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.