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With more than 10,000 employees, the French Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) coordinates armament projects with industry in France, within Europe and also with customers for export. All in all, this amounts to more than a hundred major weapons programmes and operations in all areas of defence. The DGA also undertakes the testing and assessment of equipment and military technologies. In addition, the DGA supervises engineering schools that operate under the scrutiny of the Ministry of Defence. ESD had the opportunity to interview Joël Barre, Head of the DGA.

ESD: Can you briefly elaborate on the role, organisation and duties of the DGA? Is your organisation comparable to other defence procurement organisations like the Swedish FMV or the German BAAINBw? Are there other organisations involved in defence procurement in France?

Barre: The DGA is the French Government Armament General Directorate in charge of project management, development and purchase of weapon systems on behalf of the French Ministry for the Armed Forces.

The operational and technical departments of the DGA cover the same missions as the Swedish FMV or the German BAAINBw, meaning procurement and management of armament programmes but DGA is also responsible for additional missions. More precisely, the DGA has four missions:

  1. equip the French military forces while preserving the national procurement sovereignty
  2. prepare the future of defence systems
  3. promote European cooperation
  4. support the export of our military equipment. All these missions induce a strong industrial policy.

The DGA’s workforce of 10,000 women and men, military and civilian personnel, working at one of its 18 sites, covers every domain of defence: land, naval and air combat, electronic communication and information systems, cybersecurity, robotics, deterrence, and space. In 2020, as the top investor of the French State, the DGA placed orders worth €13.8Bn with industry and invested €992M in defence innovation and technology projects.

Over the years, since its creation in 1961, the DGA has developed a unique knowledge in managing complex programmes. In most countries, these activities are conducted by separate entities within the Ministry of Defence. DGA’s model is therefore peculiar. The centralised organisation of the DGA has been designed as a lever to conduct a sovereign and coordinated armament policy. This holistic vision is highly efficient in dealing with multi-dimensional issues, combining industrial policy strategies, international actions, future planning, procurement and programme management. Actions undertaken in the framework of European initiatives (PESCO, EDIDP, EDF) typically require such a combination of expertise. This is a major asset of the DGA.

ESD: What effects did the establishment of the Permanent Structured Cooperation pattern (PESCO) have on your organisation’s structure and work? What developments are to be expected in this context?

Barre: The DGA considers that PESCO is an appropriate tool to develop cooperation in Europe at the governmental level. The cooperation developed in this context may lead to armament projects conducted in other collaborative frameworks, through dedicated multinational arrangements, and possibly with the support of the European Defence Fund (EDF). The past years have already demonstrated that this approach works. Thanks to PESCO, and in combination with the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP), new governmental and industrial cooperation programmes have been established, for example in the domain of radio-navigation, to develop GALILEO receivers, which can be used by armed forces. The DGA has ambitious PESCO projects on the collaborative combat, materials and components, or detection and interception of missile threats.

These PESCO activities, combined with the development of industrial solutions, have an impact on DGA. Since the launch of PESCO in 2017, the DGA has been strongly involved in its implementation. In coordination with the French military staff, the DGA has devoted specific resources and expertise for PESCO. As a result, the DGA is involved in 80 per cent of the 46 PESCO projects: it coordinates 11 projects, two jointly with another Member State, is a participant in 21 projects and observer in five projects. Through PESCO projects, the DGA cooperates with almost all EU Member States.

The DGA has contributed to shaping these new EU instruments, demonstrated success in implementing them, and will carry on learning and adapting to make the best use of them. Now, the process has to demonstrate that the initiated projects really deliver results and are turned into industrial solutions.

ESD: To what extent does the DGA assume responsibility for the R&D component of armament programmes? Do you have your own R&D personnel?

Barre: To provide the French Armed Forces with efficient equipment in the short term but also to face the future threats, innovation support and R&D is also included in the DGA core activity. In 2020, the DGA paid €805M and invested €992M in defence innovation and technology projects and intends to reach €901M of payments and €1,174M of investments in 2021.

