WASHINGTON — Since becoming the European Defence Agency’s (EDA) chief executive in February 2015, Jorge Domecq has made partnership with NATO  a priority. The same goes  regarding the United States, which among others would facilitate closer cooperation with NATO. In fact, the top Spanish diplomat — who has held key NATO and EU posts — wants to synchronize his agency with the Pentagon’s high-profile drive to accelerate innovation and forge a new third offset strategy to literally offset gains by potential adversaries to keep the US and its allies in the global military lead.

Headquartered in Brussels, EDA shapes industrial policy, research and development and drives collaborative programs to equip member nations, like aerial tankers, unmanned aircraft, satellite communications and cyber.

Domecq was in the United States last week for meetings at the Pentagon as well as with NATO Allied Command Transformation officials in Norfolk, Virginia.

Q. How do you envision the strategic linkages between the EDA, US and NATO on US Defense Secretary Ash Carter's third offset strategy and technological innovation strategy?

A. In the new security environment in Europe, NATO and EU are obliged to cooperate and this has been even clearer in a hybrid situation where we see that EU has a set of tools including military which give us the comprehensive approach to defense and security. And NATO has a set of capabilities also that are complementary. Fifteen years ago we were worried about non-duplication. I think that time is over. We are now in a new situation where we cannot continue to pretend that NATO remains relevant if there is not a strong and relevant military European component.

Q. You've said there is no real defense capability without industrial capability. How do you maintain a leadership component and credibility if the nations themselves are not investing as much as they all should be?

A. We need the first investment to be devoted to the right items in defense. We cannot continue to use in Europe half of defense spending on personnel. We cannot continue on defense spending which only has 10 percent of what the US gets out of every buck it devotes to defense. This lack of efficiency in defense spending in Europe is an effect of the fragmentation and the national approach to defense by big, medium and smaller nations. Defense cooperation is no longer an option. Many of the prime technological defense industries in Europe remain in Europe because they have the defense part of business. If they did not have it, probably they would have translocated the production lines somewhere in the world.

Q. Are you satisfied enough money is being programmed by governments as they look at the Russia threat, at ISIS, and other emerging threats? Do you sense that there is going to be an uptick in that R&T spending?

A. I hope so, because R&T has gone down in the last six years by 27 percent and R&D 29 percent. That is more worrying than the entire defense spending because the effects of that downturn in R&T and R&D spending will be noticed in the immediate term.

Q. Europe seems to be better at getting technology that works the dual-use angle and more rapidly embraces commercial technologies and adjusts them to defense programs. What lessons can the US learn to attract interest from commercial firms?

A. There have been good examples of incorporating civilian technological innovations in Europe, but in the US it is a very long tradition of civilian technologies spinning into the military domain. I think around 75 percent of R&T in the US is happening in the civilian sector. The third offset strategy is going to continue already a long policy in the US of devoting public money into technologies. What is going to change is not only how we incorporate it but how defense ministries change their way of functioning vis-à-vis these industries. That is the way in which defense programs are run and which will have to change exponentially in the coming years with shorter cycles, going for demonstrators, having to rely also on venture capital to fund them.

Q. What is the status of the Airbus MRTT program?

A. At present, this program, which is a model of operation among different organizations in Europe, we have established the common staff requirements. Now OCCAR with our support is taking care of the procurement management and in the end the fleet of air tankers will be maintained and owned by the NATO procurement agency NSPA. At present, Airbus is preparing an offer that will be presented to the free states, which are so far a part of the program and we are going toward a signature of the contract in June next year with an initial operational capability in 2020. Three nations are involved, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway; more are interested to join at a later stage either by procuring additional aircraft or flying hours.

Q. What is next for the pan-European drone effort?

A. We have to separate what are our immediate operational needs and what we need in a longer term. Immediate needs, we do not have this strategic medium altitude long endurance drone in Europe at present. So all of these countries have opted for the US [systems]. Now in the medium term there is a need from a strategic autonomy perspective for Europe to have that capability, and it is even more important for the industry in Europe to retain the skills that they now have in the combat aircraft domain. In the coming 15, 20 years we do not see a next generation of combat aircraft.

Q. Would more consolidation produce greater integration in Europe's industrial base?

A. I clearly consider that industrial consolidation is more than necessary in Europe. It has to happen around cooperative programs that are agreed by member states where we have defined common requirements and then asked the industry to come together and do it. A clear example where there has been a success, for example, the missile area where you know you have two US firms who take two-thirds of the global market and the other third is a European company made up of different companies which have come together which is MBDA.

Q. Historically, there has been a very tense relationship between the EDA and NATO, including the US, where there has been a perception that the EDA is working sort of a separate agenda. What is your view of what the relationship among all three has to be?

A. That lack of trust, or looking at what Europe was doing with distrust, has finished. What the US is clearly signaling is Europe has to get on and get its act together whatever it does in defense. That has meant that the issue of NATO and EU cooperating is no longer if, it's how. We are doing it so far within the political limitations that exist informally. However, I got a mandate from defense ministers in the agency in May to enhance and synchronize our defense planning in Europe and in NATO to ensure that we do not unnecessarily duplicate work, and to work specifically on hybrid strengths.

Working hand in hand with NATO and choosing what is done better in one place or another is the best way forward. I also think the US, which has shown a keen interest in the agency in recent years, should also look at a possibly more structured approach to the agency as the best way to enforce and reinforce NATO and the EU getting together in the perspective of the Warsaw Summit as well as the development of the Union's Global Strategy.

Q. Does Europe need a much more integrated strategy to work along with the US as it develops its third offset strategy?

A. I think it is very important that the US talks to its allies and partners in Europe collectively on this. We cannot afford creating more gaps but we need to synchronize to the most possible extent primarily to ensure interoperability amongst the EU member states and NATO nations. One of the key aspects of the third offset probably will be related to cyber, which is an area you can only deal with in a collective manner.

Email: vmuradian@defensenews.com

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