The first CARD report, presented by EDA to Defence Ministers on 20 November, is the outcome of an innovative approach launched four years ago when the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) called for the “gradual synchronisation and mutual adaptation of national defence planning cycles and capability development practices” to enhance the convergence between Member States’ military assets and boost defence cooperation among them.

That said, this was quickly done: EU countries approved the CARD modalities in May 2017, concluded a test cycle in late 2018 before kicking off the first full CARD cycle in September 2019 which, over a period of 10 months, saw EDA collecting and analysing information gathered from individual Member States on their respective national defence plans, in order to identify current trends (defence spending, ongoing capability programmes) and future cooperation opportunities. The rationale behind the CARD is that the regular reviews, to be done every two years, will lead over time to more synergies and increased coherence between Member States´ defence planning, spending and capability development, through targeted cooperation.

Plain analysis

The CARD report’s assessment of the current picture is unequivocal: Europe’s defence landscape remains fragmented and lacks coherence in several aspects, notably as regards defence capabilities and their development: existing capabilities are characterised by a very high diversity of types in major equipment and different levels of modernisation and of interoperability, including logistic systems and supply chains. What’s more, the EU’s Military Level of Ambition is currently not achievable and the commitment to Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations is very low with strong disparities between participating Member States in terms of engagement frameworks and overall operational effort.

Admittedly, the new EU defence cooperation tools launched since 2016 – the 2018 EU capability development priorities resulting from the revised Capability Development Plan (CDP), the CARD initiation, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) – have led to greater interaction among Member States as regards cooperation, including dedicated projects in the PESCO framework. However, they are too recent to deliver a significant and positive effect on guiding the trends on defence, on de-fragmentation and on increased operational commitment, the CARD report stresses: “National defence interests and related approaches continue to prevail”.

Multinational cooperation still not a priority

The fundamental problem, the CARD outlines, is that only a few Member States consider multinational cooperation in capability development as a key characteristic of their national capability profile and/or have the national ambition to actively contribute to shaping the European capability landscape. This is also evidenced by the fact that most Member States miss out on meeting the collective European benchmarks on ‘collaborative equipment procurement’ (minimum 35% of total equipment spending) and on ‘collaborative defence R&T’ (minimum 20% of total defence R&T spending), which were commonly agreed more than a decade ago and adopted as individual PESCO commitments in December 2017.

Consequently, defence spending on collaborative projects remains scarce, also because budget allocations made by Ministries of Defence to previously launched national programmes leave limited margins for manoeuvre for collaborative defence spending until the mid-2020s. In the same vein, the outlook for defence research and technology (R&T) spending levels continues to be insufficient, putting the EU strategic autonomy at risk, the report warns.

Action is needed: Here’s a plan

The CARD’s most distinctive added value, however, is that it does not limit itself to running a diagnostic of the current situation: it also puts forward numerous options, potential action points and recommendations to Member States on how they can overcome the shortcomings, if they wish to.

Those recommendations cover the three domains – all interlinked – where more European thinking and action are deemed indispensable to overcome the current fragmentation of the European defence landscape: defence spending, defence planning and defence cooperation.

Defence spending

Governments must avoid falling back into the pre-2015 period when defence budgets kept shrinking year by year. Instead, they should sustain the (albeit moderate) trend of increasing national defence expenditure witnessed since 2016 to assume a credible role in defence for the EU. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial burden are putting additional pressure on defence spending, potential cuts should be systematically compensated through focused collaborative projects on capability development and R&T, making full use of the EU defence initiatives, including the EDF. Ministries of Defence should also increase the share of R&T related expenditure within national defence budgets to deliver on cutting-edge technology for defence capabilities at national and EU level, including collaboration.

Defence planning

This is probably the most crucial ingredient for moving towards a more coherent European capability landscape: Member States need to think and plan their national defence capability development from a wider European perspective, systematically looking for cooperation with other countries. Therefore, they need to consistently consider and make the best use of the existing EU defence cooperation tools (CDP, CARD, PESCO, EDF) in their own national defence planning processes. The ‘focus areas’ identified by the first CARD report (see box) should facilitate this process and, in fine, lead to collaborative projects implemented under PESCO, at EDA or in any other multinational format. Member States must get used to jointly preparing the planning horizon (beyond mid-2020s) for increased and more substantial cooperation in capability development in a structured and more targeted manner, making EU cooperation the norm.

Defence cooperation through joint projects

This fundamental change of mindset in national defence planning should trigger more multinational capability projects and programmes. To get there, it is necessary that Ministries of Defence use the EU defence tools to engage in and commit to proposed collaborative opportunities (capability development, R&T, industry) in order to bring their defence apparatus into line with each other.

Which are the most promising cooperation opportunities identified by CARD?

Collaborative opportunities and focus areas

The first CARD identifies a total of 55 collaborative opportunities throughout the whole capability spectrum, considered to be the most promising, most needed or most pressing ones, as well as in terms of operational value. Based on this catalogue of identified opportunities, Member States are recommended to concentrate their efforts on the following six specific ‘focus areas’ which are not only covered by the EU Capability Development Priorities agreed in 2018 but where the prospects for cooperation are also looking particularly good (encouraging number of interested Member States, national programmes already underway or in the pipeline), namely:

  • Main Battle Tanks (MBT)
  • Soldier Systems
  • European Patrol Class Surface Ships
  • Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (Counter-UAS)
  • Defence applications in Space
  • Military Mobility

Launching new collaborative projects in the six focus areas can bear a “significant impact on both Member States capability profiles and the coherence of overall European capability landscape”, the report states.

