France, although the epitome of haute couture, style, fashion and culture in the modern times, has a history of conflicts and struggle that dates back to more than 2000 years. The army of France has played a very crucial role in determining the course of French history. Despite being ill-reputed for the cowardly surrender to Hitler, the army has displayed great courage all through history. Be it the French revolution, the Gallo-Roman wars, the Franco-Prussian wars or the recent fight against terrorism, strength of the French army has been tried and tested innumerable times. The army has revamped itself with time and has adopted the latest technologies in defense sector. The latest focus of the army seems to be on nuclear weaponry as well as strong defense through empowerment of communication channels. Illustrated in the following article is a brief overview of the French army, their historic struggle, their strengths and the status and power that they enjoy in today’s world.
History of the French Army
The best phase in the history of France to begin elucidating on the French army is undoubtedly the Gallo-Roman wars of 60BC. Although France was not a defined country in those days and the land was part of the great Roman Empire, this war is worth mentioning because the people of the land that was to become France made a strong contribution to it.
The Hundred Years’ War is the other most important war in the history of French army. This war, which was fought for 116 years with an intention of occupying the French throne, took place between 1337 and 1453. When France was about to be ruled by Prince Edward of Windsor as a result of a series of political happenings, the French revolted against the foreign rule. What followed was the Hundred Years’ War in which the French army ultimately defeated England. Unfortunately, what triggered the French army to rise and fight the British after losing out a lot of territory was the inspiration they got when Joan of Arc, the French royalty, was burnt after being dubbed a witch. Joan of Arc was the major force behind trying to unite the broken down French army and fighting against the English. Finally, in 1453, French army successfully drove the English out of France and won back their land. In the aftermath of this war, France came out as strongest force in Europe.
However, the newfound enthusiasm, strength and vigor of the French army were tested again in the war with Italy that took place between 1494 and 1553, hardly forty years after the Hundred Years’ War. Charles, the king of France attacked the largely peaceful Italy with an army of twenty five thousand men. Although their initial run up to Naples was successful and the French were victorious in conquering several places in Italy, the army ultimately had to retreat after they reached Naples. This proved very expensive for the French army as they lost out badly to Italy. Soon afterwards, the French army had to fight the Spanish army since Pope Julius II considered France as a threat to Papacy and in conjuncture with other countries, established a Holy League against France. The French army however, defeated the Spanish army in the Battle of Ravenna, which was fought in 1512.
The war with Italy continued until 1559, by when, France had lost the status of being the most powerful in Europe. These wars are important from the army point of view since the French army underwent major changes during and in their aftermath. All the army divisions such as the infantry, artillery and cavalry were developed and armed with new weapons and horses, which empowered the French army and it emerged resurgent once more.
The bloody history of France continued with the Thirty Years’ War, which was fought against Germany between 1618 and 1648. In what turned out to be one of the most important wars in the history of Europe, the French army was badly affected. In 1631, the Treaty of Barwalde was signed between France and Sweden according to which, one million French army men were promised to Sweden every year by France in order to restrain the Germans, against word that Sweden would not join the Holy League.
In the 18th century, France got into war with England, in what is called as the Seven Years’ War. The French army largely lost the war and France had to forfeit a lot of its important frontiers. This was the last major war in Europe that the French army fought, but then the brief lull turned out to be the calm before the storm because the French Revolution churned up soon after in 1792.
The French Revolution not only caused the total upheaval of the French political system but also caused a metamorphosis of the French army. Following the defeat and lackluster performance of the army in the previous wars, new doctrines were established for revival. It was during this revolutionary period in France that the army found a strong foothold. By 1793, the army strength grew to 500,000 who then began their massive and explosive attacks on the other parts of Europe. The officer class such as the Generals in the army were empowered and the army went on to defeat the First and Second coalition of European forces. This era also molded the French army and laid a solid foundation for future strength.
And then, came Napoleon. Although the army that came under this charismatic and heroic leader was not well equipped in extraordinary warfare, by 1805, he turned the French army into the strongest ever. He personally chose soldiers and formed an intimidating army force. He specialized in warfare conduct and did not place much importance on weaponry. Under his leadership, the French army grew heroic. However, in Waterloo, this strong French army met its match and had to accept defeat when the great Napoleon fell in 1815.
In the latter half of 1800s and beginning half of 1900s, French army was used as a backup in French colonies like India. The paradigm shift in the mindset of French administrators caused them to lay more emphasis on political and economic strengthening and the existing massive armies were put to good use in this period. During the period of the French colonial empire, the army was very strong. The onset of World War I was the next major influencing factor for the French army.
World War I hugely devastated the French army. With more than 1.3 million military men dead, French army, although successful in weathering the enemy storm, was terribly weakened. However, the way French army faired in World War II was a shock to many because the French had proven their military supremacy over Germans in the past. But with Hitler at the helm of German forces and the French still recuperating from the devastation of World War I, the French army surrendered without much of a fight, in what is one considered to be one of its most infamous defeats.
After the defeat of World War II, the French army experienced a string of defeats. France was forced to grant independence to many of its colonies. The Algerian war, which was the last ditch attempt to regain control, saw the French military going against the orders of their President De Gaulle. With the President disowning the military, the army lost a lot of strength.
In years succeeding these developments or rather regression of the French army, it still took part in the Gulf War of 1991, Afghanistan War and more recently in 2004, the Ivorian war.
