Establishment of 1,500-strong battlegroups key to defence roadmap for 2010
Defence ministers from 25 countries have approved the European Union's Headline Goal 2010 objectives, which outline how it should develop its collective military capabilities by the end of the decade.
Akey element is the EU's planned establishment of nine "militarily effective, credible and coherent" rapid-reaction battlegroups, or battalions, by 2007. Each group will have 1,500 personnel, and must be ready for deployment within 10 days of the EU taking a decision to launch a military operation. France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK are leading the battlegroup initiative, but ministers acknowledge a "need to achieve further progress in improving capabilities for strategic mobility", if this goal is to be met.
The battalions will form part of the 60,000-strong European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF), to be deployed either as standalone units or as the spearhead during larger operations. They will be used for humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management duties, which could also include joint disarmament operations and the provision of support for third parties in combating terrorism.
However, a newly released capability improvement chart reveals that while the EU - including its 10 new member states and non-EU NATO members Norway and Turkey - has resolved some of the equipment shortfalls needed to make the ERRF fully operational, other areas have seen little progress. Operational since May 2003, the ERRFis constrained by a shortage of attack and support helicopters, combat search and rescue equipment, and strategic airlift assets. Germany is leading a project group seeking an interim solution for the latter until Airbus Military's A400M is available. Project groups have yet to be established to address shortcomings in the suppression of enemy air defences and in fielding aircraft equipped with cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions, says the EU.
Ministers also decided the legal act setting up the European Defence Agency should be adopted by the end of June. The agency will have a budget of €2.5 million ($3 million) for 2004 and an initial staff of 20.
CHRISTINA MACKENZIE / BRUSSELS
Source: Flight International