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.
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.
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.