By Aurélie Pugnet
(EurActiv) — EU defence ministers on Tuesday (14 November) approved a rehaul of the defence capability development priorities (CDP) to reflect the need for more conventional defence equipment and counter-drone tactics in their armed forces’ ranks, learning lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Meant to be a driver for all EU defence-related initiatives, it wants to give member states a common direction to adapt their warfare, and identify defence equipment to purchase, develop or research to fill in any gaps.
The CDP is about “what do we need and we don’t have, where are the loopholes and where we should invest”, EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said ahead of the meeting. “How to solve it? In investing more in those areas.”
Since 2018, the Europeans’ security environment has changed massively: a new war broke out in Ukraine, wars between Azerbaijan and Georgia have rocked the Caucasus, unrest has simmered in the Western Balkans, European operations have been facing defiance in the shape of coups d’état in the Sahel, and the EU drafted its first security strategy the Strategic Compass.
“The newly adopted set of priorities also reflect the objectives of the EU’s Strategic Compass and the military realities observed in Ukraine, including high-intensity requirements,” the agency wrote in a press release.
According to the report, the 22 priorities identified include fourteen priorities across five military domains and eight related to strategic enablers, which are essential for developing the EU’s new Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC).
To increase abilities on land, EU countries need to enhance their ground combat capabilities (ie, tanks) and land-based precision engagement capabilities, with “enhancements” in large-calibre ammunition stockpiles, advanced anti-tank systems, and resilience against cyber threats.
The agency lists several priorities for integrated air and missile defence, which “encompasses all surface-based capabilities facing an airborne threat”.
Priorities focus on “upgrading” current air defence systems and on “developing” next-generation systems with space-based early warning and counter-unmanned air systems tactics (i.e. counter-drones). Other ideas include airborne command and inform capabilities.
The “full spectrum” of cyber defence is also on the EDA’s radar, including conducting operations.
Agile logistics are also a large part of the programme, with shared stocks and common warehousing ability to deal with extreme weather conditions, energy security, medical support, and chemical, biological, radiological & nuclear (CBRN) defence.
Critical infrastructure protection is also a key point, which came to the forefront of the priorities with the incidents on the Nord Stream pipeline and the Baltic Sea cables, as well as military mobility, to move troops and equipment across the continent efficiently.
With a view to underwater and seabed warfare, underwater protection, and anti-submarine capabilities with autonomous underwater vehicles, and surveillance systems are needed, which also help protect critical infrastructures.
Adapting to war
“The newly adopted set of priorities reflect the objectives of the EU’s Strategic Compass and the military realities observed in Ukraine, including high-intensity requirements,” the agency wrote in a press release.
The list indeed takes into account practices and equipment seen largely used in the high-intensity war in Ukraine, where conventional capacities and new technologies work seamlessly together, with drones, for instance.
The battle also showed the need for increased air defence capabilities and better protection of critical infrastructures.
“The Ukraine context highlighted the importance of multilayer Integrated Air and Missile Defence, along with an appropriate rebalance between the qualitative and quantitative dimensions in many capability areas,” of land, maritime, cyber, and logistics, EDA said.
The list is largely similar to the 2018 report, which listed only 11 priorities, focusing on command and control, information and cyber domain, land capabilities and logistics and air domain.
Five years later, most equipment, such as cyber, medical support, and conventional equipment on air and land domains, are still listed as loopholes.
However, more technology-based capabilities such as space-based information sharing, earth observation, navigation, situational awareness and satellite communication are no longer on the list, as well as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and other similar capabilities assessing information superiority.
While EU countries are encouraged to follow the guidelines identified in cooperation with their armed forces, this is not always the case, and procuring weapons is time-intensive.
The EU does not have any enforcement power in that regard.
“Now is the time to translate these priorities into concrete defence cooperation projects to ensure more resilient, agile and robust European armed forces, ready to tackle present and future threats,” Borrell added.
“The 22 priorities (…) are designed to lead to concrete projects,” the EDA wrote in a press release.