This beehive of expert activity lies at the heart of one of the Agency’s primary roles: to function as a hub for identifying, defining, and coordinating collaborative capability programmes in Europe. The reference point around which this activity is organised is the EU’s Capability Development Plan (CDP) and its 11 priorities.

Those priorities range across all domains from sea to space, including cross-cutting capabilites, with their management overseen by EDA. At its most basic, the CDP is the EU’s overall tool for developing strategic autonomy and a major ‘driver’ for R&T investment, armaments cooperation and Europe’s defence industries.

Various iterations of the CDP have been around for years, the first being launched in 2008. However, it is really only in the last few years that its objectives have come into the sharpest focus as a result of wider policies, namely the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy, the European Commission’s June 2017 unveiling of the European Defence Fund and the Member States’ decision to launch Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in December 2017.

EDA worked closely with national capitals to tailor the CDP in June 2018 with its current set of objectives to support those policy developments. It is also changing how the CDP priorities are tackled.

The stress now is on output orientation, based on strong political guidance. “We are now changing the basic way we work to generate capability projects,” explains Jean-Youri Marty, EDA’s Deputy Director of Capability Armament Technology.

Moving away from only bottom-up

During its early years, for example, the Agency used mainly a bottom-up approach to generate cooperative projects. The guiding priorities were set at ministerial level but they were more EDA-centric, and it fell largely to the Agency to identify topics where it thought something could be done among capitals for collaborative capability development.

Once a topic was identified, EDA aimed to harmonise the requirements, clarify which Member States could logically participate, and then define a business case for an ad hoc project involving the interested countries. This meant defining the main work packages, coming up with a budget, understanding the type of industries to be involved and so on – details that down-in-the-weeds national experts had to mostly cobble together themselves.

Where this worked, the results have been impressive. Via the Agency, national naval experts began creating a network in 2006 (“MARSUR”) to seamlessly exchange maritime awareness data between their navies, an endeavour that is now moving to industrial scale.

Another example is EDA’s ongoing GOVSATCOM project. Having reached initial operating capability in January 2019 after five years of preparation, it demonstrates the benefits of pooling national satellite communications capabilities by sharing them on an efficient pay-per-use basis amongst EDA countries.

A sterling example of ‘hub success’ has been the Agency’s work on the multirole tanker transport aircraft project (MMF). First explored in 2012, a five-strong group of nations (EDA members Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands, plus EDA partner country Norway) signed a contract in July 2016 to purchase 8 Airbus A330 aircraft. Based on each nation buying operational hours at a fixed cost, other EDA countries are now considering it as well – a collective capability that will go far toward filling a long-standing gap in Europe.

But the bottom-up approach has had its setbacks too. The telling example here was the Agency’s idea, launched in 2007, for multi-nation development of future tactical unmanned air systems for maritime and land applications. Its research group produced a solid set of good recommendations in 2011, but it died on the vine.

“Everyone liked the results a lot, but it never led anywhere because there was no pre-existing requirement for cooperation in the plans and budgets of the Member States involved. It was not embedded there,” observed Marty. “At the experts’ level there was no way they could start with a blank page and shape the future of capability development in Europe. Each came to the table with their own national plan, hoping to find something in common, even though they could not deviate much from that plan. In the end, it was an attempt to bend those plans a bit by cross-checking and looking for overlaps but there was only so much bending they could do.”

Eventually, with all those experts mingling together within EDA, it emerged that the only logical way forward was to identify new things that all could support.

And that required a novel political approach as well.

Optimising MBTs on a European scale

One of the most difficult capability goals facing the EU Member States has been to decide how to upgrade, redesign or rationalise their fleets of main battle tanks (MBTs). A legacy of the Cold War, there are some 5000 MBTs scattered across Europe, where some 16 different models jostle alongside one another.

Some EU countries have too many while others none at all. How to deal with this situation in an efficient way has been a longstanding challenge.

A solution is in sight, however. In spring 2017 EDA launched its programme, “Optimisation of the MBT Capability in Europe.” Focused on the legacy Leopard 2 chassis (both MBTs and derivatives), this pilot project is testing how surplus Leopard platforms with basic equipment in one country can be transferred to others.

