Education: Ecole Nationale Superieur de l'Aeronautique et de l'Espace
Career: Started with DGA in Bordeaux in 1974 as an armaments engineer, working his way through a number of program management positions and serving as adviser to former French Defense Minister Andre Giraud. In 2001, became deputy director of DGA, and later represented France at l'Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation en Matiere d'Armement (Occar). In 2006, worked for Alcatel as a defense consultant before being appointed to lead DGA in 2008.
Five months after France intervened against Islamist rebels in Mali—and only one month since President Francois Hollande issued an updated national security strategy in the new Livre Blanc, or White Book—Laurent Collet-Billon is helping put the finishing touches on a forthcoming military program law, or LPM, that will set French defense spending through 2019. With €179 billion ($233 billion) over the next six years, the plan means Collet-Billon, head of the French procurement agency DGA, has less money to continue investments in the nation's core defense technologies—aeronautics, nuclear deterrence and electronics—while maintaining R&D spending at levels necessary to retain high-tech skills that give French industry a competitive edge. Collet-Billon spoke with AW&ST Paris Bureau Chief Amy Svitak last week at the DGA headquarters outside of Paris.
AW&ST: What changes do you anticipate to the LPM?
Collet-Billon: Budget constraint was a major driver of the new White Book on defense and national security, and for the subsequent LPM. Because we intend to maintain critical skills and a high level of competence in our industrial sectors, as well as our nuclear deterrence, we have to be clever. It is the choice of President Hollande and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that our research and development budget remain strong over the course of the LPM. So while we will decrease the total quantity of [hardware] we produce, we will not decrease the number of armament programs. That means we have nearly 15 programs that will end during the LPM, and we are introducing 15-20 new programs now, across all defense sectors.
How do you see the French air force Mirage and Rafale fleets evolving?
The Mirage F1 and the SEM (Super Etendard Modernis) will be withdrawn from service by 2020, after which Rafale will be operated together with a life-extended Mirage 2000-5 and retrofitted M2000D to meet the operational requirements as newly defined by the Livre Blanc. The next step will be in 2030, when the M2000-5/N/D is scheduled to be withdrawn from the combat aircraft fleet. For now, we want to use the M2000D efficiently. Air superiority is needed, but that is not the job of the Mirage 2000D today. We want to make it a multipurpose aircraft. For Rafale, we have the F3 standard. Then the F3R will enter a four-year development stage, beginning early next year. One of the main priorities involves development and integration of a new-generation targeting pod. This standard maintains cutting-edge penetration capabilities, including full integration of the Meteor missile, and it maintains the industrial skills we will need to upgrade and operate Rafale in the longer term.