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French Defense Outsourcing

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010

A few more eyebrow-raisers in terms of France's defense purchases: The head of France's procurement agency traveled to Washington over the summer to discuss the purchase of Reaper UAV drones, and the French military is anxiously awaiting delivery of a batch of already purchased Javelin missiles for use in Afghanistan.

The Javelins are a minor purchase, and needed to fill an urgent operational gap. But they come on the heels of similar gaps in light-armor vehicles being filled with second-hand U.S. equipment last year.

The drone purchase, on the other hand, marks a pretty significant strategic choice hanging in the balance, and parallels a similar situation involving strategic airlift. The U.S. drones would be either a fill-in measure or a replacement for an EADS model that has had problems getting off the drawing board on time. Similarly, France is considering purchases of U.S.-built C-17s as a stopgap measure to make up for delays in the delivery of the A400M, also developed by EADS.

For a country whose national security culture is characteerized by an understandable pride in its autonomy, that would represent a pretty big helping of crow, and represent a major setback for French and European defense manufacturing.