Key to the idea is to pool not only the recipients’ demand for the Leopard but also their requirements for upgrading to one of its latest configurations. By doing the latter, the programme will create pan-European upgrade work across the recipient countries to yield a single type of platform, the same type of derivatives and common training and logistic support.

Following an earlier request for information on behalf of its interested Member States, more consultations with industry will take place during 2019. Afterwards, each interested EDA country will then decide on the level of its engagement in the programme, thus overcoming the sector’s longstanding inertia.

Main lessons learnt

“It was the central lesson learnt,” observed Marty. “To get effective capability dev- elopment going among the Member States you need the bottom-up expertise of course, but it must absolutely be combined with a strong political drive. The top-down political support has to be there.”

One of EDA’s main tools to emerge from that insight is its forthcoming set of strategic context cases [SCCs]. Broadly, these are future-geared scenarios whose strategic implications are intended to get all EDA’s constituent Ministries of Defence to pinpoint where their capability gaps overlap, and how they could work together in various groups to fill those gaps. It’s the ultimate top-down approach.

“This is what we are trying to do with the strategic context cases: use them as a magnet to draw the Ministries of Defence together,” said Marty. “Take counter-IED [improvised explosive devices], for example. The SCCs will require the Member States to define exactly what they want: purchase an existing C-IED system, develop a new one, or restrict it just to joint training? These kinds of questions have to be addressed at national MoD level, and then filtered down to produce a multi-nation programme with a budget and officials who have the mandate to work together.”

There will also be another change to the way capabilities are approved for development: projects or programmes flowing from the SCCs will be prepared with national experts from the capability branch and the armaments branch of each defence ministry.

“That has been another key lesson,” said Marty. “When you harmonise an initial requirement, you normally work with the end-users versus the armaments directors. This might be an issue because when a project lands unbeknownst on an armament director’s desk without his views reflected on restrictions on work-share arrangements, intellectual property rights and other areas, it is unlikely it will be supported. Also, security of supply often enters the picture, with the insistence that work be granted to native industry to maintain national competences. By involving armaments directors earlier in the game, we can at least escalate problems quickly and try to find a solution.”

Guiding goals to conclusion

In the end the new top-down approach should augment the Agency’s efficacy as a consultative hub, with clearer objectives from the outset for experts to discuss. Thus, if specific air combat objectives are the goal, then the experts will focus on those only. Conversely, if an expert’s national plan excludes discussion of one thing or another, then the expert will have the time to explore back home how national plans could be changed to accommodate the capability goals.

The timelines of capability development will also change, according to Marty. “The more specific the objective, the more demanding you can be regarding the timing of its output,” he said.

“So, we might say to the group of national experts: provide a description and a plan six months from now of what is feasible regarding X that we can present to the EDA’s steering board [of national defence ministers]. If such a request came back empty, then we’d know that either the guidance was incorrect or there is an issue preventing people around the table from doing the work, and thus we can take corrective action,” he said. “This whole SCC approach will be about generating projects: eliminating all those areas where nothing is possible, and focusing on those that are.”

Cooperative financing for cooperative projects

The launch of multi-nation capability projects often stumbles on the mismatched budgetary cycles of the participating nations, where some members are ready to go but others not. Working with its defence ministries and the European Investment Bank (EIB) the Agency has come up with a solution.

EDA’s new Cooperative Financial Mechanism (CFM) will help smooth out disjointed national defence research, development and acquisition cycles by offering two sources of “gap filler” financing. These will enable group of nations to launch their projects on time.

The first source is the EIB, which will financially support dual use projects. Acting as the bank’s “Facility Agent”, EDA will technically assess projects on its behalf, while serving as the administrative liaison point between the bank and the Agency’s Member States.

The second source will be “state-to-state” financing where, on an intergovernmental basis, EDA countries will mutually support one another via reimbursable advances and deferred payments to facilitate the smooth launch of their capability projects. Not only will this help reduce paperwork and delays, but it will see a more efficient collective use of Europe’s national defence budgets.

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