EDA To Set Up Pilot European Satellite Procurement Cell
BRUSSELS - National defense ministers from 26 of the European Union's 27 member states (Denmark has an opt-out) have granted the European Defence Agency (EDA) a budget of 30.5 million euros ($40.7 million) in 2012 and agreed the agency should set up a pilot European satellite communication procurement cell.
Despite a considerable amount of talk about the importance of EU member states pooling and sharing more military capabilities and the ongoing financial crisis, there was precious little agreement on concrete initiatives with specific timelines.
At a news conference Nov. 30, EDA Chief Executive Claude-France Arnould described satellite communications as a "key enabler of any operation," allowing "soldiers to communicate, ships to navigate, HQ to operate in theater."
The new procurement cell will involve six to eight member states including the U.K., said Arnould.
It will be up and running straight away. Currently, member states spend about 3 million to 5 million euros per year to acquire satellite communications bandwidth. Demand is growing, particularly with the widespread use of UAVs on the battlefield, which require substantial communications capacity to control and transmit data from sensors.
The pilot program is designed to prove that pooling demand will reduce both costs (10 percent estimate) and ensure better availability (security of supply and rapid access). Astrium has been selected as the broker for this activity following an open competition.
Arnould said air-to-air refueling was a "major capability shortfall, as shown again in Libya," and that the aim "is to improve operational output and cost effectiveness and to address the dependency on the U.S. of European air forces."
Speaking privately, an EU official said that a medium- and long-term aim is to convince EU member states to reduce the current nine refueling fleets down to four (A400M, C130J, Airbus 330 and B767) and not to buy outside those aircraft types.
Another option Arnould noted is for those member states that are not buying A400Ms to instead purchase kits or pods allowing them to refuel from the A400M.
She stressed that there were "no proposals on the table for common procurement of new equipment" and that "capability is not just about acquisition." Training helicopter pilots is one example of a capability that the EDA has been working on since 2009.
The other eight areas for further consideration include maritime surveillance networking (currently covering EU borders only but might be extended for expeditionary tactical operations such as the Atalanta counter-piracy operation); medical field hospitals; future military satellite communications; ISR; pilot training; European transport hubs; smart munitions (the Libya operation showed that EU member state stockpiles were insufficient and that there was an overdependence on the U.S.); and naval logistics and training (capabilities such as aircraft carriers could be made available at all times by synchronizing maintenance schedules on a multinational basis).
Arnould also stressed that the EDA is working to coordinate with NATO as "cooperation is not a beauty contest between NATO and the EDA." She said the EDA would continue work on pooling and sharing, with a more comprehensive agenda coming out in the spring, just before NATO unveils its so-called smart defense proposals at its Chicago summit.
The key question is whether EU member states will follow up with concrete proposals in the 10 pooling and sharing areas other than the satellite communications cell. Regardless of how many proposals the EDA comes up with, that appears to be in doubt.
Arnould said there was "clear momentum for moving forward" and "an important window of opportunity to improve European defense capabilities" but conceded that "cooperation is not a natural reflex" and that "there are concerns, in particular about sovereignty and autonomy."
EU defense ministers also approved an administrative cooperation agreement between the EDA and Switzerland, under which the two parties can work together on research and technology, and armaments cooperation. The framework agreement sets out procedures for mutual consultation as well as for Swiss participation in ad hoc EDA programs and projects.