The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre, is the land-based component of the French Armed Forces and its largest. As of 2008, the army employs 133,947 regular soldiers and 24,000 civilians. Giving it a total of 157,947 active troops. All soldiers are now considered professionals, following the suspension of conscription voted in parliament in 1997 and effective as of 2001. Just like the Armée de l’Air, the Marine Nationale and the Gendarmerie Nationale it is placed under the responsibility of the French government. The current Chief of Staff of the French Army (CEMAT) is general Elrick Irastorza.
During the professionalisation process, numbers dropped from the 1996 236,000 (132,000 conscripts) to around 140,000. By June 1999, the Army’s strength had dropped to 186,000, including around 70,000 conscripts. 38 of 129 regiments were planned to be stood down from 1997-99. The previous structure’s nine ‘small’ divisions and sundry separate combat and combat support brigades were replaced by nine combat and four combat support brigades.
During the Cold War, the French Army, though not part of NATO’s military command structure, actively planned for the defence of Western Europe. II Corps (France) was stationed in South Germany, and effectively formed a reserve for NATO’s Central Army Group. In the 1980s, III Corps headquarters was moved to Lille and planning started for its use in support of NATO’s Northern Army Group. The Rapid Action Force of five light divisions was also intended as a NATO reinforcement force.
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