A fictitious war, but a real test for French troops
Last week, France launched Orion 23, a months-long military exercise involving thousands of soldiers, naval and land vehicles, aircraft and an aircraft carrier. The joint military exercise has been in the works since 2020, but Orion 23 has grown bigger, more ambitious and diverse, and has attracted France’s key ally as Western powers learn the lessons of the Ukraine war.
The southern French town of Frontignan was packed with amphibious military vessels before 5 a.m. on Sunday morning log in On its beaches, unleashed hundreds of soldiers and tons of equipment.
“It’s definitely a French military landing, which is reassuring now,” said one resident on an early morning walk. “It creates a weird vibe, and we don’t want that to happen too often,” another laughs nervously.
The inhabitants of Frontignan fear nothing. The landing in the Mediterranean town was just part of France’s largest military exercise in decades, involving some 12,000 troops, including from NATO allies, being carried out across the country.
The joint exercise, called Orion 23, comes as the war in Ukraine enters its second year and the West has learned a sobering lesson in military readiness after decades of defense cuts following the end of the Cold War.
The military drills, which have been underway since 2020, expanded following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year.
“The conflict in Ukraine has taught us about high-intensity warfare,” which is “the full scope of modern warfare,” explained Joint Exercise Commander Gen. Nicholas Leenen.
From counter-jihad operations to full-scale operations
After months of revisions to the original plan, Orion 23 was officially launched over the weekend, with a massive airborne operation in the Tarn region of southern France on Saturday, followed by 700 troops and 150 troops in Frontignan on Sunday. Amphibious landing of vehicles.
#ORION23 | Objectif: sécuriser un point d’entrée sur le théâtre d’opérations.
Des A400M @Armee_de_lair Ont largué plusieurs centaines de parachutistes @11eBP : une opération aéroportée pour débuter cet exercise interarmées d’envergure inédite. pic.twitter.com/rht3vc2i7C
— Armée française – Military Operations (@EtatMajorFR) February 25, 2023
“The last amphibious operation France carried out was the evacuation of French nationals in Yemen in 2015, and before that in Côte d’Ivoire in 2012,” recalled Lieutenant Douy, the officer in charge of the fleet mobilized on Sunday.
After more than two decades of focusing on counter-jihadist operations, the French military has expanded the scope of the drills to include large-scale conflicts. For French soldiers, the last time an operation took place on a real battlefield dates back to “Operation Jackal” in 2013, when the French army launched a mission to drive Islamist militants from northern Mali.
“This kind of preparation is absolutely necessary, and I hope it will be replicated in the future so that we can regain the expertise to manage large joint forces, as we have been focused on narrow operations in tight spaces with relatively limited means for the past twenty years years,” General Vincent Desportes explained in an interview with the FRANCE 24 sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI).
Multiple threats in the fictional “Arnland” and “Mercure”
For a weekend of military exercises, French troops land in “Arnland” – a fictional allied country – which is under attack from its imaginary neighbor “Mercure”.
Mercure is the imaginary enemy whose military and geostrategic ambitions may sound familiar to those who have followed the news over the past 12 months: Mercure is trying to destabilize southern Arnland by funding separatist militias establish its regional dominance. It has deployed conventional military forces to neighboring countries, cut off communications and launched disinformation campaigns.
Weakened and on the verge of collapse, Arnlan has turned to his allies for help.
Capt. Olivier of Cyber Command explained that during the exercise, the cyber attack will also test the force’s response. On a simulated social network, “we craft narratives so we don’t let our opponent’s narrative dominate”.
Across land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, the training scenarios are designed to address multiple threat responses in what French President Emmanuel Macron has described as a “new era” of increasingly hybrid warfare.
“Challenge of the Century”
Orion 23 A few weeks ago, Macron unveiled his vision for modernizing the French military, increasing defense spending to 413 billion euros ($446 billion) between 2024 and 2030 — up from the 295 billion allocated in the previous budget EUR.
“France has and will have an army to meet the challenges of this century,” Macron said in a New Year’s address to troops at the Mont-de-Marsan air base in southwestern France.
🔴🇫🇷 “The country must reform the military […] Get ready for more brutal and more wars,” Macron said.
Macron says he intends to set aside more than 400 billion euros for #FranceArmed Forces 2024-2030, grow 30% ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/aaafhm7QlJ
— France 24 English (@France24_en) January 20, 2023
The French government’s ambition is to modernize the armed forces and replenish its ammunition stockpiles, which according to a report have reached “worrisome” levels in the event of high-intensity conflict parliamentary report Published February 17.
The report by the National Assembly, the lower house defense and armed forces committee, issued a stark warning about a problem that stands out in the war in Ukraine. “Since the end of the Cold War, the supply of ammunition to the French army has been in decline, and it appears to have become unsustainable, both in terms of current strategy and France’s military ambitions,” legislators Vincent Bleu and Julien Langou said. Er wrote.
But the latest military maneuver lacks neither ambition nor resources. Orion 23, with an estimated cost of €35 million, is being undertaken on an unprecedented scale.
The exercise involved personnel from a range of European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the United States.
war games in progress in four stages in the next few months. The weekend’s maneuvers are part of a second phase of operations following the first phase of planning, with French forces conducting military exercises in the Massif de la Gardiole region, north of Frontignan, until March 11.
The third civil-military phase focuses on civilian support operations in support of the Armed Forces in the event of major engagements (medical and transport services, etc.), reserves and information warfare until the end of March.
The climax of the exercise is expected to come in late April to early May in the north-east of France. A total of about 12,000 soldiers were deployed on the ground and in the air to repel the high-intensity air-land invasion of “Arnland” by the “Mercure”.
The exercise, set to end in May, should eventually involve 2,300 vehicles, 40 helicopters, about 100 drones and 30 naval ships, including the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
This article is a translation of the original French text.