French military equipment falling apart
Chirac has left France with a week hand. No wonder he was not up to joining a coalition in Iraq. This is what happens when socialist trade national security for pay raises and pensions. I think this is what Obama has in mind for the US with his unilateral disarmament.
According to confidential defence documents leaked to the French press, less than half of France's Leclerc tanks – 142 out of 346 – are operational and even these regularly break down.
Less than half of its Puma helicopters, 37 per cent of its Lynx choppers and 33 per cent of its Super Frelon models – built 40 years ago – are in a fit state to fly, according to documents seen by Le Parisien newspaper.
Two thirds of France's Mirage F1 reconnaissance jets are unusable at present.
According to army officials, the precarious state of France's defence equipment almost led to catastrophe in April, when French special forces rescued the passengers and crew of a luxury yacht held by pirates off the Somali coast.
Although ultimately a success, the rescue operation nearly foundered at an early stage, when two of the frigates carrying troops suffered engine failure, and a launch laden with special forces' equipment sunk under its weight.
Later, an Atlantic 2 jet tracking the pirates above Somali territory suffered engine failure and had to make an emergency landing in Yemen.
"External operations, in the Ivory Coast and Lebanon are a fig leaf: we are able to keep up the pretence but in ten years our defence apparatus will fall apart," one high-ranking official said.
The disclosure comes just ten days before President Nicolas Sarkozy announces a major reform of the armed forces, with a defence white paper outlining France's military priorities for the next 15 years.
He is expected to argue that the situation can only improve by reducing the number of France's operational troops from 50,000 to 30,000, and its fighter aircraft, as well as closing military bases.
He will also use the occasion to push for greater military integration in Europe, an issue that France will highlight when it takes over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in July.