France’s technological sovereignty and strategic autonomy

The world is rearming and the great powers have embarked on a race for disruptive technologies. France is still in the race, but it will have to considerably increase its budget to keep pace, and to keep a very precious asset: its strategic autonomy.

Is France capable of keeping up with the pace imposed by the great powers in the race for disruptive technologies, some of which have just reached a new level (artificial intelligence or AI, hypervelocity missiles, directed energy weapons, etc.) while others are still at the theoretical stage (quantum physics)?

Will the French industrial and technological defense base (BITD) be able to bring together and master the necessary skills in the field of disruptive technologies? What will the battlefield of the future look like?

France is still in the race, but it will have to increase its budget to, on the one hand, give itself the means to succeed in its industrial bet and on the other hand to maintain strategic autonomy and decision-making capacity. But she must act quickly, because the world is not waiting for her.

The United States and China, the two world military heavyweights, seem unattainable as their financial capacities are beyond our reach. But behind, a second group does not let itself be left behind with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, etc. However, each country tries to take the leadership of this second entity, in terms of military power and the capacity to project forces. France has resolutely taken the turn towards more funding in disruptive technologies that will allow it to keep the ascendancy over its opponents.

Sacrosanct nuclear weapon and hypervelocity missiles

The nuclear weapon gave France a decisive weight in the world order, both diplomatic and military. Let us not forget that with Brexit, France becomes the first military nuclear power of the European Union. The President of the Republic, during a speech at the Ecole de Guerre last February, recalled the pre-eminent place of France, by virtue of nuclear weapons, its ability to defend itself if its interests were threatened, but also the need to build a common strategic doctrine within the Union. If the French nuclear weapon is to serve all of Europe, the efforts of the countries of the Union will have to be even greater. Emmanuel Macron has in any case offered “to those who wish”, partnerships including exercises of the deterrent forces. A start to the program, the contours of which, however, remain very vague.

The nine countries holding the ultimate weapon are modernizing their arsenals. France is no exception to this rule. The military programming law (LPM) allocates a budget of 25 billion euros for the period 2019-2023. The air component of the nuclear weapon should, from 2035, develop a hypersonic missile on board a fighter plane, a stealth drone or a large aircraft.

The deployment of the nuclear weapon could thus be carried out thanks to hypervelocent missiles, in fact hypersonic, that is to say navigating at least Mach 5. The development of this material will give to the one who will control it an advantage. incredible against his opponents. For the moment, only Russia would be the holder of such a weapon: the Avangard missile. This can carry conventional loads, but above all nuclear. Sailing at Mach 20, he would not give his opponent a chance.

Russia is not the only power working on these hypervelocity missiles and the announcement of the operational condition of the Avangards has restarted work in several countries. This is notably the case of the United States with the Conventional Prompt Global Strike, of China, India and France, with its ASN4G nuclear air-to-ground missile.

France has a head start in Europe thanks to the National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research (ONERA). Ariane Group is expected to present a hypersonic glider demonstrator by the end of 2021.

Artificial intelligence and cyber defense

Vladimir Putin said: “Whoever masters artificial intelligence will dominate the world. Russia has launched massive AI research and development programs, but it is not alone. The United States and China are working to integrate AI through different robotic and armed weapons and combat systems. The progress is spectacular, especially in the deep learning (deep learning), which enables machines to learn from a huge amount of data. However, researchers, even the most experienced, are still unable to explain the phenomenon of “black box” (” black box ‘) Of AI, that is, they are able to judge the data that goes into the box as well as the results that come out of it, but without knowing what is going on inside.

In this race, France is not taken down by the three great powers of AI. Its strengths: applied mathematics and computer science, two fields in which it excels thanks to its universities and research centers.

In 2018, a certain Cédric Villani had submitted to the President of the Republic a report which had served as the basis for his program in the field of AI. But if France has many strengths, it also has serious handicaps. For example, it does not have any large digital group. Bruno Le Maire then explained: “Artificial intelligence is a very vast subject, which calls for considerable resources. We certainly have strengths in this area, but these are disputed by the big players. “An observation shared by economists, including Christian Saint-Étienne, who recently indicated that the new industrial revolution (NRI) has brought us into a 3.0 economy, an” iconomy “. However, France and Europe do not weigh heavily against the American and Chinese giants, unless there is a collective surge spurred by the Commission in the short term.

To his assertion on AI, Vladimir Putin could have added the vast cyber domain. Russia is a past master in this art of asymmetric warfare. France, it started with a delay, but seems to make up the lost distance. General Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA), indicated that his offensive and defensive capabilities were “of a very good level”. France has also won the international cyber defense exercise “Locked Shields 2019”, organized by NATO and which brought together 30 countries. The Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, thus warned the countries or small groups that would try to attack France with cyber weapons: France’s doctrine is not only defensive and its cybersoldats are capable of launching counter-attacks in two key areas: support for conventional operations and neutralization of an enemy.

Quantum, directed energy weapons, nanotechnology and neuroscience

In an interview he gave us (see DefTech noto 04), Emmanuel Chiva, director of the Defense Innovation Agency, noted the appearance of technological breakthroughs generating strategic breaks. Among them, quantum sensors. It is therefore imperative to take an interest in it, especially since France has courses of excellence in this field, in mathematics and physics. The field of possibilities is immense. Quantum is an issue of national, technological and economic sovereignty which should consolidate the industrial fabric of France, but also of Europe.

In the field of directed energy weapons – the laser – the United States and China dominate the debates. The US Navy and the US Army are developing lasers and microwaves capable of neutralizing enemy weapons (drones) and systems (see DefTechnoto 07). The advantage: the extremely low cost of such a weapon. For the Army, it is Northrop Grumman who develops the weapon.

France has fallen behind in this area. Nevertheless, it can count on the CILAS company which is already working on the Laser Mégajoule. CILAS should design lasers for space defense. Like the Americans, this subsidiary of Ariane Group and Areva works on lasers fired from the ground or from an on-board weapon.

Regarding nanotechnologies, France has launched the Nano 2022 plan. The objective is to continue to master certain technologies, but also to keep strategic players in France and Europe, such as STMicroelectronics.

Finally, in the field of neurosciences, France occupies a very honorable seventh place in the world, and third place in Europe, behind the United Kingdom and Germany. Neurology, neurosciences, cognitive sciences, the field of research is wide. The French Man Machine Teaming project aims to develop a cognitive air system. This initiative is funded by the Directorate General for Armaments (DGA) and led by Dassault Aviation and Thales. The pilots will therefore be able to interact and communicate with an AI. This type of system is a very important component of the European SCAF (Future Combat Air System) fighter jet project.

Photo caption on the first page: © Air Force / Ministry of the Armed Forces

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