Present French Army
After being completely ambushed in the World War II and the years that followed, the French army has achieved significant growth. Currently, the army, with around 123,000 soldiers, has grown to be the largest force in Europe. With an impressive plethora of weapons collection, the army is well equipped in every manner. While most of the weapons have been developed in France, several others have been created in conjuncture with other countries such as the USA and Belgium.
The modern army policies of France are based on three pillars – military sufficiency, nuclear armament and national independence. Policies are being implemented that are aimed at revamping the army. Rather than having a massive army that depends on volume, the new policies are meant to form smaller battalions that are better trained and equipped to be readily deployed in times of emergency. The army is to be reconstructed to undertake operations both within French frontiers and outside them. The drive is at producing all-professional military force.
The other focus of the present French army scenario is armament and equipment industry. A lot of innovations and new technologies are being developed to empower the reduced military force. France has rejoined NATO after a lull of more than fifty years. Being the founder member of the organization, France will have a major part to play in the military sector of NATO.
Currently, the FAMAS, is the official weapon of the French army. The other types of guns available are AA52, Browning M2, FN Minimi, which are both machine guns, PAMAS, M4 Carrbine, which are Spec-ons weapons, FR F2, which is the Standard Sniper rifle, PGM Hecate 2, which is a heavy sniper rifle. The army also has a share of Anti-tank missiles such as MILAN, ERYX, AT4 and FGM148 Javelin, which are long and short range missiles. Mistral Missile is a surface to air missile belonging to the French army. In order to optimally use the anti-tank missiles, the French military has placed an order for 380 missiles and 76 launchers.
In addition, the army houses 406 AMX56 Leclerc main battle tanks, 20 Leclerc recovery vehicles, 1,050 AMX-10P infantry fighting vehicles, 150 BvS-10 tracked articulated all terrain carriers. With more than 700 artilleries of different types, 13,500 unarmored vehicles and thousands of wheel armored vehicles, the French army does look like an intimidating force.
The most recent Libya war saw French military playing a major role in trying to suppress the dictator Gaddafi. However, it was the air force that took on the responsibility. The current focus of the French army is war against terrorism, which has been the central issue ever since the World Trade Center Attack of 9/11. Even in the modern days, France has been experiencing internal unrest, first from the minority sections of the French society and then from the students. The country has also had its share of terrorist attacks within its European boundaries and also in its African frontiers, which has made it pledge its army for protection against these anti-social forces not only in France but also anywhere in the world.
France has its focus now on nuclear power on which it is working in conjuncture with United States. It has been very active in promoting peace in the violence prone Middle East sector. The country has also pledged its commitment to solving the Afghanistan problem by providing army support. Further, France has been supporting the United States in all security issues on an international level. President Sarkozy is on the forefront of army and military development in France. After he came to office, the army has received a boost in the form of reorganization and empowerment. The significant French forces seem to be moving in the proper direction and fighting for the right causes. With better military facilities and programs planned for the future, the army wing of French military is on an upward swing.
The Future of French Army
The most significant development that will come into force in the French army is the 10 billion Euros Scorpion Program. This program is aimed at a complete revamping of the French army; including replacing outdated tanks with new state-of-the art war and defense weaponry. In short, this program shall enhance combat capabilities of the French army. The program is also being seen as the ground breaker for all future developments. DGA, the branch of French army that deals with procurement of weaponry and arms of combat, has been given the responsibility of overseeing the project. The Scorpion program is the biggest project that the army has worked on.
In order to provide a higher efficiency in management and procurement, the “System of Systems” program has been planned by the army under the Scorpion program. As per this program, the entire weapon base of the army will be seen and developed as a single entity and the entire system will be complementary to each other. Orders placed for weapons will not be on an individual basis, but based on the level of contribution that they make to the entire ensemble. The military has requested tenders from manufacturers in order to fulfill the order.
In particular, the program will deal with revamping the main battle tanks – Leclerc. In addition, the army also plans on procuring a couple of armored vehicles – Vehicule Blinde Multi Role (VBMR) as a replacement for Vehicule Avant Blinde workhorse and Sagaie and AMX 10RC light tanks shall be replaced by Engin Blinde de Reconnaissance et Combat (EBRC). 2000 VBMRs will be added to the French fleet by 2015 and by 2018, 296 EBRCs will join them. 300 intermediate 12-metric-tom vehicles carriers in the armored category will be procured. Vehicles and weapons required for electronic warfare is the other agenda of the future French army.
The plans for development also include enhancing the communication systems within the army. The transfer of information between soldiers on the field and officials at the base will be improved and made more secure. The basic emphasis in this regard is on speed and security. Better communication system will help in making better and faster decisions at times of emergencies.
Owing to the fact that the French army is made up of several small units that are treated as individual units and not part of the whole has given rise to this much needed transformation. This program will also bring significant changes at the management and administrative cadres of the army. The program is being seen as the most essential step in reforming and empowering the army.
Given the growth and developments in the weapons arena, the French plans for their army’s future are taken to be practical. Although the sum is huge, it is in the range of expenses being carried out by several other countries. For instance, the United States has prepared a master plan for the future of its military at a budget of $200 billion. They call it the “The Future Combat Systems”. Further, considering the growing international unrest and the alarming growth of terrorism, an amplified defense system is the need of the hour. With a commitment to protect international peace in addition to securing its own frontiers, the French army is surging ahead with lessons of the past, power of the present and precise plans for the future.