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Opening Remarks

Gaining in contact
Operational commitment
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Allow me to salute General Pascal Façon, Director of the Centre for Doctrine and Command Education, for holding this colloquium. I remember your hearing, General, before the committee shortly after the last colloquy. The theme chosen this year is a bit a continuation of the one chosen last year, which was devoted to victory, and I will try to participate in the deepening of this reflection, on the theme: "War at a distance, winning through contact".


Abolition, dilution, contraction, crushing, deletion, all these terms have been used to depict the evolution of our relationship to kilometres, which illustrates the polysemy of the word "distance". Whatever the scale, it is a question of pushing the frontier of war ever further away from our borders, our equipment and our soldiers. This will is described in the military programming law "Ambition 2030". Tomorrow's artillery, future missiles, future aircraft, aircraft carriers and submarines will be designed to increase the distances of engagement. It is a question of striking further and striking from further away to protect lives and equipment.

However, distance is not always so palpable. It can be accompanied by a shortening of the chain of command. Based on intelligence gathered as close to the ground as possible by our soldiers or from our satellites, operations can be conducted thousands of kilometres from the theatres in which they take place. Part of the piloting of Barkhane, for example, takes place from Mount Verdun and not in the theatre of operations.

Paradoxically, the dilution of space does not necessarily lead to a loss of information. Thanks to advances in imagery and transmissions, it is indeed quite easy to follow an operation immediately, precisely, including at the top of the state, in secure bunkers. This may also call for a reflection on the right subsidiarity of command.

In any event, there is no war without contact. To compensate for an asymmetrical advantage such as the one I have just described, the adversary may decide to move closer or, conversely, to attract his enemy. This is the case of combat in urban areas, which you are familiar with in the Army. In Mosul, for example, the terrain abolished distance in the last few battles. Even in the Sahel-Saharan strip, where the technological advantage allows us to strike from far and high, our forces fight our enemies closely, sometimes in close combat. I am thinking in particular of the special forces that operate closest to the enemy. When I was in contact with the soldiers of the No. 10 Air Force parachute commandos, I was able to measure the intensity of thethe intensity of the engagement of such fighters, such methods, and the number of fire actions triggered, as well as the psychological impact of these missions on our soldiers.

The war at a distance is therefore also the war of proximity. The attack in Strasbourg was a cruel reminder that the national territory was no longer spared from acts of war. The Sentinel force, which thus plays a full part in protecting the French people, demonstrates this in contact with our fellow citizens. Visible, this force can be a target just as much as our operations deployed abroad.

During my various visits to you, I have sometimes wondered about the vulnerability of our headquarters to such targeted attacks. I will come back to that.

Collectively confident in our control of the skies, we may have come to regard any risk of air attack as nil. Beyond the return of the powers and their threats, the armed drones used by, for example, Daech in Iraq and Syria are a warning that I believe we need to take very seriously.

More generally, it is the loss of transmission and information systems that we must prepare for, by maintaining our capabilities.s of resilience and rusticity, so that we are able to act in the "old-fashioned" way, without real-time connections and information. In short, we need to act as closely as possible without remote assistance.

All these issues reveal the attention that underpins our defence policy and our military programming law. This law requires us to conduct complex, technological weapons programmes based on excellence in innovation, pushing back the boundaries of our fields of conflict by including cyber and space, which now constitute new areas of potential confrontation. At the same time, while we wish to maintain a complete army model, everyone sees that non-technological combat preparation must not be neglected.

I would like to point out the singular place of the Army in this dialectic between distance and proximity, because you are the one of the three armies that is most confronted with proximity and contact. The Army is the link between the different distances in contact and it is the Army that has the main role of contact with the population.


For French forces, integration with local populations, in external theatres of operations, integration with allied forces and the conduct of civil-military actions are a real tradition. I have just returned from Côte d'Ivoire, where I was able to observe the close relations between our French forces in that country and the Ivorian forces, which are systematically involved in the various exercises conducted. Similarly, in the Sahel-Saharan strip, the French armies continue to act alongside the local population in the context of Operation Barkhane, in particular through the action of the health service. These actions are essential for building a relationship of trust with the populations.

Nevertheless, a difficulty and a challenge are emerging. The difficulty is due to the hardening of operations and the increase in risks, which have led us to strengthen the protection of soldiers and equipment in a completely normal way. Some 15 years ago, we readily denounced the attitude of the American forces in Iraq because they were cut off from the population and withdrawn behind several layers of armour. We came to the same conclusion and reinforced that armour for the safety of our soldiers. We had no choice.

However, these constraints make it more difficult to have contact with the population. They require us to develop new modes of action in order to overcome the over-protected warrior's initial approach to these populations. Previously natural, proximity must be the subject of a special effort to remain a military capability in its own right.

Finally, the challenge is the following: military action must be part of a broader context of security and development, in conjunction with local institutions and the many forces at work on the ground (international donors, NGOs, other civilian partners). At the end of the year, in Mali, at the invitation of General Bosser, I was able to meet with several officials and General Blachon told us about the difficulty of the situation. to navigate between different lines of operations that are intertwined, succeed one another and take place in distinct spaces and durations.

The link between military action and development policy was also strongly emphasised at a very recent hearing with Mr Rémy Rioux, Director General of the French Development Agency. This is the first hearing of such a person responsible for action in favour of development before our committee and the exchanges were very fruitful.

No one disputes the urgent need to combine military action and the development programme, in order to support the States, which are often bankrupt, in their efforts to emerge from the crisis. While in the past we tended to consider that military action was sufficient, let us not fall into the opposite trap. Yes to the development effort, no to its exclusivity. Military action is essential to the establishment of a robust and lasting peace. The President of the Republic recalled this. Action for development is just as necessary, as is the analysis of situations, risks and weaknesses in a region, which has also led us to strengthen, in the strategic review, the means given in the strategic function of anticipation.

These three actions (defence, development, diplomacy) must complement, enrich and coordinate each other, within the same strategy, with the same ambition and the same interests - those of our country. They must do so here, in Paris, but also in all theatres of intervention.

These are the questions that we will have to reflect on and develop within the National Defence Commission of the Armed Forces, which has just created a fact-finding mission on the continuum from security to development. I think we will have to provide opinions and clarifications on this French policy.

Title : Opening Remarks
Author (s) : M. le Député Jean-Jacques BRIDEY, Pdt de la commission de la Défense nationale et des forces armées de l’Assemblée nationale