Will EU defense goals lead to a collapse of US technological dependence?

As the European Union’s (EU) senior leadership calls for increased cooperation between member states’ defense procurements, there is a growing risk of commercial capacity for commonalities in the drive towards single market exclusivity.

In a speech to the European Parliament Plenary on February 28, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said member states should increase cooperation on defense spending as the EU seeks to become a more independent player on the world stage.

Referring to the need to “rebuild, replenish and modernize” military capabilities among member states’ armed forces, von der Leyen said Europe should “strive to gain the next generation of battle-winning operational capabilities” through a “supercharged » of the defense industry. capacity over the next five years.

“Europe needs to spend more, spend better, spend European,” von der Leyen said.

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To this end, the EU will present its proposals “in the coming weeks” with the European Defense Industrial Strategy, together with the European Defense Investment Plan, which will prioritize joint defense procurement.

“As we did with great success with the [Covid-19] vaccines or for example with natural gas, this will help us reduce fragmentation and increase interoperability. But to do that, we need to collectively send a strong message to the industry,” said von der Leyen.

“We will increase support for industrial growth, as we are doing now with munitions [Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP)]. We will identify European defense projects of common interest… and focus on innovation to ensure that Europe has that edge in new technologies, which we see being developed around the world in different conflicts.”

EU flags
The European Commission wants the EU to move away from US capabilities and source from within the single market. Credit: European Commission

The possible acceptance that EU member states could struggle to compete with the industrial capacity of the United States and its clear technological advantage is perhaps seen in von der Leyen’s appeal to public and private lenders to support the continent’s defense industry and , in particular, its small and medium enterprises.

“SMEs are the backbone of our industry. It is the driver of innovation and a crucial factor in the Single Market,” von der Leyen said.

In addition, von der Leyen said that in the “coming weeks” the European Commission will announce funding under the ASAP program aimed at doubling European ammunition production to cover two million shells per year by the end of 2025.

Von der Leyen’s positioning as European Commission President as a supporter of the defense industry contrasts with her six-year stint as Germany’s defense minister from 2013-2019, presiding over a series of controversies over German military preparedness that included the use of painted broomsticks in place of machine guns during NATO exercises.

Von der Leyen also called for the creation of a Defense Commissioner within the European Commission, who would effectively act as the EU’s defense minister.

American designed fighters rule the skies of Europe

It remains to be seen whether the defense industry in EU member states will be able to agree on the exact structure required for cooperation. While programs such as the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter and the Airbus A400M transport aircraft have seen some success, infighting continues to hamper multinational developments as national industrial divisions of labor impede cooperation.

Among EU member states, France, and perhaps Sweden, rely almost exclusively on national defense industries to supply their armed forces, although key strategic capabilities such as the French Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, are from the United States.

Germany, the EU’s other industrial powerhouse, has agreed deals to acquire US CH-47F helicopters and F-35A stealth fighters, in what was seen as a major blow to the European aerospace sector. Actually, the F-35 aircraft of American origin it has become the defacto 5u generation fighter across the EU, having won in Italy, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.

Integrating US F-16 and F/A-18 fighters into European stocks, nearly 50% (13 out of 27) of EU member states use US-designed or built fixed-wing fighter fleets, either in part or in whole their entire inventory.

Of those that did not procure US-origin fighters, some EU members, including the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia and others, do not actually maintain a fixed-wing air combat capability.

F 35
The US-built F-35 5th generation stealth fighter has never lost a competition it has entered and will be the dominant air combat platform across NATO. Credit: US Department of State

The proliferation of transport aircraft such as the C-130 series, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, or the Black Hawk tactical rotary-wing platform, and US penetration of Europe’s aerospace supplies go even further.

Much of Europe’s airborne missiles, whether air-to-air or air-to-surface, are also acquired from the US, such as the AIM range of missiles. In the land and naval sector, mobile operators such as the Harpoon anti-ship missile, the SM missile family or the weapon system based on RAM missiles, originate from the United States.

Former EU member state, the UK is also a major provider of technology and platforms to EU armed forces through programs such as Poland’s Miecznik programme, which saw UK defense major Babcock win a contract to providing the design for three new frigates for the Polish Navy. plus manufacturing support.

Poland has also committed much of its huge increase in defense spending to companies outside Europe overall, acquiring main battle tanks and 155mm artillery shells from South Korea.

A non-EU country, the UK is also the main industrial partner in the GCAP program, which will develop a 5+ generation fighter in collaboration with EU member state Italy and Asia-Pacific powerhouse Japan. Instead, the EU trio of France, Germany and Spain are fighting to get theirs FCAS 5+ generation program from the ground.

Meanwhile, the US is at least half a technological generation ahead of the EU in air transport and is promoting Next Generation Air Dominance Platformwhich is expected to offer at least 6u production capabilities and probably beyond.

Across Europe, the United States provides a significant quality of its sensor requirements, such as radars in land, sea, and air domains.

The CAVS effort is indicative of the kind of capabilities that European countries are developing in cooperation programs. Credit: Patria

The current EU cooperation program is more modest, such as the 6×6 CAVS platform on land or the European Patrol Corvette at sea. Germany and France are also working to develop a new main battle tank (MBT) to replace their Leopard 2 and Leclerc MBTs, although this has made little progress since its launch in 2017.

In the absence of US leadership, the EU must act for Ukraine to survive

However, the lessons learned from Ukraine and the inability of the US, hampered by political infighting in an election year that saw its support for Kiev in its fight against Russia stall, show that despite the challenges greater EU integration is likely required.

Tristan Sauer, defense and aerospace analyst at GlobalData, said a focus on joint procurement initiatives and common elements was “essential” for the EU to achieve industrial scalability.

“The European defense market has had to diversify its capability offerings to meet radically different requirements from country to country, undermining sustainability and resulting in the current lack of scale and hardware depth,” explained Sauer.

“By focusing on the common elements, European governments may finally be incentivized to invest in the industrial base to provide sufficient scalability and sustainability in the long term. The high attrition rates of the conflict in Ukraine have shown that there is no alternative to massive, high-intensity conflict.”

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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