STUTTGART, Germany — Since its founding in 2001, the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation has managed more than a dozen joint defense programs for its six member nations — Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom — as well as several nonmember participating states.
Although the the customers of those programs all include European nations, OCCAR is an international entity. It functions independent of other institutions, such as NATO and the European Union.
Notably, OCCAR manages a €6 billion (U.S. $7 billion) defense program portfolio that includes the A400M airlifter, the FREMM multi-mission frigate and the MAST-F air-to-ground tactical missile.
Joachim Sucker, who directs the organization, shared his vision for OCCAR and information about several program updates in a recent interview with Defense News. Sucker took on the leadership role in February. He previously held senior positions at the German Defence Ministry beginning in 2014, and was most recently responsible for the technical supervision of all air domain armament projects there.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What is OCCAR’s purpose? How do nations benefit from using OCCAR as a contract manager?
OCCAR was founded with a mission to manage complex, cooperative defense equipment programs throughout their life cycle. France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom established OCCAR on the basis of a treaty known as the OCCAR Convention, which was ratified in 2001, giving OCCAR its legal status as an independent international organization. Belgium and Spain joined OCCAR, respectively, in 2003 and 2005.
The core business of OCCAR is to deliver defense capabilities to nations through cooperation in a cost-efficient way. OCCAR’s structure also allows other nations to participate on equal terms as the member states in specific OCCAR programs, as long as they accept its rules and regulations. Currently, eight additional nations participate in our programs: Australia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Turkey.
For over 20 years we have had a successful track record in managing complex, cooperative programs. OCCAR is more than a procurement agency, as our focus is the program stages of development and production, rather than buying off-the-shelf equipment. Nations, through our business model, guide OCCAR and stay in control of whatever actions we undertake.
What are the criteria for OCCAR to serve as an armament program manager? Are there limits to the size and scope of the desired capability, program cost, timespan or partners?
OCCAR is flexible in terms of participants, size and scope of a program, cost and time scale. It is up to the program-participating states to decide on what they want OCCAR to do and how they want OCCAR to do it. Our strength is our flexibility.
Our portfolio is composed of programs in all domains — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace — and although we focus on complex programs such as the A400M, frigates or armored vehicles, we are enabled to manage less complex programs as well, for instance our Night Vision Capability program.
When might it be better for a joint program to use internal defense management agencies rather than OCCAR?
That decision depends on the nations’ will to cooperate and compromise. What we offer to nations is a choice — a chance to cooperate — and we endeavor to be a center of excellence, ensuring that OCCAR is the optimum choice available.
Since you took over as OCCAR director, what have been your goals and agenda?
OCCAR can look back at more than 20 years of success. I took over a well-positioned organization, but we must not rest on our laurels.
My main focus will be in two areas. Firstly, I will continue to promote OCCAR as a center of excellence for managing complex and cooperative armaments programs within Europe and abroad. We are doing this through the establishment of cooperation agreements with more and more countries. This allows us to integrate new programs with more partner states into OCCAR at short notice.
Secondly, I want to accelerate our continuous improvement. We are facing an increased level of digitalization, which offers great opportunities for our processes and cooperation with nations and industries. This enables OCCAR to manage an increasing number of programs, but we have to adapt our organization to these new needs. Our ambition is to always apply the latest methods and approaches for managing defense equipment programs.
How have Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global inflation and ongoing global supply chain challenges affected OCCAR´s portfolio?
As for many players in the defense industry, finding reliable supply chains has become more challenging in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses in the global supply chain of our programs.
OCCAR’s portfolio has been impacted less than others, as the supply chain of our programs relies more on local, or participating, states than on global suppliers.
You currently manage 18 programs with a total operational budget this year of about €6 billion. What major milestones are ahead for larger projects, specifically the Eurodrone medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft system; the Boxer armored vehicle; and the Tiger MkIII helicopter modernization efforts?
The Eurodrone MALE RPAS contract began March 1, 2022. Since then, a number of significant events were achieved. The program moves forward at a very fast pace, with the next big milestone being the preliminary design review scheduled at the end of 2023. The program is a clear example of successful European cooperation at both the political and industrial levels. MALE RPAS will provide to its participating states, for the first time, full sovereignty in a capability of this type.
Regarding the Boxer program, the knowledge transfer from German to U.K. production lines continues, while vehicle production has begun at both U.K. sites. Furthermore, we are focusing on retrofit activities for the Netherlands, deliveries for Lithuania and new developments for Germany.
OCCAR’s focus for the Tiger helicopters lies in supporting nations to achieve the highest operational readiness possible. Our main priorities are, firstly, to tailor the in-service support contractual scheme to nations’ needs; and secondly, in minimizing the impact of a number of important obsolescence cases. OCCAR continuously works to maintain the effectiveness of the Tiger helicopter fleets by updating the configuration and upgrading capabilities.
What plans exist to take over additional programs in the near future? What is still to be done before OCCAR formally takes over the facilitation and management of those programs?
We are constantly integrating new programs and expect a total of 25 programs by early 2024, and further increases to this number in the years thereafter.
We are currently integrating eight new programs, five of which are related to the European Defence Fund. We are also working on the integration of non-EDF programs, such as the “wide wet gap” crossing capability for the U.K. and Germany, and a four-wheel drive armored vehicle for France and Belgium.
Our integration process covers agreements between nations, agreements between nations and OCCAR, and contracts between OCCAR and industry. In the case of EDF projects, there is also a need for an agreement between the European Commission and OCCAR. We are continuously working with our partners to jointly facilitate the integration and management of future cooperative armament programs.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.