France has acquired up to 1,515 AGM-114R2 Hellfire missiles and supplementary equipment for $203m (€184.7m) under a foreign military sales agreement with the US Department of Defense (DoD).

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on 7 July 2023.

The AGM-114 Hellfire II is an air-to-ground missile developed primarily for the anti-armour role. It is a combat-proven tactical missile system using multiple launch platforms based on air, sea and ground. The missile system provides heavy anti-armour capability for attack helicopters. It is a 100lb air-to-ground precision weapon delivering multi-target capability and precision strike lethality. The Hellfire II missile is in service with the armed forces of the US and 16 other nations.

France’s motivations

The DSCA press releases states: “This… sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Nato ally that is an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s energy deprivation of the rest of Europe – has exposed the vulnerabilities of the continent since the invasion began in February 2022.

Since then, Europe has mobilised its sleepy defence industry and France is no exception. European countries are attempting to modernise, acquire and strengthen their defence capabilities – especially their air defences.

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However, France has often been the outlier to common defence efforts. The country complains that America’s defence industrial base dominates Europe’s defence, where American products and equipment have come into standard European use.

The US has already recently established an integration laboratory in Poland and set-up another F-35 fuselage factory in Germany in the past month alone.

France neglects Sky Shield, but procures American missiles

American influence is the main reason France has held back from joining the German-led Sky Shield air defence initiative, which began in October last year. On 19 June, at a European defence meeting held in Paris, the French President Emmanuel Macron argued that France did not join the German initiative as it would work against its commercial interests: it manufactures the SAMP/T medium-range system in co-operation with Italy.

Paris claims that Sky Shield favours not only German but also non-European technologies (specifically US and Israeli). Macron’s speech at the meeting revealed France’s different view on the development of air defence capabilities in Europe. Nonetheless, the French government has continued to reach out to the US DoD to procure the American prime, Lockheed Martin’s Hellfire missiles. This follows Poland’s procurement of the same missiles earlier in March. Poland is strategically close to the US and is open to acquiring US technologies, yet, it should be noted, the country has not joined Sky Shield either.