Major General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin
French Special Operations Command
Major General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin was born in Paris in 1961 and joined the French Military Academy of Saint Cyr in 1981. He chose to serve within the French “Troupes de marine.”
His carrier path is punctuated of various assignments within prestigious Airborne Marine infantry regiments (3rd RPIMa, 1st RPIMa) and overseas postings such as 2nd RPIMa (Reunion Island) and Rwanda (1992-1994).
Upon graduation from the French War College in 1998, he assumed the duties of 1st RPIMa’s operations officer. Promoted to colonel in 2003, he was given command of that same regiment a year later, after having been posted in Senegal during two years as head of the Operations Division in the Joint Staff.
De Saint Quentin joined the Prospective Studies Division in the Army General Staff in Paris in 2006, where he participated in the various working groups dedicated to the Army Strategic and
Organizational Review. He graduated from the Center of High Military Studies (CHEM) and Institute for National Defense High Studies (IHEDN) in 2009 and held the position of Chief J5 of the Joint Operations and Planning Center (CPCO) in Paris.
De Saint-Quentin was promoted brigadier general in 2011 and appointed as regional commander of the French Forces in Senegal. As such, he is given command of the “Serval” operation in Mali on January 11, 2013.
On August 1, 2013, he assumed command of French Special Operations and the French Special Operations Command (C.O.S.), AFB 107, in Villacoublay. In 2014, he is appointed major general.
Decorations include Commander of both the Legion d’Honneur and the Ordre National du Merite, Croix de la Valeur Militaire with six quotations. De Saint-Quentin has been awarded the Bronze Star (U.S.) and various other awards.
Q: Could you explain the organization structure and authorities that your command works within? With all of your mission responsibilities, are you staffed at the right levels? Does the command need to become bigger or smaller to be more efficient?
de Saint-Quentin: The general officer in charge of the Special Operations is under the direct command of the French CHOD. Working at the strategic level, he is supported by the Special Operations Headquarters (French SOCOM) where the overall Special Operations Forces (Air Force, Navy and Army) are federated and represented. French SOCOM prepares specific SOF plans, courses of action (CoA). It also ensures the deployed SOF command and control. Simultaneously, it maintains the closest relationship within the inter-agencies and international areas.
The 2013 “Livre Blanc” brought-out the decision to reinforce the special operations capabilities by increasing the SOF operators number, including the headquarters, enabling them to cope with the recent increase of French SOF commitments abroad.
Nevertheless, French SOCOM remains a light structure, coherent with the French SOF laydown. One requirement remains with the safeguarding of a strong and reactive C2 chain, able to manage the French Special Operations within a short decisional loop, and always maintaining an ops momentum which gives us the initiative facing complex and impervious adversaries.
Q: How is your budget arranged (do you have your own procurement and research and development budgets for example)? Do the services (Army, Navy and Air Force) assume some responsibility for equipping their forces with your command providing the specialized equipment for their specific missions?
de Saint-Quentin: Equipment, recruitment, education and training, remain the responsibilities of the three services. French SOCOM is responsible to make sure that these forces are together full interoperable and that their equipment is coherent. In addition, French SOCOM R&D Branch works in coordination with the SOF three services on some common system developments.
French SOCOM also works in close coordination with DGA (French Ministry of Defense Procurement Agency) on the equipment major programs. Moreover, it builds up the reactive acquisition processes enabling it to respond in a short time to some the specific needs that could come-up from the operation theaters.
Q: How does your budget for the current year compare to the previous year and what are you expecting for next budget cycle?
de Saint-Quentin: The established budget with special operations has been in constant rise for four years, in particular with the development and acquisition integration of new equipment not specifically belonging to the SOF but that makes a fundamental contribution to special operations, as for example the UAVs program.
Beyond this comment is the interest of the business model profitability, since, should the Special Forces need cutting-edge technologies and equipment, their defense budget share remains modest in comparison with their level of employment.
Q: Do French special forces have a role in domestic security? Can you provide some examples?
de Saint-Quentin: In France, the role of the armed forces is mainly to serve on the external theaters of operations. However, the armed forces can also be deployed over the national territory and following the terrorist attacks in Paris, they had to deploy a sensitive sites major safety plan of action.
In terms of homeland counter-terrorism, SOF dedicate a transportation helicopter squadron at the disposal of the Ministry of Interior intervention units, which do not own any of these assets on their own. In the same way, the Navy SOF are now prepared to act as maritime counter-terrorism specialists in the vicinity of the national coast since the Ministry of Interior doesn’t have any equivalent capability.
Q: What does the SOF Global network mean to you and French special operations forces?
de Saint-Quentin: It is always necessary to adapt to your adversary. There is one thing I want to make perfectly clear, and in doing so I am following on from what General [Stanley] McChrystal said when he evoked the need for fighting a network, you need to be organized in network.
It is even truer today while facing a trans-regional adversary which demands to a comprehensive approach, initially by the sharing of our visions of the situation. This current trend is positively contributing to the dynamic of operations.
Q: Can you give some tangible examples of how you collaborate and partner with other allied special forces to increase interoperability and be able to operate in the same battlespace with a partner?
de Saint-Quentin: From a simple advice up to a joint commitment on the ground under the enemy fires, there do exist a great range of possible partnership actions, and the French Special Operations Forces are capable to be engaged overall the full spectrum of actions. Whatever the partnership type, the key-point to get positive results is that each one knows the limitations of its partner before engaging in a collaboration, and that the shared goals are fully identified.
