“The adaptability, flexibility and versatility of land forces can be applied to diverse theaters and situations. The complexity, unpredictability and intermingling sought most often by hybrid adversaries require situational awareness, reversible maneuvers and the ability to discriminate. The capacity of land forces to impose their tempo on the adversary, synchronize their operations and work within the timeframe determined, directly influences the ability of a joint force to resolve crises.”
The above quote will ring true to readers familiar with the U.S. Army Operating Concept Win in a Complex World. But it is taken from FT-03, Employment of Land Forces in Joint Operations, the last volume in the French army’s five-part doctrinal corpus of capstone doctrine documents.By critically analyzing the French army’s warfighting past, one can identify operational success factors and be better prepared to look to the future.Identify Conflict, AdversariesAs outlined in the 2013 French White Paper on Defense and National Security, the French army adheres to an “operational contract” that mandates contribution toward the protection of the national territory and French citizens, plus three types of overseas operations: autonomous operations, such as “evacuation of French or European nationals, counterterrorism operations or in response to attacks”; “operations as part of a coalition … in which France may take the initiative and command or in which it will exercise a dominant influence”; and coalition operations “in which France will make a contribution, but where command is entrusted to an allied nation, most commonly the United States.” This is consistent with the structure of both past and current operations.Since 1978, the French army has been engaged in continual active operations. During these 37 years, these operations focused primarily on the Mediterranean basin (Lebanon, the Balkans), Afghanistan and zones in Africa. Until the beginning of the French army’s professionalization in 1996, only part of the French Armed Forces was involved in this overseas commitment before it progressively extended to all units. We can draw a few trends from these operations:n Most frequently, our adversaries have been armed, nonstate actors capable of changing face and showing no respect for international laws, thereby constituting a patchwork of ethno-nationalist militias and hybrid entities. These are manned by terrorists, bandits, “young patriots” and military deserters, usually at the orders of savage warlords (currently pledging allegiance to the jihadist movement).- Involved in a diverse range of contexts and simultaneous joint engagements, French land forces have fought in areas and conflicts as diverse in their setting (urban, desert or mountainous areas) as the political-military framework and the courses of action to be implemented. Given the simultaneous nature of these campaigns, the same brigade or even the same regiment could have been projected onto two completely different theaters from one year to the next. As time has passed, this experience has consolidated our expeditionary culture, the strong adaptability of French soldiers and our commanders’ flair for contextualizing situations, thereby forging a link between tactical action and political-strategic objectives.- With ever shrinking windows for mission accomplishment set by political leaders and the media, military commanders have been forced to achieve rapid results. While situation development would have normally taken place over longer periods, decisive action is indispensable for understanding and reacting in the midst of complex societies as well as helping weakened local armed forces get back on their feet. France’s engagements in civil wars in the Balkans and Ivory Coast, plus the war in Afghanistan, have spanned more than a decade.Build on Existing CapabilitiesCurrently, French military analysis highlights a fourfold expansion in the operational environment:- Geographical expansion of action zones (Saharo-Sahelian Africa).- Larger-scale combat within immaterial domains (cyberspace, influence operations).- An increasing number of military players with whom to interact.- An extension in warfighting from our adversaries, particularly the case with the nebulous, jihadist-inspired terrorists who are more capable of territorial conquest by waging techno-guerrilla warfare—an increasingly “capable and elusive” threat, to borrow an expression from the U.S. Army Operating Concept.For land forces, these factors present several challenges:- Gaining a rapid understanding of an intrinsically complex human setting while knowing how to operate in vast, impossible-to-control areas. Over the course of 2014, French land forces had to simultaneously deploy to reduce tensions in Bangui in the Central African Republic as well as take part alongside special forces in a vast campaign against armed terrorist groups in the Sahel, spanning five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad).- Mastering operational tempo across its three dimensions: speed, synchronization and duration.- Striking the right balance between basic combat tasks necessary in austere environments and the use of advanced technology.- Proving effective while complying with legal, ethical and force-control imperatives when confronted with adversaries who have scant regard for such standards.