A UK Royal Navy Type 23 frigate. A European Union commission is pressing European nations to avoid duplication in weapons, pointing out the EU nations have 16 different types of frigates. (BAE Systems)
BRUSSELS — A pre-commercial procurement scheme is one of the most promising European Commission proposals contained in a policy paper ahead of a key European Union summit in December.
The commission’s policy paper came out in July and is aimed at creating a more competitive and efficient defense and security sector in the EU. Declining national budgets have created a growing need for action by EU governments.
Among the recommendations, the commission is pressing member states to support dual-use research and agree to common defense standards and certification.
According to the commission, between 2001 and 2010, EU defense spending fell from €251 billion (US $335 billion) to €194 billion. Cuts have particularly affected research — crucial for staying ahead of new threats — where spending fell by 14 percent from 2005 to 2010, the commission said on its external relations and foreign affairs website.
The commission’s proposals are designed to avoid duplication between EU countries and to encourage cooperation through, for example, pooling and sharing. “Increasing cooperation at EU level would help to lower costs. EU countries have 16 different types of frigates between them. If all countries had the same model, for frigates and other equipment, they could develop economies of scale,” the commission said on its website.
The policy paper is the first of the two main papers that EU heads of state will discuss in December. The second is a report by the EU’s high representative, Catherine Ashton, which is due the next month or so and will pull together the ideas of the European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency (EDA).
In a section of the paper focusing on the dual-use research option, the commission writes that it intends to support a pre-commercial scheme to procure prototypes.
“The first candidates for these could be: CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear and explosives] detection, RPAS [remotely piloted aircraft systems] and communication equipment based on software defined radio technology,” it adds.
In response to a series of questions from Defense News, the commission sent an emailed reply because it had to consult officials from various directorates general.
“At this stage it is too early to go into detail into what this will mean in practice as this has yet to be discussed with member states, the European Parliament and stakeholders,” the commission wrote. “The aim of pre-commercial procurement is to support the research needs of end-users, i.e. public authorities. So the views of member states, in particular, are critical in deciding how this tool might be applied in the dual-use area. The modalities, such as funding, can only be decided once an area(s) have been identified.”
Martin Michelot, a program and research officer on security and defense matters at the German Marshall Fund think tank, said funding research is crucial.
“On pre-procurement, the commission should support the research side of the defense sector by opening up tenders for cost-efficient prototypes for new types of weapons, plans, vehicles and drones that could be used by EU member states,” he said. “At a time when joint French and British initiatives to develop a new UAV are fledgling and when France is doing a lot of soul-searching about whether to keep buying US drones or spending money on its national defense sector to develop a UAV, such an initiative could help EU countries develop their own drones without having to rely on the US or Israel.”
“If the EU intends to implement pooling and sharing plans that will have a chance of working, I think dual-use is the way to go and has the most support of EU governments,” he added. “For pre-tender projects, the EDA could serve as a point where EU member states’ needs are expressed. The commission could identify the needs of all member states and thereby avoid duplication between national defense sectors.”
Two other areas are standardization and certification. “Most standards used in EU defense are civilian. Where specific defense standards are required they are developed nationally, hindering cooperation and increasing costs for the industry. Therefore, the use of common defense standards would greatly enhance cooperation and interoperability between European armies and improve the competitiveness of Europe’s industry in emerging technologies,” the commission argues.
In this connection, the commission says it will promote the development of “hybrid standards” for products that can have both military and civilian applications and has already issued a standardization request for a software defined radio.
“The next candidates for standardization requests could deal with [CBRNE] detection and sampling standards, RPAS, airworthiness requirements, data-sharing standards, encryption and other critical information communication technologies,” the commission said.
The commission also plans to consider, with the EDA and European Standardisation Organisations, establishing a mechanism to draft specific European standards for military products and applications after agreement with member states.
“On EU missions, it is difficult to pool and share because there is little standardization,” said a source familiar with the commission’s plans. “This would be good for the end user as it improves interoperability and good for industry because it would bring down development costs and ensure a bigger customer base.”
On the subject of certification, the commission notes in its policy paper that “the lack of a pan-European system of certification of defense products acts as a major bottleneck delaying the placing of products on the market and adds substantially to costs throughout the life-cycle of the product.” It suggests military airworthiness and ammunition as areas for common certification.
“Building on the civil experience of EASA, its experience gained by certifying the Airbus A400M (in its civil configuration) and the work of the EDA in this area, the commission will assess the different options for carrying out, on behalf of the member states, the tasks related to the initial airworthiness of military products in the areas specified by the EDA,” the policy paper said.
Work on European military airworthiness has been underway since 2008 when the EDA Military Airworthiness Authorities Forum was set up to harmonize the European military airworthiness regulations of EU member states.
An EDA press release issued at the Paris Air Show on June 19 stated that “some EU member states have already agreed to use EDA’s harmonized European military airworthiness requirements for the in-service support phase of the A400M aircraft program.” This essentially refers to EU countries having the same rules for maintenance requirements.
In terms of the bigger picture, Michelot believes that the commission has provided EU member states with a good starting point, which they must now take forward.
“EU countries need to seize the opportunity of waning defense budgets. This is the only way for Europe to preserve its strategic relevance. The commission communication is a surprisingly good beginning and will help frame the conversation in December. It reflects deep thinking on the issues,” he said.
Asked to comment on which areas the commission most wants to make progress, it replied via email: “Clearly, there are areas where the commission itself can drive progress i.e. in the areas of its direct competence — internal market, some aspects of industrial policy (e.g. standardization, regional policy etc.), dual-use research etc. However, the real breakthrough will come if there is a genuine political will to develop a much deeper and broader European defense cooperation across a number of areas including industry and research.
“So far, the initial reaction to the communication from member states has been broadly positive, but it is the subsequent months that will determine whether there is genuine collective political momentum to make the real progress needed.”