EU countries add air, space and drone technologies to their list of defense cooperation

WASHINGTON – European Union defense ministers this week approved new collaborative projects aimed at strengthening the bloc’s military capabilities in air, space and drone operations.

The fourth wave of 14 initiatives brings the list of permanent structured cooperation projects to 60 since the end of 2017. Collectively, they represent a key element of the EU’s defense aspirations, although the commissioning of any usable equipment is still in years.

A new strategic airlift project for oversized cargo aims to establish a common aircraft fleet for long-haul cargo flights, thus filling a continuing shortage among European NATO members. The project, which is open to “possible participation by third countries”, counts among its members Germany, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

The reference to so-called third states is a clue to non-EU countries – likely the UK or Norway – that they could play a role in the effort if they so choose. The idea is to identify a “common European solution for the transport of oversized goods” by 2023, with a separate follow-up project in 2026 to work on real equipment, according to a fact sheet published online by the European Defense Agency.

Estonia, France and Latvia are regrouping on a “semi-autonomous” and possibly manned warship which could be used for reconnaissance, hunting of submarines and surface ships, and laying of mines. For this project, initial capacities are already defined and companies are looking for ways to form a consortium, according to the EDA statement.

A small “new generation” drone weighing 150 kilograms is the objective of another new project, which aims to deliver a first prototype by 2026. The machine is intended to be independent of the tracks, highly deployable, multirole and “tactical,” although official statements leave open what exactly that means.

Germany, as a member of the project along with Spain, Portugal and Slovenia, has been reluctant to admit the use of armed drones for its forces, although the new government has reportedly indicated that their use could be allowed in strict self-defense conditions.

Under the banner of ‘Defense of Space Assets’, six countries will seek to integrate survivability considerations into the space programs of EU Member States, as satellites vital to military operations on Earth increasingly become. more targets for potential adversaries.

The project involves a “three-step approach combining training for military space operations, space resilience, and access to space and maneuverability in space,” the EDA statement said. France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Austria are currently listed as members of the project.

In addition to approving new initiatives, officials this week also adopted recommendations to monitor the progress of PESCO projects, according to the European Council’s website. Critics have previously lamented the slowness of some lines of work, warning that the bloc must catch up more quickly in its efforts to muster new military capabilities without US aid.

Sebastian Sprenger is Associate Editor for Europe at Defense News, which covers the state of the defense market in the region, as well as US-EU cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. Previously, he was the editor of Defense News.

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