Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Are the Europeans repeating the mistakes of the United States to 'rationalize' the defense industry?

For several years, Europeans have spared no effort to try to give life to a rationalized European defense industry, with the ultimate objective of increasing the strategic autonomy of the old continent.

This is how several initiatives have been launched, notably at the level of the European Union such as Permanent Structured Cooperation or PESCO and the European Defense Fund, aimed at providing a cooperation framework and access to credits for defense programs. defense, whether industrial or operational, carried out by European countries.

Other initiatives, such as the FCAS combat aircraft program, the new generation MGCS combat tank, the RPAS Eurodrone combat drone or the FREMM frigates, were launched through national agreements, sometimes within the framework of OCCAR (Joint Organization for Cooperation in Armaments).

A clear observation

It must be said that the observation made by the European authorities a few years ago was intriguing. Thus, if the United States deployed, in 2019, 2,779 combat aircraft belonging to 11 different models, all produced on American soil, the members of the Union, for their part, only fielded 1,700, but 19 different models, more than half of which were imported.

This situation is far from only concerning combat aircraft, being strictly identical in the field of armored vehicles, anti-aircraft systems, combat ships or even helicopters, even if in several of these categories, the share of European equipment turns out to be superior.

swedish gripens french rafale s train together1
European armies use twice as many combat aircraft models as the US armies, even though they are 50% larger.

Faced with such figures, it seemed obvious that it was necessary to rationalize not only the equipment programs of European armies, so as to improve interoperability, but also to reduce costs and improve maintainability and scalability. fleets, and thus avoid inventing the same wheel several times.

For example, today, four European manufacturers (TKMS, Kockums, Navantia and Naval Group) are designing submarines with conventional propulsion or AIP, while six major naval design offices (the four previously mentioned as well as Damen and Fincantieri) design frigates, destroyers and large surface combatants.

The replicated R&D spending is obvious, and could in fact be saved for the benefit of more equipment for the armies, and less spending for governments, often exposed to large public deficits.

A desire to rationalize the European defense industry

In fact, and predictably, the European institutions, like the leaders of the countries most inclined to support this reading of the situation such as France or Germany, undertook to "correct the situation", by launching joint programs, in within the framework of European institutions or multilaterally.

A few years later, it is clear that the path taken has obviously turned out to be much more chaotic than anticipated, while many Franco-German programs, such as MAWS, CIFS and Tigre III, have experienced a disastrous destiny, that the FCAS and MGCS programs do not lack tensions and difficulties, and that European programs frequently do the same, especially when they relate to dimensioning capabilities, as in the context of anti-missile defense.

However, recent declarations across the Atlantic could shed some light on the consequences of this European strategy which is similar to that applied in the United States three decades ago.

KMW Leopard 2 factory e1683202464684
Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann production line for the Leopard 2

The perverse effects of the new American defense industrial landscape

Indeed, a few days ago, the former chief negotiator of the Pentagon's arms programs and former vice-president of the giant Raytheon, drew up a scathing observation regarding the evolution of the US industrial and technological base which is, according to him, at the origin of the difficulties encountered by the Pentagon in modernizing its forces and meeting the challenge posed by Beijing and Moscow .

Indeed, today, the major American defense companies, and in particular the Top 5 made up of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman and General Dynamics, have achieved such economic, social and political power that it It is impossible for the Pentagon to control the rise in equipment costs, due to a lack of competition.

For example, the Stinger very short-range surface-to-air missile cost $25,000 in the early 1990s, compared to $400,000 today , i.e. 7 times more expensive once inflation and developments are taken into account. technological.

US defense industry has increased prices well above inflation since 1993
The Stingers sent to Ukraine by the United States cost the US Army $25,000 in the early 1990s. They are being replaced by Stingers purchased today for $400,000 from Raytheon.

LOGO meta defense 70

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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