Q: What are some of the technology areas (types of equipment/gear) are you particularly interested in?
de Saint-Quentin: French SOCOM currently works on several projects which are significant for the success of its operations. It is obviously a question of continuing to follow all the innovations to keep our technological edge within the framework of the night combat: complementarity of sensors, reduction of devices, etc. In the same way, all that contributes to the acceleration of the decision process enabling a centralization of the information and a decentralization of the action, is crucial.
In this direction, the connectivity and the coordination in network of all actors are fundamental. Thus we must develop without delay some command and information systems dedicated to the Special Forces. We must also monitor as closely as possible what the digital revolution, in which our companies have been committed for a few years, can bring into the control of a special operations both within that it can offer through innovating courses of actions, and in terms of reducing our footprint.
In a more concrete way, we work to enable in the short run the armament of our C-130 (missiles and C4ISTAR). We also follow very closely the evolutions in the domain of UAVs. If the MALE (medium altitude long endurance) unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) became an essential tool, the micro-UAVs should also take a primary role.
Furthermore, SOF air-mobility constitutes a major challenge, in particular on the helicopters segment.
Lastly, from my perspective, I am convinced of the potential of certain new technologies such as the 3D printing that will bring-up in a future which is not so far away. Eventually, in the domain of the reduction of our logistic footprint, inherent characteristic of the SOF, I can see a considerable potential of evolution and ways of improvements.
All these are only some examples … In a global perspective, all that contributes to improve our readiness, to enable our adaptability to the most complex and unforeseen situations, to the globalization of our operational approaches, deserve that anyone is interested in technologies.
Q: Virtually every special operations command will say that the man is the most important weapon in the arsenal. Tell me about the process to recruit the best into French Special Forces, about their initial training to become part of the team, and recurrent training?
de Saint-Quentin: There are two ways to become a SOF operator, by direct recruitment from the civilian world for the youth or through a recruitment within the conventional forces. After years experiencing those two ways, I can say that they prove to be very complementary. In both cases, recruitment becomes effective after a physical and psychological selection phase.
The filter is particularly severe, but the motivation of the candidates related to the commitments of our SOF on operations, makes it possible to maintain a very satisfying rate of selection. Today, the human resources model for French SOF is mature, and the operator profile in each service component (average age, experiment, marital status, etc.) is largely comparable with the ones of our allies—in particular U.S. SOF operators.
I must admit that I am always very struck by the very great maturity which characterizes the SOF operators that I regularly meet in our various theaters. They carry very heavy responsibilities and often face extreme situations where their intellectual agility and their control of the use of force are strongly challenged. They brilliantly fulfill their missions. It proves the quality of our selection process which also makes it possible to support the emergence of a common SOF culture overlapping with the cultures of armed forces.
Q: Is there a need to upgrade training facilities (improve shoot houses/live fire ranges, simulation facilities, etc.)?
de Saint-Quentin: Our units have installations enabling them to commit themselves with training situations dramatically close to reality and in total autonomy. They also benefit from overseas sites to train their operators or to prepare the units before a deployment. This system is satisfactory today. The only regret is for the phases of operational preparation including UAVs, fixed wing and rotary wing assets, because most of these means are strongly deployed on real operations. However, we rely on the capabilities offered by simulation as for example for the tactical training of our crews of helicopters in Pau. It brings a real tactical added value. In the same way, within the framework of air support, the realism brought out by simulation, makes today possible to train our operators to reach an excellent level, and allows us to avoid overtasking to combat aircrafts heavily committed elsewhere.
Q: From all accounts SOFINS (Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar) 2015 was a great success. From the perspective of technologies, capabilities and/or networking, what were the big takeaways from SOFINS for you? What made the event worth the time?
de Saint-Quentin: The participating companies were matched completely with the current and future requirements of the SOF operators. Several new technologies at the SOFINS are today under development and other prospects are considered to equip the French SOCOM in the short and medium terms. In addition, the success of the SOFINS was embodied by the presence of a great number of international partners.
The great implication of French companies and SOF operators made it possible to support a rapprochement between the industrial and military components, ensuring effectiveness and sustainability of collaborations. This strengthening of the link between armed forces and companies has been greeted by the highest ranked leadership of France and in particular our Minister of the Defense who said at the SOFINS conference: “Our objective is clear: it aims at shortening the innovation/development/acquisition loop […] because the SOFINS, and I repeat it here, has authority to address the challenges of the SOF equipment by creating a direct contact between professionals. The demonstrations of equipment, the tests of equipment, the exchanges with the operators, pilots or commandos, are concrete illustrations.”
Q: Will there be a 2017 edition?
de Saint-Quentin: Yes, the success and the exceptional partnerships of the first two editions of this seminar naturally led to the willing to organize a third edition. The News show us how much it is essential to find innovating solutions to our problems on the battlefield. It is the Cercle de l’Arbalète (Crossbow Circle) which organizes the SOFINS whose next edition will take place in 2017, the March 28-30, near Bordeaux.
This next edition will continue to carry out the SOF essential values which are adaptability, endurance, inventiveness, and technological and human excellence, and will stress on the concept of seminar workshops. Therefore, each day will be opened by a conference for the attention to all the public present there: members of the French and foreign special forces, companies, consultants and staffs. all must be able to work together along these three days.
Q: Any closing thoughts on French Special Operations Command, its people and its mission?
de Saint-Quentin: We continue to consolidate the French SOF enterprise and step up its dynamic ability to face complex and expanded threats which requires as much innovating know-how as determination and endurance. In this fight, the quality of our men is a force and their capacity to be adapted permanently appears critical. We clearly crossed a new level in 2013 with our commitment in the Sahel. From that time, other operations came in to reinforce this very strong dynamics.
For a few years now, our Special Forces have expanded their defense capabilities—which has been essential as the threats they confront daily are ever changing.