In addition to that, 56 options to cooperate in R&T have been identified as well. The latter range from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber defence, to new sensor technologies, emerging materials and energy efficient propulsion systems as well as unmanned systems and robotics.

Conditions for cooperation “favourable”

The CARD reveals that conditions for multinational cooperation in all six capability focus areas are “favourable”, as well as from a time planning perspective. Therefore, a broad participation of Member States can be expected in collaborative projects related to those areas, at system and subsystem levels, which includes linking these new collaborative projects to already existing programmes, the report finds.

It therefore urges Member States to make full use of all identified collaborative opportunities (especially to inform national defence planners, including the next wave of proposals in the PESCO context as well as the upcoming EDF annual work programmes).

The report also stresses that collaborative development of capabilities in these six focus areas requires industrial cooperation for prime contractors, mid-caps and SMEs with positive effects on the competitiveness of the European Defence Technology and Industrial Base (EDTIB).

Better equipment for CSDP missions

An enhanced collaborative approach is also needed in order to connect capabilities together and improve readiness, preparedness and interoperability of forces to be used in CSDP operations and missions, the report says, notably in those areas of the identified major capability shortfalls which appear to be less likely addressed without common involvement. This would enable the EU to effectively conduct part of the most demanding operations, it concludes. In order to boost the Union’s operational CSDP performance in the short and medium term, the report recommends Member States to concentrate on the following priority areas for operational collaborative opportunities: Power Projection, Non-Kinetic Engagement Capabilities and Force Protection.


New collaborative projects in the six focus areas can bear a “significant impact on both Member States capability profiles and the coherence of overall European capability landscape

  • 19 June 2019: EDA’s Steering Board in Capability Director’s formation approves the CARD Methodology which will guide the process
  • September 2019 - March 2020: EDA, in cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EUMS, gathers what is known as the CARD’s ‘initial information’ (Member States’ national defence spending, capability plans, defence cooperation ideas and opportunities) and holds bilateral dialogues with each of the 26 participating Member States. Those bilateral talks serve to validate the CARD’s initial information, explore collaborative opportunities, and discuss broader issues relevant to the EU defence landscape such as the implementation of the EU capability development priorities, coherence of defence planning and European defence cooperation
  • April 2020 - June 2020: EDA processes the CARD’s initial information provided by the participating countries to produce what is known as the ‘CARD Aggregated Analysis’. Therein, the Agency aggregates and assesses the data to identify patterns and possible trends in the European defence landscape. It also analyses Member States’ responses to the collaborative opportunities presented to them to derive potential focus areas for them to concentrate their efforts on. In addition, operational efforts and associated capability requirements are analysed by the EUMS and then integrated into the Aggregated Analysis which is presented to the Steering Board in Capability Director’s formation and the European Union Military Committee (EUMC).
  • July 2020 - November 2020: EDA, in close coordination with the EUMS, extracts political conclusions from the CARD Aggregated Analysis and proposes related recommendations to participating Member States with the aim to improving the coherence of the European capability landscape. The draft CARD report is presented to Member States’ Capability, Armaments and R&T Directors as well as the EUMC before it is presented to Defence Ministers meeting at the EDA Ministerial Steering Board on 20 November 2020.

The first CARD report recommends Member States should concentrate their collaborative capability development efforts on ‘next generation’ capabilities in the following six focus areas:

Main Battle Tank (MBT) – CARD recommends the joint development and acquisition of a next generation MBT in the long term (entry into service mid-2030s), and joint modernisation and upgrades of existing capabilities in the short-term. If Member States cooperate in upgrading or collaborate when introducing new ones, a reduction of types and variants by 30% by the mid-2030s can be obtained. 11 countries expressed an interest in cooperation going forward.

European Patrol Class Surface Ship – CARD recommends replacing coastal and offshore patrol vessels within the next decade and develop an EU-wide approach for modular naval platforms. Opportunities for cooperation in joint off-the-shelf procurement, common logistics for similar vessels, common future functional requirements were found with 7 countries expressing an interest in cooperation.

Solider Systems – CARD recommends modernising soldier systems through joint procurement of existing systems in the short term, including harmonising requirements, developing a user group for Joint Virtual Training & Exercises utilising common IT tools. In the long-term, develop commonly shared architecture by mid-2020s for all subsystems using cutting edge technology. 10 countries expressed an interest in cooperation going forward.

Counter UAS / A2/AD – CARD recommends developing a European capability to counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to improve force protection as well as contributing to establish a European standard for Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD). In the A2/AD area, cooperation is key to enable integration of air defence systems and combined assets, which is the only way to cope with modern threats in modern engagements in coalition operations.

Defence in Space – CARD recommends developing a European approach to defence in space to improve access to space services and protection of space-based assets. As an emerging operational domain, more collaboration would contribute to a greater involvement of Ministries of Defence and recognition of military requirements in wider space programmes conducted at EU level.

Enhanced Military Mobility – CARD recommends more active participation of all Member States in military mobility programmes, notably air and sea lift transportation, logistic facilities and increased resilience of related IT systems and processed under hybrid warfare conditions by the mid-2020s.

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After the first CARD: What’s next?

  • Publishing Director Elisabeth Schoeffmann
  • Editor-in-chief Helmut Brüls
  • Editorial Take out
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