In 2018, Florence Parly, the French Minister for the Armed Forces, decided to create the Defence Innovation Agency – placed under the supervision of the chief executive of the DGA – in order to federate and coordinate all Ministry initiatives in the field of innovation, while pursuing long-term programmatic innovation works. Since then, DGA’s departments and the Defence Innovation Agency work very closely together in order to turn the innovation concepts into assets within the programmes.

First, by orienting and piloting the scientific and industrial studies needed for tomorrow’s capabilities. More than 100 technological projects with industry and 180 research projects with academic partners were launched in 2020, in a cross-feeding approach with DGA’s long-term technological roadmaps.

The DGA also takes advantage of the ecosystem outside the defence sector: in 2020 for instance, 233 start-ups and SMEs from the civilian market were identified as being of defence interest by the Defence Innovation Agency. Valuable projects are tested and – if deemed satisfactory – are fast-tracked thanks to defence support provided to the companies: 127 projects from the civilian market were labelled in this way in 2020.
Regarding R&D personnel, the DGA and the Defence Innovation Agency have their own personnel for analysis, orientation and support. However, their workforce is enhanced via their collaborative work with national research and academic organisms such as CEA (the French nuclear and alternative energy research centre), CNES (the French centre for space studies), ONERA (the French aerospace lab) and ISL (the French-German defence research institute) and the four engineering schools placed under the DGA’s supervision.

ESD: Is the budget available for defence procurement exclusively provided from the defence budget of the Ministry of Defence, or can you also take advantage of other resources? How have procurement budget allocations developed over the past five years?
Barre: The French defence procurement budget comes almost exclusively from the budget of the Ministry for the Armed Forces. Over the last five years, the procurement budget has increased by 25 per cent, from €9.9Bn in 2016 to €12.6Bn in 2020, in line with the Government’s commitment to bring our global defence financial effort up to 2 per cent of GDP.

In addition, the Ministry for the Armed Forces can also take advantage of cooperative initiatives, such as the EDF. Together with PESCO, it forms a comprehensive defence package for the EU, aiming at financing the industrial R&D in the field of defence programmes. The total envelope is €7.9Bn over the 2021-2027 period. The DGA is fully involved alongside French industry in proposing eligible cooperative projects.
The other resources, such as royalty fees or expertise and test activities sold to external customers by the DGA’s technical centres, are marginal (less than 0.5 per cent of the total procurement budget).

ESD: What are the most important defence programmes currently executed by your organisation?

Barre: The DGA conducts more than a hundred major weapons programmes and operations in all areas of defence: submarines, ships, satellites, command systems, airplanes, helicopters, missiles, armoured vehicles, land weapons, nuclear weapons, etc., with the aim of meeting the operational objectives and technical performance required by the armed forces.

In the field of combat aeronautics, the DGA is focusing on the development of the penetration, stealth and interoperability performance of the evolutions of the RAFALE and the preparation of the future air combat system, which will be linked to manned and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In transportation aviation, the DGA is pushing to ensure that the A400M completes the set of its tactical functions, in order to further increase its operational capabilities.
In the naval field, the key point is the successful delivery of the BARRACUDA nuclear-powered attack submarine programme, the preparation of the replacement of the aircraft carrier and the next generation of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. At the same time, the renewal of the first rank frigates continues, with the FDI programme, whose first-of-class will be delivered in 2023. It will complete the HORIZON and FREMM frigate fleets.

Regarding land forces, the equipment renewal initiated with step 1 of the SCORPION programme is progressing with the well-established production of the GRIFFON vehicle and soon the delivery of the first JAGUAR and SERVAL vehicles. There are potential challenges for French-German cooperation around the “heavy tank” (MGCS) and “artillery” (CFIS) components. The air-land dimension is also considered with the extension of the fire support capabilities of the combat helicopter TIGRE and the launch of the Joint Forces Light Helicopter programme.

