By Aurélie Pugnet
(EurActiv) — The EU is holding its first-ever live military exercises (MILEX) from the Rota naval base in Southern Spain this week, in what is also a test case for the bloc’s recently established crisis response force.
The fictional seaport of Debarkation in Southern Spain has become the scene of crisis.
The task for the 2,800 personnel, 25 aircraft, 6 ships, space, and cyber assets as well as special operations forces is to plan and execute a landing ship attack, secure and control the seaport, and deploy land forces to rescue trapped civilians.
The scenario is part of the first-ever EU military crisis management exercise (MILEX23), taking place over a week at the Rota Naval Base located in Cádiz, in the south of Spain.
Military units, troops, and other personnel from 19 EU member states – including Austria, Spain, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Romania – are set to test their ability to work together swiftly. They will practice stabilising the situation, evacuating, rescuing, and delivering assistance.
Its aim is to test the bloc’s future 5,000-strong Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC), established by the EU’s Strategic Compass, the bloc’s first military strategy endorsed by member states in March 2022.
“We are talking about another step to make the EU free to address the crises of today,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said on Tuesday (17 October), standing on the deck of the Spanish amphibious assault ship ‘Juan Carlos I’.
The RDC re-shapes the already existing so-called EU battlegroups, a rotating on-call force composed of member states’ armed forces. However, due to a lack of political will to mobilise an EU-led force, member states have never deployed them in a crisis situation, instead relying on the military alliance NATO or ad hoc coalitions.
However, recent events have bolstered the case for a home-coordinated European force for crisis response, with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the fallout from the chaotic evacuation of Kabul underscoring Europe’s dependency on Washington.
The force is meant to be operational by 2025. Once established, it could also be used to deliver humanitarian assistance such as that needed currently in the Gaza Strip, Borrell told reporters.
“If you want to protect the civilians, everyone to provide support to them, it will need a lot of logistic capacity and it will be one of the missions of this deployment capacity,” Borrell said.
Stabilisation, rescue, evacuation, humanitarian assistance
The EU is hoping to establish a fully operational Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) by 2025 as the EU’s command and control structure. This way, it will become the full-fledged EU military headquarters.
Exercise participants will test the EU’s readiness to respond quickly, in the initial phase of a stabilisation operation.
“In practice, this means deploying troops to reestablish order in a destabilised environment,” Borrell said.
The force has been set up to be “modular” and used in different phases of an operation.
That way, “we also will be testing other scenarios for potential deployment of the rapid deployment capacity, such as the rescue and evacuation, or support in humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief,” Borrell said, looking towards the future editions of the MILEX exercise.
The next EU exercise edition is expected to take place in the second half of 2024, “with the support of Germany in particular”, Borrell announced.