Success in achieving cooperative defence capabilities, however, demands prioritisation among the Member States – of their goals, their resources and their collective effort.

Fortunately, the EU now has a full set of tools that, largely managed by EDA, cover the gamut of prioritising activities. These include the agency’s Overarching Strategic Research Agenda (OSRA) and its set of Key Strategic Activities.

Above all stands the Capability Development Plan (CDP), which was strategically revised in 2018 and accepted by EU leaders. The EU capability development priorities agreed therein serve as a key reference for Member States’ and EU’s capability development and future cooperation under all EU defence initiatives. The forthcoming Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), which is conducted every two years, will provide an overview on the European defence landscape and its coherence, including defence capabilities.

Capability Development Plan

Steered by the Agency, the revised CDP delivered 11 new EU capability development priorities. They span all military domains and comprise the following: cyber-response operations; space-based information and communication; information superiority; ground combat capabilities; enhanced logistics and medical support; naval maneuverability; underwater control; air superiority; air mobility; integration of air capabilities; and finally, cross-domain capabilities.

Notably, the above list does not describe specific kinds of equipment, systems, models or weapons. For example, to achieve naval maneuverability the CDP calls for maritime situational awareness, surface superiority and power projection – without mandating the details.

Indeed, unlike other capability planning processes, the CDP derives its capability development priorities by first prioritising the tasks that Europe’s militaries would need to carry out now and in the future, before identifying the kinds of equipment and weaponry needed to do that.

This inversion of the usual process explains the unique approach that the Member States, the Agency and other EU players use to define and update the plan’s priorities. “It’s verbs – versus nouns – that are unlinked to specific systems, units or platforms,” says Kris Herrebout, EDA’s project officer for the CDP.

NATO’s defence planning process, for example, revolves around specific capabilities – a type of ship or aircraft or tank. It is a taxonomy of things, used for quantitative analysis of shortfalls and apportionment. By contrast, the CDP “works with a taxonomy of tasks,” he said.

Facilitating Member States’ cooperative capability development was the raison d’être behind the Agency’s birth in 2004. Prior to that, the EU’s attempts to generate the military muscle it needs did not yield much. Its so-called Helsinki Headline Goal of 1999 to produce a European rapid reaction force of 60,000 by 2003 fell far short of the mark. The European Capability Action Plan, a bottom-up attempt to generate the capabilities, fell short of expectations. It and other factors were behind the Member States’ decision to create EDA as a permanent forum where Europe’s defence ministry personnel could exchange ideas and expertise to better coordinate how capabilities are generated.

Today’s CDP descends from the first one delivered in mid-2008, and two subsequent revisions in 2011 and 2014. Those revisions reflected the changes in Europe’s security environment. Whereas the 2008 CDP was focused mainly on expeditionary priorities, the subsequent ones have seen a gradual shift to more high-tech, high-end war-fighting capabilities.

“National requirements demand this: more command-and-control capabilities, war-fighting vessels, armed drones, etc. Nonetheless, while the plan’s priorities have changed over the years, the way its goals are set has not been altered. How we assemble the CDP’s information has changed over time, but the structure is still there because it has proven its worth time and time again,” said Herrebout.

Different inputs from different sources

The analysis, identification and approval of the CDP’s priorities rest on a four-strand foundation. As such, the CDP combines data and inputs from different sources, perspectives and timelines in a comprehensive tool.

The first one, Strand A, is focused on the EU’s current military capability shortfalls. These are derived from scenarios based on the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), such as stabilisation operations. The difference between what the Member States could contribute toward such scenarios – the so-called force catalogue – and what is theoretically needed to carry out the operations’ tasks equals the shortfalls.

The shortfalls are prioritised according to operational risk by the EU Military Committee, which is also responsible for the CDP’s Strand D. Here, the Committee provides lessons from operations that have a capability development implication. This could be a national lesson learnt, one from CSDP operations or from coalition operations. “You could see this as a reality check on Strand A’s CSDP scenarios,” said Herrebout.

After that, the CDP process starts to gain more complexity. Its Strand C has to take into account the medium-term capability planning – out to 10 years – across the EDA countries to posit where the opportunities for cross-border cooperation may lie. 

This is where an important EDA tool enters the picture: its collaborative database. Known as CODABA, the database is fed by data from the Member States themselves, by studies and from open source data gathered by the agency about national defence plans and programmes.

Launched in 2007, the CODABA got off to a slow start. The Member States didn’t see its value-added at the time and did not contribute much, leaving the Agency to feed data into it on a catch-as-catch-can basis. But slowly its utility as a tool for identifying the commonality of goals and capability efforts between the Member States began to emerge.

A sea change took place in 2014 when the Agency made a concerted effort to demonstrate CODABA’s utility to its constituent defence ministries. It put more money into gathering the data, turned to outside contractors for support, carried out additional studies and seconded more people within the agency to make this happen. From a collection of 427 records in 2014, the database mushroomed to 8,500 in 2018 – an increase of 2000 percent.

“The more information you have, the better your picture and thus the more you can extract examples of where the Member States should be working together toward cooperative capability development,” Herrebout said. “The CODABA shows which countries are working on similar things, which regional groupings for capability development make the most sense, where national plans between members converge and so on. National capitals are now using it in those ways.”

Finally, there is the CDP’s fourth segment, which offers the long-term view. Strand B tries to project capability trends into the future – until 2035 – but with a twist. “This means looking not only at what possibilities the future offers to us but also to our adversaries and what they could do with those capabilities,” said Herrebout.

Once all the strands’ in-put is received, the process to derive priorities form the CDP starts. This is done in permanent dialogue with the Member States and other EU stakeholders in a transparent manner. With the help of EDA, the Member States prioritise the tasks, with the resulting priorities agreed at political level. These priorities reflect both the EU’s and Member States’ perspective. It is then up to the Member States to achieve the capabilities.

Capability-driven, output-oriented

How to keep the whole CDP process capability-driven and output-oriented are two obvious challenges. Regarding the former, for example, “one might have the impression that the CDP is for industry. However, industry does not prefigure in any of the strands except a bit in Strand B and its long-term forecasting work,” observed Herrebout. “But even there, it is only as additional information in the form of studies, and not in the capability requirements themselves.”

More important is the CDP’s imple-mentation. “We don’t want this thing to remain a theoretical exercise. We want to inform Member States’ national defence planning processes and support them to develop the capabilities Europe needs, and to do in a manner which leads to more coherence of the European capability landscape at large,” he stated.

That points directly to the EDA’s forthcoming “Strategic Context Cases” (SCC) which were developed together with Member States. There will be one SCC for each of the capability plan’s 11 priority areas. The Agency has recently put the finishing touches on all the SCCs and will submit them for approval to its steering board of national Capability Directors in June 2019, and then implementation starting in late 2019.

The purpose of the SCCs is to generate, facilitate and guide the implementation of collaborative solutions in a European context. Each SCC describes the possible avenues of approach for the implementation to achieve the capabilities needed for each priority. Just as important, the strategic context cases will be living documents that are updated every one or two years.

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Manager of European Defence Research