As far as the space domain is concerned, the DGA is entirely renewing the capacities with two new generations of satellites, the CSO family for observation and SYRACUSE for telecommunications. We are also about to gain a new capacity of electromagnetic monitoring, unique in Europe, with the CERES programme.

ESD: Which of your current programmes are carried out in international partnerships with other national or multinational procurement organisations? Are there defence procurement efforts executed in the scope of public-private partnerships?

Barre: Promoting cooperation is one of the four missions of the DGA. With the exception of sovereign areas such as deterrence, the DGA is now systematically looking for European cooperation opportunities for each operation. Currently, the DGA carries out numerous programmes with other European countries: the motorised capacity strategic partnership CAMO, in cooperation with Belgium in the land domain; the Logistic Support Ship (LSS) programme, in cooperation with Italy; the Maritime Mine Counter-Measures (MMCM) programme, in cooperation with the UK. In the air domain, the DGA is cooperating with Germany and Spain for the future combat air system (NGWS/FCAS – Next Generation Weapon System / Future Combat Air System) and with Italy for the anti-aircraft defence system SAMP/T NG. Regarding the space domain, the DGA is conducting the CSO observation satellite constellation programme with Belgium, Sweden, Italy and Germany. Finally, the secured software radio ESSOR has been progressing in cooperation with Italy, Spain, Finland, Poland and Germany. Furthermore, the DGA is strongly involved in the European initiatives such as PESCO, EDIDP and EDF. We cooperate with almost all Member States to foster competitiveness and sovereignty of the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base and ensure that these cooperation programmes deliver concrete results. Regarding public-private partnerships, this solution has rarely been used by the DGA in the past and is less and less considered for new defence programmes.

ESD: Are there special regulations and procedures for the acquisition of nuclear weapons? Are such programmes also subject to competitive tenders?

Barre: The acquisition of strategic defence systems follows the same rules as conventional systems, in application of the French Code of Public Procurement Contracts. However, for reasons of sovereignty, the acquisition policy may lead to favouring French competitors for the weapons systems, with the possibility of open competition for constituent equipment. As with conventional systems, the sustainability of the defence industrial and technological base, as well as the maintenance of industrial skills over the long term, are issues for DGA’s acquisition policy.

ESD: To what extent is the French defence industrial base capable of responding to the material requirements of the French Armed Forces? Are there areas where you have to rely on foreign contractors?

Barre: The DGA is responsible for preparing and implementing all the defence systems that allow France to ensure its independence and its strategic autonomy, as well as its freedom of decision and action. We must equip our armed forces at the highest technological level to ensure their operational superiority in their various operations.

Moreover, since France has the ambition to maintain a full-spectrum and balanced force model with mastered technologies, it needs a sizeable, strong and dynamic defence industry and technology base. The DGA ensures the rise in competence of its major industrial groups and small and medium-sized enterprises in the technological areas identified as priorities by the Ministry for the Armed Forces. In addition, the DGA makes sure of their ability to develop, produce and sustain in the long term the equipment our armed forces need to fulfil their missions. The DGA strictly applies this national line of action for the critical heart of the strategic domains. For the rest, the DGA can accept mutual dependencies with other Europeans States relying on the framework of the European Defence and Security Market Code, or even rely on the international market for non-strategic domains.

Most weapons systems of the French Armed Forces are the result of a virtuous triangular system between the DGA, the French forces and industry. However, French defence companies are largely globalised: their exports represent a significant part of their turnover and they purchase some intermediate goods from different countries, especially European ones.

At the same time, European cooperation has been developing. Quoting the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, in his official “Bastille Day” speech, delivered on 13 July: ”to be better equipped, better armed, we are developing more and more cooperation, especially with our European partners”. So, in order to equip the French Armed Forces and develop European autonomy in strategic areas, the DGA is also increasingly counting on cooperative weapons programmes, as I described previously, relying on the European defence industry.