Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 18:06 UK

French and UK forces compared

French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (file picture)
Although of similar sizes, the French and British forces have functioned differently up till now

Following the French defence review of its armed forces, BBC News compares the country's military capabilities with that of the UK as the two biggest military powers in Europe.

Broadly speaking, British and French defence forces are comparable in size, although France's military was the biggest in the European Union until it announced drastic defence jobs cuts on Tuesday.

French military forces will be 224,000-strong (post-reform) against 180,000 in the UK (2007 figures).

Both countries spend about 2.5% of GDP on military expenditures.

The two countries have roughly the same number of fighter aircraft (in inventory): 315 in the UK; 353 in France (2007 figures).

The UK have three aircraft carriers, including one in reserve, while France has one operational carrier, and another one is planned, although the decision to go ahead with its construction has been put off until 2011-2012.

The last comprehensive defence review in the UK was in 1998, but there have been a number of "tweaks" since that time, to take into account the implications of events such as the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Radical reform

The main difference between the two forces has been in terms of how they operate.

The UK has a higher proportion of deployable combat-ready troops, whereas there seemed to be more flab in the French forces if the size of the cuts is anything to go by, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams.


French Defence Minister Herve Morin points that even if similar, 60% of the French military's human resources are dedicated to "general administration and support" and 40% to operational forces.

The UK, "the only army we can compare ourselves to", has the reverse ratio, he wrote in Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday.

"The UK is the benchmark of Europe for expeditionary forces... and the French want to close the gap," Bastian Giegerich of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told the BBC News website.

This is a model the French armed forces have aspired to since their last reform in 1994, he says.

With the wide-ranging reform announced on Tuesday, they want to create a closer link between defence and homeland security - something the UK has already implemented with the national strategy announced a few months ago, he adds.

This is part of an ongoing trend which has been in evidence in several countries since the 9/11 attacks, and which aims to introduce flexibility to deal with situations at home and abroad.

In some ways, the French move to reform is a very radical one in what it proposes to do and the cuts it is making, our correspondent adds.

Also for the first time, French military strategy is not going to be based on the possibility of a major war taking place.

"There is a very strong emphasis on intelligence, recognising that the world may not be more dangerous than it was in 1994 [...], but it seems more unpredictable," said Bruno Tertrais, a member of the expert panel who wrote the French review.

"For the first time in centuries, France does not base its defence policy on the hypothesis of a major military conflict in Europe and that is quite revolutionary," he said.

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