Hollande to Trim French-Army Size, Freeze Defense Spending

President Francois Hollande plans to trim the size of the French army while keeping annual defense spending roughly unchanged over a decade as his government seeks savings while retaining military capacity.

The army will be reduced in size to about 66,000 deployable soldiers by 2019, down from about 80,000, according to proposals published by the government today. Spending will be held at about 30 billion euros ($39 billion) annually.

The plan amounts to Hollande’s attempt to balance France’s promises to eliminate its budget deficit with its ability to project power through military interventions such as that in Mali earlier this year or in Libya in 2011.

“What is at stake? It’s maintaining the standing of our military while mastering our public finances,” Hollande said after receiving the so-called white paper on defense in Paris. “I’ve made the decisions with one thing in mind: the national interest.”

Speaking as he received a white paper on defense that will form the basis of a law, Hollande said he had to reconcile three imperatives.

The military needs “sufficient visibility for the coming decade,” industry needs predictable orders and the government needs to balance its accounts, “which is also an element of our sovereignty,” Hollande said.

Hardware, Software

Under the plan, France aims to retain the ability to intervene in two or three separate theaters of war at once with the help of allies.

Hollande intends to boost the nation’s intelligence capability with more satellite surveillance and the building of a fleet of long-range drones.

The country will retain four submarines as part of its nuclear deterrent, as well as six attack submarines and one aircraft carrier. It will have 225 combat aircraft, in addition to 50-odd transport planes and 12 re-fueling planes.

Hollande also said he wants France’s 4,000 defense contractors to have sufficient visibility to plan investment and research and development.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Deen in Paris at markdeen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net

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