High-tech Weapons Help EU Close Gap with US

March 7th, 2005 - by admin

Anthony Browne / The Times of London – 2005-03-07 23:09:33


BRUSSELS (March 2, 2005) — The European Union is to develop unmanned drones, new armoured vehicles and advanced communication systems in a strategy to become a military superpower and close the defence technology gap with the United States. The programme involves setting up a joint EU fighter-pilot training programme and co-ordinating the testing of military equipment on proving grounds and in wind tunnels.

The initiatives from the newly-created European Defence Agency represent the EU’s first step in military research and development. They are aimed at transforming the EU from being solely a political power, in charge of policies such as agriculture and trade, to a military one, capable of sending troops around the world to enforce a foreign policy agreed by its member states.

The strategy has proved controversial to EU members such as the Irish Republic and Sweden, who fear that their traditional neutrality is being threatened, as well as in Britain, where there has been concern that it will undermine Nato and its close military relationship with the United States.

Nick Witney, the British chief executive of the European Defence Agency, set up last month, explained his plans to boost Europe’s “defence, technological and industrial base” by co-ordinating the military activity of EU members.

“Europe does not have the defence capabilities that it ought to. I want to see what we can do to get more bang for the buck than is already provided and I am sure we can go a long way applying all the separate defence lines across Europe more coherently,” he said.

The Rise of a Single European Military Force
Concern about Europe’s military weakness came to the fore in the 1990s when it was unable to prevent civil war in the Balkans. Since then, the European Union has been developing a common foreign policy and set up the EDA to increase its military power.

Mr Witney said: “(Europe) set itself the relatively modest initial ambition to be able to put 60,000 troops in the field for two months and keep that level of force there for a year, and frankly failed to do that.

“When you think that we have two million men and women under arms in Europe and you link that to €160 billion (£115 billion) of defence expenditure across Europe it suggests money is not being well spent.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that Europe’s armies, as well as being fragmented, are still focused on fighting battles with the Soviet Union and have failed to move “to the information age” of warfare.

“Is it really useful that we spend money in Europe maintaining in service 11,000 main battle tanks? Would it not be better to concentrate on more modern technologies such as communication? Modern warfare depends on intelligence.”

Because countries are duplicating armed forces, the EU has “too much of the old expensive platform assets. We probably have collectively too many fighter aircraft, too many naval hulls, too many battle tanks.”

The defence industries making the equipment are duplicated — there are half a dozen tank manufacturers across Europe. Many member states are separately trying to develop a new drone (an unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance) and new armoured vehicles. It is one of Mr Witney’s first tasks to put these many programmes together.

Previous European military projects have been uncoordinated, and plagued with problems: the Eurofighter is hugely over budget; the Airbus A400M transporter plane is severely delayed; and the Horizon frigate has been abandoned.

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