General Thierry Burkhard, the French Army’s Chief of Staff, believes that a major conflict is now a relative possibility. He has a strategic plan to flip the French military from an emphasis on asymmetric warfare to symmetric and to toughen it up by 2030.
Burkhard, who was the Commander of the Combined Operations Center, the 13th Demi-Brigade, and a paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion sees aggressive Chinese expansion in the Pacific and feels that France’s territories in New Caledonia and French Polynesia could become endangered. French armed forces will have to be ready.
Burkhard presented a 20-page document to the National Assembly’s defense committee on Wednesday. Burkhard’s blueprint, entitled “Operational security 2030,” was put together by a group of senior military leaders. The group worked on the plan from August through October of last year. It was discussed by Army cadre until all of the details were agreed upon in January. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed the release of it until last week.
Back in April, French military leaders spoke about being prepared for a return of “High-Intensity Conflicts.” Burkhard said that implementing the plan is critical because a “recurrence of a major conflict is now a credible hypothesis.”
But the document presented by Gen. Burkhard also warns that “there are new means of using force, unforeseeable and more insidious, based on intimidation and manipulation, in a new type of warfare, undetectable and disclaimed, to obtain undeniable strategic gains by imposing a fait accompli.”
“The world is evolving quickly enough and badly enough,” Burkhard said, pointing to a growth in the pace of conflicts and an “uninhibited re-militarization.” The French Army had “imagined [such ] a situation [existing in] 2035… But in 2020, a certain number of check-boxes are already ticked.”
France, Burkhard said, was nearing “the end of a stage of conflicts” that had been marked by interventions in the Sahel and Afghanistan, which have been characterized as asymmetric warfare. The army expects new, “symmetric” conflicts, “state against state,” Burkhard.
Cyber and information technology conflicts will be a significant part of future conflicts, according to the French report. To “acquire operational superiority,” the French Army must improve its capabilities in the electromagnetic environment, space, cyberspace, and information technology, the report said.
Burkhard’s plan pushed for more of “strategic industrial partnerships within Europe.” The CaMo (Capacité Motorisé, or motorized capacity) program is such a partnership, whereby the French will supply Belgium with 382 multirole Griffon armored vehicles as well as 60 reconnaissance and combat Jaguar armored vehicles virtually identical with the French ones. The French are also working with the Germans on a joint endeavor to develop a main battle tank that will replace Germany’s Leopard 2 and France’s Leclerc in the next 15 years.
France’s 114,000 active-duty Army troops will undergo updated training to better prepare them for future conflicts. That will include a technical school for non-commissioned officers in order to give them a better technical background for the new equipment that they will be using in the future.
Burkhard wants more division-level exercises to better prepare the army for the possibility of a large-scale conflict. As with all of the armies of NATO and the EU, joint and allied interoperability need to be strengthened and stressed, Burkhard emphasized.
His plan calls for a different way of better adapting and utilizing France’s 24,000-strong reserve force. According to Burkhard, the reservists should be given more autonomy and be better spread out over the territory. The plan is to adapt their contracts to better utilize their skills based on the reservist’s full-time profession, academic status, and geographic location.
France is set to begin obligatory national service in 2024.