European Defence Armaments Cooperation: An August 2023 Update


By Pierre Tran

Paris – There is a view that politics is really about personalities.

That notion comes to mind after Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury pointed up the frustration of Europe failing to cooperate on arms programs in the light of war in Ukraine – apart from the future combat air system (FCAS).

The Airbus top executive told July 26 CNBC that Europe was not “showing unity in addressing the new threats and solutions.”

“That’s very challenging, and it’s quite frustrating to see that the responses that have been provided so far are mostly of a national nature and not much of a European nature,” he said.

That national drive can be seen as a damper on building a strong European industry – including Airbus – to design and manufacture advanced weapons, and from which to place a steady flow of high-margin orders.

Instead, there is a view there are lucrative orders for U.S. systems, such as the iconic F-35 fighter jet, or deals sealed with dynamic allied nations such as Israel, South Korea, and Turkey as well as domestic manufacturers, which employ vote wielding workers whose wages boost the local economy.

There has been some cooperation, notably in the naval sector, and on a bilateral basis.
There was a July 28 contract for upgrade of the Aster 30 new technology (NT) missile for the four Horizon air defense frigates of the French and Italian navies – two for each of the allied services. That anti-missile weapon arms British, French, and Italian navies, the French armed forces said in a statement, pointing up the cooperative aspect of the Aster program.

In another cooperative naval deal, the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office took delivery July 18 at Toulon base the Jacques Chevalier, the first of four fleet auxiliary ships, based on the Italian Vulcano logistic support ship. The DGA will hand over the supply vessel to the French navy.

The Jacques Chevalier represented “a strategic European industrial partnership,” French shipbuilders Naval Group and Chantiers de l’Atlantique said in a July 19 joint statement.

On the wider European front, a study led by Italy for a European Patrol Corvette is among studies funded by the European Union permanent structured cooperation. There are 25 EU states backing PESCO, Brussel’s expansion into support for the arms industry in the EU.

Another cooperative PESCO study, led by France, considers an airlifter, dubbed Future Mid-Size Tactical Cargo, which would fly alongside the A400M and replace the lighter Lockheed Martin C-130, Airbus C-295, and Leonardo C-27J.

Airbus is leading that industrial study for a future cargo aircraft, backed by €30 million from the European Defense Fund, which supports research and technology studies.

The EU has scrambled to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the quaintly named European Peace Fund acting as financial conduit for €1 billion of EU funds to reimburse in part member states which have sent ammunition and missiles to Kyiv, and a further €1 billion for EU states jointly to buy ammunition to refresh depleted national stocks.

The third part of the EU-backed program is Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), with €500 million to help companies in the European Union boost production of ammunition and missiles.

Show Me The Program

While there are EU funds for R&T weapons studies, and to pay for shipment of munitions and missiles to war torn Kyiv, Faury’s point remains – where are the new programs?

There may be renewed interest in a Franco-German project for a new heavy tank and un-crewed vehicles in the main ground combat system (MGCS), but apart from that there appears little else on the horizon.

Just now, it looks like something of a personal and political dispute over what constitutes European, with French president Emmanuel Macron at loggerheads with German chancellor Olaf Scholz, who leads a plan to build a missile defense system against Moscow.

That Berlin-led project, dubbed European Sky Shield Initiative, draws on German, Israeli, and U.S. missiles to hit any incoming Russian weapons.

But the absence of Franco-Italian SAMP/T Mamba missiles in that planned system has sparked Macron’s ire, as he sees the German approach as undermining European strategic autonomy, a concept the French commander in chief has promoted as an alternative to European dependence on Washington and the Beltway.

Now Berlin has unrolled the red carpet for Israel, with its Israel Aerospace Industries Arrow-3 missile, in a deal reported to be worth almost €4 billion.

The French pursuit of autonomy is underpinned at a strategic level by an independent French airborne and seaborne nuclear weapon.

Jupiter is the code name for the duty officer carrying a black briefcase with nuclear launch codes for the French president, as noted in a book, The President and The Bomb (Odile Jacob), by authors Jean Guisnel and Bruno Tertrais.

Jupiter leads the Greek gods from Mount Olympus, keeps a watchful eye over mortals down below, and wields deadly lightning.

Limits Of Autonomy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine points up the limits of European pursuit of autonomy, with Finland and Sweden applying for membership of NATO, a military alliance led by the U.S.
Some in France see that transatlantic partnership as favoring orders for U.S. over European equipment, perhaps the price to pay for the American protective umbrella.

Finland has joined the alliance, and Sweden awaits formal approval from Hungary and Turkey, both expected soon.

