to produce everything in France, from light to heavy weapons, as well as most of the equipment…
This has not been the case in Germany, which has maintained a strong industry, despite the relocation to Asia that has affected the whole of Europe. Germany’s objective in these cooperation projects is to recover as many industrial jobs as possible for their industry, even if it means being unreliable, for example by lying about their projected orders in order to get a bigger slice of the cake (La Tribune).
2. Should these projects be abandoned?
This is of course an eminently political question, and my opinion will remain just that, the opinion of a normal citizen.
However, for the same reasons mentioned above that summarize the difficulties, my opinion is in favor of the release of these programs. In addition to the points made above, I see additional arguments. They are as follows :
- In the air component, we have an industrial flagship, Dassault, which is capable of producing aircraft that are efficient from start to finish in operational conditions, as it has demonstrated. After a slow start and fierce commercial competition from the Americans, the Rafale is beginning to find its place, with its technical and operational qualities demonstrating its performance. In addition, the Germans are maneuvering to recover French know-how, causing #Dassault to react and talk about plan B (Challenges)
- On the land component, we also have undeniable skills, as demonstrated by the Caesar (self-propelled gun), the Griffons that are coming on stream, and also the Leclerc. It is key to retain and strengthen the key skills that we have begun to lose, particularly in the area of heavy tanks.
- It is therefore crucial to keep and increase industrial jobs on our national territory and to preserve this industrial base on which we can rely to create new industrial champions in the civil sector as well. Innovation often comes from industry.
- Another important point is our commercial autonomy. Indeed, our lack of autonomy in certain technologies makes us dependent on the geostrategic vision of the Americans and can close certain markets to us. The same is true in the case of a partnership with Germany. The Bundestag could block us from potential export markets…
After reading this article, you will not be surprised by my conviction that we must get out of these unbalanced cooperation projects that put our sovereignty at stake, even if it seems that this is not the path taken (La Tribune). Here we are talking mainly about industrial sovereignty, but digital sovereignty is not far off. Indeed, all new weapons systems require the sharing of information and data from different sources, analyzing and integrating them in real time in order to provide the best information necessary for operational decision-making.
The challenge is therefore wide-ranging and also involves mastering information systems, which are now at the heart of any future weapon system. In this field, we have solid institutional players such as Thales, as well as numerous innovative start-ups. For these reasons, it is important to promote our industrial and digital fabric.