- Operating alongside allies and partners who adhere to very different standards—notably in Africa.Make Operations SuccessfulAccording to our analysis, the success factors for a land component can be summarized in this extract from FT-03:- Unity of command, information control, subsidiarity and coherence in force organization.- Agility: combination of initiative, responsiveness and adaptability.- Favorable relative combat power based on the dynamic combination of combined arms warfighting functions in the context of joint effects.- The morale and the ability to operate in all physical and human environments, including under degraded conditions in the long term if necessary.- Logistical self-sufficiency.- Ability to assess and understand the situation while acting in the field of perceptions.- Ability to hand over the stabilization mission to other forces (allies, U.N., host country and so on) as soon as the situation allows, supporting them if necessary (training, military assistance, intelligence, logistics, rapid response force).We need to play to our strengths. First, our responsiveness made a 2013 quick-reaction force deployment to Mali possible over a two-week period and the deployment of 10,000 troops on the French homeland in less than a week following the attack against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office this past January. France currently maintains a national emergency echelon system that includes 5,000 troops deployable under several echelons of mounting urgency within 10 days. Its land component relies on the Guépard alert system and prepositioned forces overseas, including Africa.On the ground, success stems primarily from the units’ adaptability but also from high-quality, battle-proven training. Commanders and troops in contact deal with a diverse range of populations and adversaries. These actors, plus the command structure itself from the battlegroup command to team levels, need to be adaptable throughout the course of a mandate while simultaneously integrating the strengths of joint effects.Finally, operational logistics need to achieve real feats and procedures dedicated to increasing freedom of action. During the war in Libya, our attack helicopter pilots followed doctrine and procedures that granted them considerable freedom of action in order to hunt and destroy fleeting targets within kill boxes at night. French army helicopters destroyed more than 600 targets.As in the U.S. Army, the French army’s senior leaders believe that one of the keys to this adaptability lies in officer and NCO development. Decentralized command requires mindsets capable of handling extreme friction and complexity, both of which are inherent in the nature of war. It is necessary to encourage cultural awareness through stimulating intellectual attributes—quick-thinking analytic capabilities and the ability to seize initiative—as well as character qualities (morals), courage, tenacity and a flair for taking risks.Look Toward the FutureNow more than ever, from a French perspective, French security actions at home and abroad are strongly linked, as are forward defense actions. They are carried out not only in our operations overseas but also in protecting our citizens in our homeland. With the current development of a new model for the two coming decades, the French army will emphasize its role protecting the national territory. Nonetheless, this is not the sole reason for this renovation. In broader terms, this model for the future aims to:- Renew the French army’s strategic potential by balancing its participation and visibility in the fields of non-nuclear deterrence, protection, prevention and intervention. The French army should bolster its capability and its visibility across three fields of action: special operations, conventional air-land combat operations and homeland defense operations (including French territories).- Simplify the chain of command, particularly through redefining the French army’s governance and architecture and decentralizing its combat training oversight.n Adjust its capabilities by enhancing some capabilities (special forces, aviation-specific missions and airmobile courses of action, intelligence, command and logistics) while reinforcing the core warfighting functions (infantry, armor, combat engineering and fire coordination).All of these should become better integrated with the arrival of the equipment modernization program, Scorpion. The program is bound to have a profound effect on the new French army model for the next 20 years, renewing land forces’ primary capabilities in combat and promoting better information sharing thanks to a unique and very simple information technology system.In his Introduction to Complex Thought, French philosopher Edgar Morin reminds us that the word complexity stems from complexus: that which is fused together. Furthermore, Morin asserts that the problem we sometimes have in the West is that we are too accustomed to separating things. We need to better learn how to draw links and contextualize.The French army has had to face complex ground action in the midst of indigenous populations for several years while simultaneously adapting to new forms of conflict. Our army is now seeking to capitalize on this experience while also updating the French army model. The aim is to operate in a complex world alongside its allies—and with the United States of America in particular.