EDA calls for greater investment in defence R&D

October 9, 2006

Brussels, 06 Oct 2006

Europe needs to invest more on defence research and development (R&D) in order to maintain its military edge in the future, according to the latest report by the European Defence Agency (EDA). Published on 3 October, the 'Long-term vision of European defence capabilities and needs' outlines the kind of challenges facing Europe in the next 20 years, and how a European Security and Defence Policy should best respond to them.

Based on analyses by officials and experts from governments, defence bodies, academia and industry across Europe, the report paints a sobering picture of an ageing and relatively less prosperous Europe, which is having to contend with the impact of globalisation on itself, its neighbours and other world powers. Globalisation, it says, will lead to greater instability and inequality, producing 'winners and losers as between countries and regions, and within societies.'

And just as globalisation will irreversibly alter the geo-political landscape, so science and technology will continue to transform the world at an ever-increasing pace: not least in military force where it already plays a driving role, finds the report.

Most of the technologies expected to be the key determinants of those military capabilities needed in 2025 are, according to the scientific consensus, already known about today. 'There is little doubt that continued advances in microelectronics (Moore's law shows no signs of slackening) and in sensing and communication technologies will support the increasingly dominant role of knowledge in military operations,' the report surmises. Similarly, the precision, speed and safety of military operations should benefit from rapid progress in bio- and material sciences.

However, there is a downside to such progress, notes the report. 'Our own universal means of communication are already thoroughly exploited by opponents both as platforms for propagating ideas and ideologies and as communication networks. Commercially available applications such as GPS and Google Earth [...] are manifestly open to abuse. And the more dependent we become on technology, the more interest our opponents will have in attacking us via our technological infrastructure. The adversary will also work hard to adopt and exploit our own advances against us.'

Today, Europe retains a widely capable defence technological and industrial base (DTIB). But the prognosis is not encouraging. The report argues that if Europe is to preserve a broadly based and globally competitive DTIB, it must increase its investment in defence R&D. Already the US is outspending Europe six to one in defence R&D, devoting some 35% of its defence expenditure to investment (from a budget more than twice as large as that of European budgets combined), compared to the European level of about 20%.

Increasing investment needs to be complemented by investing to better effect, says the report. This means ensuring that investment is directed towards future capability needs and overcoming the 'notorious' fragmentation of the European defence industrial scene, to eliminate wasteful duplications and achieve economically viable scale. The report's authors welcomed the recent commitment of 22 Member States to open the European defence equipment market up to competition, calling it a 'brave' step in the right direction, provided that it is followed through. Redoubled efforts are also required to achieve consolidation on the demand side of the market, and to facilitate further progress towards supply side consolidation 'The need, in short, is to accept that the DTIB in Europe can only survive as one European whole, not as a sum of different national capacities,' reads the report.

In addition to increasing investment and putting it to better use, the report recommends drawing on advances of civil technology, such as that funded by the European Commission in the security field. Under the proposed budget for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), a total of €1.35 billion has been earmarked for research projects in the field of security..

It also suggests better exploiting the abundant human capital and sources of innovation to be found in universities, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and enterprises not traditionally regarded as 'defence industries' across Europe - as well as the wealth engineers and researchers who have joined the EU with its last enlargement. '[N]o one institute, still less one person, can be competent across the broadening river of technology. Innovation will increasingly depend upon networks of excellent researchers collaborating to combine their expertise in different disciplines,' say the authors of the report.

EU defence ministers meeting informally in Levi, Finland, on 3 October broadly endorsed the report, agreeing that the Long-Term Vision (LTV) should be the basis for the Agency to present new proposals on an ESDP Capability Development Plan.

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