Strategy RSS

  4 keys to improve Europe's security and defense 

Print Share


Cross-border terrorism and tensions in the East, not to mention the United States' changing priorities and growing isolationism, have put regional defense issues higher on Europe's agenda. "Europe must assume greater responsibility for its own security and defense," asserts Jorge Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defense Agency. Here are four action items to build a stronger European defense:

1. Integrate and collaborate

"The current fragmentation of the European defense industry and market is a big problem," Domecq says. For example, while the U.S. military has just one type of frigate warship, one type of main battle tank and one type of armored vehicle, European Armed Forces use a large number of different types of frigates, tanks and armored vehicles.

"We (in Europe) spent a little more than a third of what the U.S. spent (in 2017), but, according to some estimates, on the ground, we're only capable of deploying about 15 percent of what the U.S. can deploy," Domecq explains. Which is why the issue of more cooperation in Europe "is an existential issue," in Domecq's view. "If Europe wants to be a global actor going forward, we have to have greater defense integration."

Nevertheless, Domecq clarifies that he is totally against industrial consolidation in Europe by decree. "It will never work," he says. Success happens "when member states come together, agree on capability priorities and military requirements and then turn to the industry to develop them."

For a positive example of this kind of collaboration, Domecq cites the Meteor missile: "At present, there is one European company involving six countries with missile defense technologies. That has ensured that Europe has a third of the global share of the business of building missiles. If they hadn't cooperated, we'd be out of business."

Now, as a further means to deepen defense cooperation, 25 EU member states have signed up to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Only Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom have decided to opt out. Launched in December 2017, PESCO is a key step forward because of the binding nature of the commitments made by the participating countries to align and synchronize defense plans and maximize the effectiveness of spending. Countries enter into PESCO projects and the attached commitments voluntarily but, "like in a marriage," with an ambition to respect the commitments and make it a success.

2. Keep pace with technology

"New technologies are emerging that will change how we organize defense and the defense industry," he says, citing these examples:
  • Artificial intelligence will be incorporated into both military and commercial unmanned and autonomous systems, which could, in the future, make them capable of undertaking tasks and missions on their own.
  • Big data can help with military simulation designs and results.
  • 3D printing will revolutionize the way we produce tools and parts as well as how we organize logistics by providing parts on site and on demand.

3. Invest more in innovation

"Research and technology (R&T) are key for any modern defense," says Domecq, noting that this requires investment and prioritization. A surprising fact is that, while overall defense spending is increasing, total defense-related R&T expenditure fell by 22 percent from 2006 to 2016. (Meanwhile, total R&D spending is down 6.5 percent over the same time period.)

Looping back to his earlier point about collaboration, Domecq laments that "in 2015, not even 8 percent of Europe's defense R&T was spent collaboratively. This is the lowest figure in a decade." (On a positive note: in 2016, Spain spent almost a third of its defense R&T in collaborative projects.)

It wasn't always this way. The decades from the 1960s to the 1990s saw various countries collaborating in many programs, including the Panavia Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft as well as several successful helicopter and missile collaborations. By contrast, there have been "no new major collaborative defense programs in the last decade."

The result is "lower investment levels and fewer collaborative projects." Meanwhile, European Armed Forces spend almost 50 percent of their budgets on personnel. "In short, we spend too much on personnel and too little on innovation."

4. Open up to nontraditional players

In many cases, SMEs and nontraditional defense companies "are the source of new innovative research and cutting-edge technologies." This makes it "more urgent than ever to draw on and attract SMEs and non-traditional defense companies into the European defense technological and industrial base," says Domecq.

However, there's hard work ahead. For defense, Domecq explains, when you're in a warfare environment, you can't afford to have a faulty switch: "It has to work." That can mean onerous trials and lead-times that go against the usual frenetic rhythm of start-ups. Moreover, will the same companies on the cutting edge today still be around to help with updates and support in 20 years' time? Another issue is the global nature of today's supply chains, where some links in the chain might not comply with all security requirements.

"Innovation can bring a lot, but there are many questions to be answered," he says. What the European Defense Agency needs to do, in his view, is "engage with European industry, at all levels, to support innovation."

At this crossroads in defense, Domecq believes that "if we can make European cooperation the norm, based on agreed priorities, sufficient funding and innovative technologies, then there will be a real step-change toward a European defense union."


Based on remarks made by Jorge Domecq during a visit to IESE's Barcelona campus in 2018.
This article is based on:  4 keys to improve Europe's security and defense
Year:  2018
Language:  Spanish

Related Material