Cover: A Strong Ally Stretched Thin

A Strong Ally Stretched Thin

An Overview of France's Defense Capabilities from a Burdensharing Perspective

Published Jun 16, 2021

by Stephanie Pezard, Michael Shurkin, David A. Ochmanek

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent is preparing for a large-scale conventional war a French priority? How does it compare with other contingencies?
  2. What is France's level of readiness for such a conflict, and what would France's comparative advantages be in this conflict?
  3. Which future programs (planned or potential) would be most likely to increase France's capabilities for a high-intensity conflict?
  4. Which internal or external factors might constrain the development of France's military capabilities and its ability to use them in a European large-scale conventional war scenario?

The French military currently is one of Western Europe's most capable, and it boasts a full range of capabilities that enable it to engage in the full spectrum of operations, including high-intensity conventional warfare against a peer adversary. In this report, RAND researchers examine the role that the French military might play as a coalition partner in a hypothetical high-intensity conventional conflict in Europe. Researchers drew on a wide range of publications in French and English, as well as on conversations with French defense experts to understand not just the French military's capabilities and capacity to wage war in general but also its ability to wage high-intensity conventional warfare in particular.

Key Findings

France is ready for war, but not a long war

  • France could support a U.S.-led war effort in Eastern Europe now or in the next ten years. It has maintained full-spectrum capabilities and training, has ambitious modernization objectives, and has strong political and public support for military interventions and support to allies.
  • However, its military has limited depth overall and could not sustain a long campaign, and some of the capabilities it might need likely would not be reassigned.
  • French advantages include heavy ground forces and artillery, as well as special operations forces. The French are practiced in joint operations, which surely would be a requirement in a conflict against Russia.
  • There are capability areas with potential for increased U.S.-French collaboration that might improve France's ability to fight a conventional war in Eastern Europe. Capability areas that might benefit from collaboration include electronic warfare; the countering of massed precision fires; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems; air defenses; and the hardening of advanced technologies.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Force Development, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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