German, European Defense Woes Undermine Berlin Airshow

 - May 23, 2014, 8:00 AM
German Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel opened the 2014 ILA Berlin airshow against a backdrop of an Airbus A350 prototype. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The organizers of this week’s ILA Berlin airshow claimed 1,200 exhibitors from 40 countries, and were expecting 200,000 visitors, including public spectators on the last three days. The show had plenty to offer in the fields of civil aerospace, space and environmental solutions. However, defense exhibitors and attendees at ILA Berlin are mostly focused on German requirements. The problem is, the Germans are not buying anything.

Last February, new German defense minister Dr Ursula von der Leyen fired two senior officials in her ministry over the mismanagement of various procurements, including most notably last year’s Euro Hawk fiasco. She called for an independent review, but this is not expected to report until the fall. In the meantime, only minor buys are being approved, and the renegotiated contracts to reduce buys of NH-90 and Tiger helicopters cannot be signed off. In any case, there is no indication from the re-elected “grand coalition” federal government that it intends to devote a larger proportion of GDP to defense. At 1.8 percent, Germany is well below the spend recommended by NATO. It remains to be seen whether the crisis in Ukraine prompts a rethink, not only in Germany, but throughout European NATO countries.

During a recent speech in Washington, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders bemoaned the state of the European defense industry. It is beset by “too many national interests, too much overlap, and certainly too much waste,” he commented. Enders acknowledged some progress in joint programs, but the situation compares badly with commercial airspace in Europe, he said. On the eve of the Berlin show, Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus D&S), along with Alenia and Dassault Aviation, made a new joint statement on the prospects for a pan-European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV program.

Ironically, one country that is half-in and half-out of Europe—in NATO but not the European Union—is investing heavily in its defense industry. Turkey’s ambitions were on full display at ILA Berlin. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Havelsan, Roketsan, Tubitak and many other Turkish companies took up a large portion of Hall 6. TAI brought the T129 attack helicopter and Anka MALE UAV for static display, and the Turkish air force flew a smart F-16 solo display.

Underlining Enders’ comments, Airbus D&S predicted during a media briefing that Asia-Pacific will be its largest customer in the years to come. The division’s current 60-40 ratio in favor of European business will reverse, predicted marketing head Christian Scherer. The division announced a deal with BAE Systems to market its space and communications/security capabilities to regions where BAE is strongest, such as North America and the Middle East. Airbus D & S also briefed on progress with its innovative “Passive Radar” product, which is now being studied by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Airbus Helicopters and NH Industries briefed on progress with the oft-criticized NH-90 pan-European helicopter program.

Diehl Defence had a large display that included the guided light intelligent armament (German acronym GILA) being proposed for Germany’s Tiger helicopters. The company signed a partnership agreement with Elbit Systems, to provide the Israeli J-Music electronic warfare protection system for Germany’s forthcoming A400M airlifter fleet.