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Home » France Prepares for Naval Warfare Against an Enemy That ‘Wants to Destroy Us’

France Prepares for Naval Warfare Against an Enemy That ‘Wants to Destroy Us’

by Timothy Johnston
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“Naval combat is becoming increasingly likely,” French rear admiral tells POLITICO in an exclusive interview.

The French navy is shifting its training away from a focus on policing operations to gird for war against foes who want “to destroy us,” says Rear Admiral Jacques Mallard, the commander of France’s carrier battle group.

When he joined the armed forces in the 1990s, the French navy’s main missions were to intercept drug traffickers and fight illegal fishing. Training consisted of practicing how to launch Zodiac inflatable boats and catching criminals.

Now, training focuses on war, Mallard said.

“Naval combat is becoming increasingly likely,” he told POLITICO. “We’re moving from a world where we were pretty free to do as we pleased to one where we feel threatened on a more regular basis … We now train for other missions, in particular what we call high-intensity warfare.”

France is the only EU country operating a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier — the Charles de Gaulle, which also carries nuclear weapons. It is the flagship of a wider carrier battle group that includes nuclear submarines, frigates and Rafale fighter jets.

France’s carrier battle group is expected to start a mission in the Mediterranean Sea in the coming days.

With Russia’s war against Ukraine also spilling into the Black Sea and Iran-backed Houthi rebels relentlessly attacking warships and commercial vessels in the Red Sea, Western navies have to adapt to a new environment with “increasingly uninhibited competitors,” Mallard said.

“That’s where we become a little more aggressive, or at least, we prepare to be,” the rear admiral continued.

Sailors practice fighting against “someone who wants to destroy us. Not someone who wants to do illegal trafficking, not someone who wants to steal fish, not someone who wants to watch or observe us: someone who wants to destroy us,” he said.

In 2021, the French navy introduced a new Polaris training exercise that simulates a naval battle. The idea is to put crews and vessels into free-flowing combat situations that “frees up all the rules to develop the imagination of sailors and fighters.”

“It’s a bit more risky but it’s very useful to disinhibit tactical thinking,” Mallard said. In the spring, the French navy will conduct a Polaris-type exercise with the Italian fleet.

Although France is preparing for high-intensity warfare at sea, Paris doesn’t see China as an immediate threat — whereas the United States does.

China has a “rather restrictive vision” of freedom of navigation and decided to focus its efforts on controlling the South China Sea, Mallard said, adding that French diplomats and politicians regularly call out China’s attempts to “destabilize the U.S.-led world order.”

But “France does not position itself in a bipolar logic,” he said.

“As long as the Chinese haven’t invaded the island of La Réunion or decided to kick us off the island of Mayotte, there’s no reason to single out the Chinese as our main adversary,” he said, referring to French Indian Ocean island territories.

Source: Politico

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