Things just don't seem to be getting any better when it comes to getting a cohesive European defence structure. Calls for a better equipped and more militarily capable Europe, by Adm Guido Venturoni, the chairman of NATO's military committee, and UK defence secretary George Robertson, merely echo pleas that have been made to Europe's leaders since the Second World War ended. While NATO achieved its aims in Kosovo, it could not have done so without the USA, which provided nearly 80% of Operation Allied Force's airpower.

The war against Serbia highlighted the fact that Europe is still not prepared for the crisis or conflict that its warplanners have been anticipating for almost a decade in their threat analyses. Lack of willingness to spend defence euros following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the desire to grab a greater peace dividend than existed resulted in drastic force reductions without the necessary restructuring of capabilities to prepare for a wider range of potential conflict.

Not only has procurement spending been reined in but progress in training warfighters to fight globally at varying conflict levels has been conducted at a snail-like pace. As a result, Europe's armed forces lack the very equipment needed for today's contingencies, especially its air forces, which need key equipment such as large transports, precision guided munitions, long-range stand-off weapons and surveillance/reconnaissance assets.

Airpower had to win the Kosovo conflict. Robertson says it would have taken around 100 days to amass the 150,000 troops and equipment needed for a land invasion. Surface transport would have played a major part in moving the ground force, which would have arrived at the front line on trains and ships, as it did in August 1914. Apart from the USA, only France and the UK deployed significant numbers of laser guided bombs, and these were difficult to use because of the weather. Only the UK, with a single submarine equipped to fire the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), supported the US Navy's long-range precision strike effort.

France and the UK are more advanced in their force restructuring since both have made commitments to convert their Cold War warriors into go-anywhere, do-anything forces. The UK has taken a lead in issuing requirements for a short term strategic airlifter, new tankers and transports. And it is well on the way with adapting Cold War-inspired requirements to suit today's needs. It bought the TLAM, ordered attack helicopters, stand-off air-dropped 4t weaponry and announced a preferred bidder for its Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) project.

TLAM and ASTOR provide crucial capabilities for warfighting and peace support.

But both the UK and France still have some way to go before they can act as the core of a coalition force in the same way as the USA.

Their lead does, however, need to be chased by the rest of Europe, although in a managed way so that capabilities are not needlessly duplicated across the continent. To achieve this, European nations need a firm resolve to sign up to a military plan, with deadlines, that will allow them to operate as a well-balanced, capable whole. The European Defence and Security Identity (EDSI) concept, which should allow the European Union to conduct military missions using forces and the command structure normally assigned to NATO, goes some way to formalising the EU's much-needed defence voice and role. But it needs backing up by immediate action to procure the necessary equipment to make it a reality. There is no time like the present, especially when Europe's economies are relatively healthy and the experiences of Kosovo are fresh in the minds of politicians, purse-string holders and the taxpayers.

If the concern is to ensure that any EDSI is to be backed by a strong European-based defence technological and industrial capability, perhaps what needs to be tackled urgently is transatlantic technology transfer to overcome wasteful duplication of effort each side of the Atlantic. This would allow Europe to buy now and maintain the industrial infrastructure which is crucial for defence self- sufficiency. In return, the USA must ensure that the two-way street, so-often used as a bargaining chip, becomes a reality.

Source: Flight International