Lorraine successfully fires an Aster 30 anti-aircraft missile on March 24, 2023. (Marine nationale via French Armed Forces)

PARIS — France’s top defense official warned industry that he’s prepared to requisition “personnel, stocks or production tools” from his nation’s defense industries and their subcontractors if weapons production rates are not improved.

Sébastien Lecornu, France’s minister for the armed forces, said Tuesday that unless industry can “produce more and faster” then he was not ruling out “in the next few weeks” moving ahead with such a plan nor would he hesitate to use the ministry’s “powers of policing” to force subcontractors to prioritize their defense clients over civilian contracts.

He said he was “expecting some effort from industrialists.”

“They are no longer [state-held] armories, they are companies. Nevertheless, they are companies like no others. For the first time, I’m not ruling out the idea of using what the law allows the minister and the delegate general for armament from doing,” Lecornu said. “That is to say that if their performance concerning production speeds and lead times are unsatisfactory, then to undertake requisitions if need be.”

RELATED: France earmarks Caesar guns for Kyiv under ‘Artillery for Ukraine’ framework

Lecornu, surrounded by the chiefs of staff of the armed forces and Emmanuel Chiva, the delegate general for armament, was addressing journalists at a press conference to reveal the first results of the war economy called for by President Emmanuel Macron at the Eurosatory land and air-land exhibition in June 2022. Namely, defense officials found the war economy wanting.

To justify potential requisitions, the ministry has the 2024-30 military program law to lean on. The law says that in case of “threats, actual or foreseeable, on the activities essential to the life of the Nation, to the protection of the population, to the integrity of the territory or to the permanence of the Republic’s institutions or of a nature to justify the establishment of the State’s international defense engagements, the requisition of all persons, physical or moral, and of all the goods and services necessary to counter [the threat] can be decided by decree taken by the Council of Ministers.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Lecornu insisted that the major defense industries keep a greater amount of stocks.

“If production rates are sometimes too slow it’s because there is a temptation to work on a just-in-time basis and to not have enough stocks of raw materials or components so as to avoid immobilizing treasury to constitute these stocks,” Lecornu explained. “But, after two years of war in Ukraine it is unthinkable for our defense industry to not continue with its transformation.”

RELATED: France gets youngest-ever defense chief in 35-year-old Sebastien Lecornu

Lecornu said the production of munitions were the primary concern, and singled out MBDA as his primary target for delays in the delivery of long-range Aster missiles.

He noted that because of the attacks by Yemeni rebels against ships in the Red Sea, the French Navy has already fired 22 Aster missiles, which has put the navy’s stocks “under tension” although the precise numbers of missiles left is a well-kept secret.

He insisted that delivery times be speeded up. MBDA will have to deliver the 300 Mistral ground-to-air missiles worth €150 million ($162 million USD) this summer instead of in early 2025 as originally scheduled, Lecornu said. The 200 long-range Aster missiles worth €900 million ($973 million USD) ordered in January 2023 will have to be delivered in the second semester this year instead of in 2026, as originally planned.

“For MBDA’s subcontractors on the Aster missile the question is perfectly legitimate of prioritizing the military order over a civilian one,” he stressed.

A spokesperson for MBDA told Breaking Defense in a telephone interview, “We see Lecornu’s remarks in a very good light, notably his insistence on prioritizing the military customer.

But another industry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “it’s going to be really complex to get this to trickle down to subcontractors.” He explained that if the subcontractor’s military client only represents 1 percent of the production, then it may cost them to make this 1 percent a priority over the 99 percent of the civilian clients.

In addition, Lecornu said he is expecting that Nexter produce 55,000 150mm shells worth €600 million ($649 million USD) for the Caesar truck-mounted gun this summer instead of over the next few years, and that Safran deliver 600 guided AASM (also known as HAMMER for Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) air-to-surface bombs in 2024 and 1,200 more in 2025. These bombs can be fired from the Ukrainian air force MiG-29s and Sukhois.

The minister admitted that the state had its share of responsibility in the difficulties French industrialists are confronting to produce and deliver more quickly because of the drop in the defense budget in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“The loss of industrial muscle is very quick when credits are cut but take longer to build up again,” he remarked. However, the situation is now very different with the DGA procurement agency moving from a spending average of €9.5 billion ($10.3 billion USD) between 2012 and 2016 to €15 billion ($16.2 billion USD) between 2017 and 2022 to reach €20 billion ($21.7 billion USD) in 2023.

But apart from the urgency of delivering equipment to Ukraine, Lecornu said another reason for stricter protocols for French industrialists was the increased competition on the export market.

“We’ve lost some contracts notably with potential clients in Eastern Europe,” he remarked, adding that “these contracts were not won by French industry because their delivery times were too slow compared to what the competition was offering. This is a warning for all of us. We now have clients who are in a hurry.”

Lecornu said that France, Denmark and Ukraine would finance another 78 Caesars, made by Nexter and Arquus, for Kiev to be delivered by the end of this year. In January, France could only finance 12 and Ukraine six. He added that France has already delivered 30,000 shells to Ukraine and is aiming to produce 100,000 in 2024, of which 80,000 will be sent to Ukraine and the remaining 20,000 will be for France.

Eurenco, which makes the gunpowder used in munitions, is rebuilding a modern production facility in Bergerac in central France after its 92-year old factory there was closed in 2007, forcing France to import gunpowder from northern Europe.