The year 2020 will become one of truth for Europe’s defense industry — especially in the sector of military aviation. For years, European nations are discussing efforts to jointly develop defense assets that should ensure better security into the 21st century. Progress has been made — mainly on the development of a European drone and the Future Combat Air System.
Next year will show how serious the nations take the projects, as for the first time big contractual and financing milestones will have to be achieved. Security never comes for free. Everybody acknowledges that fact, but practical decisions need to underpin this. Same applies to the promise to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. We can only show a credible line of defence if enemies of the alliance are afraid of feeling the strong military power NATO is able to provide in the worst case.
Procrastination and post-Cold War recession in several countries need to come to an end. I acknowledge that, for example, Germany is moving in the right direction. But is it fast enough while security is evermore volatile in certain parts of the world? The defense industry, especially that in Europe with its decades of experience in working in collaborative programs, can help. We are on standby, but political decisions need to be taken first.
Modern threats sometimes require modern answers. But we shouldn’t forget that these answers are often two- or threefold and inherit also a large pack of traditional approaches — and sometimes the old ways are still the best. Nations and industry must not wait for the next big thing, but they also need to consider constantly refining their existing equipment. A perfect example for this is the military aircraft fleet of Airbus. Be it our transport, mission or combat segment: By adding more sensors and connectivity into the existing fleets, we will see in 2020 good things becoming better and enable them to play a vital role in the Future Combat Air Systems scenarios.
Special attention will also need to be devoted to the novel situation in space as a serious area of engagement for defense. As Europe’s largest space company, we know what we are talking about here. Let’s be frank: Without our assets in space — all communications nods and observation assets — what the Western world calls “normal” life is no longer possible. And with this goes the well-being of our societies. So it is only fair that nations are starting now to make up their minds on space defense, and NATO recently decided to declare space the fifth dimension of defense next to land, sea, air and cyber.
This adds another layer to an already extremely complex scenario. How does that translate into the defense industry? The importance of the few large companies will rise. With their huge integration, capabilities and portfolio that is spread over all five threat dimensions, they will have to play a key role in mastering technologies, integrating smaller, specialized companies, and ensuring that government and military users can focus their decision-making on the bits and pieces that really matter. This is a challenge we will passionately continue working on in 2020 and the years beyond.
Dirk Hoke is the CEO of Airbus Defence and Space.