French Army taking “a more common sense approach”: Land Forces Commander

Defence IQ recently had the honour of interviewing Lieutenant General Bertrand Clément-Bollée, Commander of the French Land Forces. View the video above or read his thoughts below as he reflects on the Armoured Vehicles event and outlines his forward strategy to ensure an adaptable vehicle fleet to be ready for the next operation, whatever it may demand.

(All of our video interviews with the world’s senior land force leaders are available online.)

Are our lessons from Afghanistan really relevant for the next campaign?

This question is essential and one asked by every army who has to manage future requirements and at the same time respond to the demands of the present, to current operational requirements. If I take Afghanistan, for example, it was firmly decided that the French Army would not fall into the trap of focussing only on Afghanistan. Clearly, it’s about considering the operational needs at hand, which were in Afghanistan and notably in the area of counter-IEDs, for example, while under no circumstances dragging the whole future of the French Army into a vision centred exclusively on Afghanistan. It’s a balance between future programmes – which are long-term programmes and which themselves must coherently balance costs and capabilities – and short-term responses, which must deal with immediate protection and take into account current operational requirements. This is an extremely fine balance, and it is important to maintain it.

Is it worth pursuing new technology if there is no immediate requirement?

Clearly, and you said it in your question, focussing exclusively on technical aspects only leads to a dead end; or in other words, purely technical improvements only lead to an explosion in costs, and I believe that our budgetary constraints today must drive us towards a more common-sense approach. An example that comes to mind was the case in which we preferred, even favoured – on the technological level – to respond to 60% of all requirements rather than 100% of one single requirement. For the French Army, this was the case of the Armoured <em>Vanguard</em> Vehicle. This vehicle was designed more than thirty years ago; it was designed to an extremely basic standard – an armoured truck with just secondary weapons for self-defence. In providing very basic specifications for this requirement, we enabled it – consciously or not, because it wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision at the time – to remain adaptable, and in particular, on the technical level, capable of bearing extra weight; which allowed us to adapt to new standards of armour; which allowed us to install a new protection system via a remotely-operated turret, brought forward after Afghanistan; and I think that’s what we, as officers, must keep in mind when we determine the capability requirements of our future programmes. That is, not throw ourselves into excessive requirements, which could fatally lead to an extremely costly industrial solution, but concentrate on “standardised” – in inverted commas – requirements that allow us to offset a much greater spectrum of capabilities.

What brought you to Defence IQ’s Armoured Vehicles event?

The biggest draw of these defence events is first of all the chance to exchange ideas, through the conferences that are part of the events, and then also the possibility to see the latest state-of-the-art industry products. These products both cover the operational needs of today and also shed light on the trends which may determine the needs of tomorrow. For us officers, who are in charge and are responsible for our country’s armies, and for determining the capability requirements of the French Land Forces, well this is an opportunity to see what is being done abroad, how the same problems are being dealt with by others and what the best takeaways are for ourselves.


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