The U.S. has reportedly given approval for Finland’s order for the Israeli David’s Sling missile, a procurement approved by the Finnish government in April, just after it joined Nato.

Underlying the pursuit of European missile defense against Moscow might be the question, who leads Europe – Macron or Scholz?

Underpinning that is – where are the orders for European kit?

The German chancellor invoked a Zeitenwende, a turning point in history, after Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the bloody incursion into Ukraine. In response, Scholz pledged an extraordinary €100 billion military budget for Germany and to hit the two percent target of gross domestic product, as requested by Nato.

Skepticism has crept in since Scholz grabbed headlines with his drive for martial modernization, as Berlin bureaucracy slowed the arms procurement process.

Across the Rhine, Macron’s invoking a “war economy” in response to Putin’s belligerence, has left some in the French arms industry disappointed as expectations of bumper orders were largely left unmet. Here, an exception might be missile maker MBDA, which has received hefty orders from Macron’s administration.

A 2024-2030 military budget law was published Aug. 2 in the Journal Officiel statute book, with a 40-percent increase in spending to €413 billion from the previous multi-year program.

For some analysts, much of that went to a scheduled modernization of nuclear weapons, and inflation is expected to wipe out €30 billion or maybe more.

Cool Relations

On the political front, France and Germany last month marked the 60th anniversary of the Elysée treaty, a bilateral agreement signed by the then president Charles de Gaulle and then chancellor Konrad Adenauer, marking a determination to forge close cooperation to rebuild Europe after the second world war.

But on the personal front, there appears to be little warmth between Macron and Scholz, making it harder to advance cooperation between the two nations, seen as key partners in forging European defense – and launching those programs.

Despite that coolness between the two political leaders, Germany has seen the need to pursue European cooperation to hedge the transatlantic bets, after Berlin saw how Trump won the 2016 election and forged an America First policy, with consequences for foreign allies. Even with the latest set of indictments, Trump is ahead in the polls for leading the Republican party in the forthcoming election.

A reflection of the importance of close personal ties can be seen with the then chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron agreeing at the 2017 bilateral summit, held here, the FCAS project, seen as a signature project for European autonomy.

Berlin’s backing for that key project has not prevented an order for the F-35, to extend the German air force’s capability to carry Nato B61 nuclear bomb after the fleet of Tornado fighters is retired.

On the industrial front, it can be argued that for Dassault Aviation, European cooperation on a fighter project is fine as long as it is led by the French family-controlled company.

That privileged approach can be seen in Dassault’s insistence on being the sole prime contractor on the new generation fighter in FCAS, despite Airbus Defence and Space seeking a joint prime contractor status.

France backed Dassault’s position, so in that respect, there was a national approach on a project held as key for European cooperation. Such is the perceived importance, Belgium has joined as observer on FCAS, joining the partner nations France, Germany and Spain.

Less Tension With The U.K.

On broad cooperation, Macron has long sought to keep the U.K. in the European defense fold in response to the Brexit departure from the European Union.

Britain and France are the two leading military powers in Europe, both equipped with nuclear weapons and holding a sought after permanent seat in the U.N. security council.

Rishi Sunak as prime minister is seen on the French side as welcome change from the previous tenant of Downing Street, Boris Johnson, seen as happily exploiting difficulties with France as welcome distraction from unsettling events at home.

Putin’s drive into Ukraine brought the cross-Channel allies together, but the question remains – where are the arms programs?

Britain and France are signatories of the 2010 Lancaster House treaty for bilateral defense cooperation, but there has been a lack of newly launched programs.

Italy has applied to join the Anglo-French future cruise/anti-ship weapon program, which will extend European cooperation in missiles, a key area of the Lancaster House pact.
On the A400M, Britain and France share spare parts for the airlifter, underlining cooperation.

Meanwhile France and Germany each went its own way for service support, with the former signing with Air France Industries, and the latter with Lufthansa Technik.

The U.K. has attended both meetings of the European Political Community, a broad group of nations promoted by Macron and part of his attempt to keep Britain close to Europe after leaving the E.U.

The most recent EPC meeting, attended by 48 European leaders, was held June 1 in Bulboaca, Moldova, just a short distance from the border with Ukraine, signaling support for Kyiv. Security and defense were high on the agenda, with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attending the high-level meeting.

Political conferences are undoubtedly crucial policy tools, but for contractors it is a government order and down payment that count.

Maybe nationalism as a political movement sweeping across western Europe hampers a government’s willingness to sign up for a large, ambitious, cross-border arms programs. Far-right parties have gained populist ground in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, The Netherlands, and Sweden, making it harder to forge common projects with partners abroad.

It seems patience is indeed a virtue.

Featured Graphic: Dreamstime