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France’s top general recounts battlefield lessons | World News

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In 2021, a year before Russia invaded Ukraine, General Thierry Burkhard Tell “The Economist” believes that the French army must “strengthen” itself and prepare for a possible “high-intensity war” in Europe. One of the hypothetical opponents is Russia. Today, the former army chief is France’s top military officer, in charge of all armed forces. As it turned out, his analysis was prescient. It also conducted training exercises of a scale not seen in decades for French and Allied soldiers, which concluded last month.

High quality
French Chief of Defense Staff General Thierry Burkhard pays tribute to the 177 French members of the “Kiefer Commando” musketeer Marin Commando who took part in the D-Day landings at a commemoration commemorating the 79th anniversary of World War II 2023 D-Day, 6 June, Colleville-Montgomery, France. Ludovic Marin/Pool Credit: via REUTERS

In April and May, General Burkhard directed 17 days of full-scale divisional exercises in eastern France, a land where the great powers were at war more than a century ago. The final phase of ORION 23 follows a fictional invasion of “Arnland” by a neighboring nation, taking place across a 400km wide expanse of fields and woods. Some 12,000 troops, 400 combat vehicles and 50 fighter jets took part in live-fire drills, hybrid warfare, mock exercises, drone strikes and inter-Allied coordination to repel invading forces.

In his Paris office, with a picture of Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny hanging opposite a portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron, General Burkhard reflected on the maneuver Lessons from the war with Ukraine. “The scale of high-intensity warfare is completely different,” he said. “I probably underestimated that.” The deaths of ten soldiers during two decades of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and the Sahel were a “national tragedy, and rightfully so.” That’s what happens every half hour in Ukraine — for weeks on end. “

In the Iraqi city of Mosul, General Burkhard recalled, jihadists tracked by the French army would use tricks to evade aerial surveillance. Now the French army must contend with cheap drones that can detect tanks and “extremely precise” weapons capable of destroying them, he said. “We’re seeing a form of transparency on the battlefield,” he said, “an ability to see almost anywhere.” The military must learn to reduce electronic emissions and keep moving. Not only must the command post be camouflaged, but the incoming and outgoing traffic must also be concealed. This requires a change of habit and mindset.

If lethality increasingly depends on technology, and modern warfare is large-scale, ammunition-intensive, and attrition-rate warfare, how do medium-sized armies balance quality and quantity? The first priority, the general said, is to integrate the platforms: “We need to be able to have five drones in the air, attached to a battery, three missile launchers, a tank, and in fact, we need to be agile enough to decide where we Want to do what we see.” It’s no use having a lot of stuff if you can’t talk to each other.

This requires ubiquitous connectivity.general burkhard gave Starlink The constellation of thousands of satellites used by Ukraine is an example of the highly resilient networks the military relies on. Ships, aircraft and ground vehicles need to create a communication “bubble” — a kind of military Wi-Fi — within a given area. They also need to be able to cope without it. “We can no longer hope for permanent superiority in all domains,” he argued, noting that neither Russia nor Ukraine has achieved air superiority. “The advantage in terms of permanent connectivity … is also an illusion.”

Is France capable of achieving these goals? Parliament is reviewing a 2024-30 military budget worth 413 billion euros ($452 billion), a nominal 40 percent increase on the 2019-25 budget. Under Mr Macron, this would allow France to meet its NATO pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The new budget is apparently based on the war against Ukraine, which is mentioned 14 times in the relevant bill. France will modernize its nuclear deterrent force, build a new generation of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and add 109 Caesar howitzers, 3,000 drones, etc.

Paradoxically, however, France has scaled back some purchases of additional equipment. The Air Force will reduce 48 new “Rafale” fighter jets and 15 A400M transport aircraft compared to the original plan; the Army will reduce 497 “Griffin” and “Jaguar” armored vehicles. “Because we’re trying to do everything at the same time, we’re just spreading out rather than setting priorities,” said Senator Hélène Conway-Mouret.

The general countered that the new budget “pointed us in the right direction”, although its full impact would not be felt until 2030. Critics, he said, failed to understand the importance of capable forces rather than large ones. He insisted that the number of tanks, ships and aircraft was not growing as fast as expected because “consistency” was prioritized. “The important thing is that if you buy a tank, you have trained personnel, they have ammunition for training and spare parts to use it in the field.” General Burkhard said, having “a ready An army that parades on Bastille Day but is not yet ready for battle” is meaningless.

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© 2023, The Economist Limited. all rights reserved. From The Economist, published with permission.Original content available at www.economist.com

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