Europe’s Defense Aerospace Industry At Risk, Says Major Study
So many countries, with so many aerospace companies! Visitors shouldn’t be fooled by the panoply of European companies displaying at the Paris Air Show next week. The harsh truth is that there’s not enough money to sustain them all, especially with respect to defense technology. The European Defence Agency (EDA) commissioned a study of the problem–and reached some alarming conclusions.
“Some important industrial capabilities are already at risk…If measures are not taken, a point of no return will be reached within the next few years,” the Future Air Systems For Europe (FAS4Europe) study warned. It was led by Saab, with the cooperation of 28 other companies and industry associations in 10 countries. Although many of the companies are direct competitors, they share a common concern for the future, according to Katarina Bjorklund of Saab.
The study called for the member states of the European Union to agree on a strategic plan to preserve the European Defence and Technological Industrial Base (EDTIB). “China, Russia and the U.S. have clear strategies, but so also do Brazil, India, Korea and Turkey,” claimed Bjorklund.
The study outlines a three-phase roadmap: keeping options open (2013-17); preparing for the future (2017-22); and establishing a competitive EDTIB (2022 onward). A set of projects are specified for the first two phases, but the EDA has not made them public, perhaps because of competitive sensitivities within European industry.
The classic example is, of course, combat aircraft. The Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen are often in competition for the same export orders. “This is a very bad situation,” said EDA chief executive Claude-France Arnould during a press conference at the ILA Berlin airshow last September. Arnould voiced particular concern that undesirable technology transfer offers are being made. Furthermore, she said that European defense companies should not rely on export markets to help fund and develop new capabilities. It won’t work because purchasers are reluctant to introduce capabilities that the home countries don’t themselves operate.
The EDA also commissioned a “dependency” study that charted Europe’s growing reliance on outside capabilities. The study was done by the French Aerospace laboratory, the Rand Corp., and Swedish consultancy FOI. According to the EDA’s industry analyst John Mattiussi, this study highlighted the lead that Israel and the U.S. has taken in unmanned aerial systems, and U.S. dominance in heavy-lift helicopters. He said European air arms can wait 72 months to replace the gearbox of a CH-47 Chinook because the U.S. military takes priority for spares. He also drew attention to the F-35 purchase by up to six European countries. Compared to an indigenous European program, “will the F-35 provide the same quality of work?” he asked. Moreover, “it will be very expensive to operate, and its life-cycle costs will reduce the funds available for other programs,” he added.
The EDA said European sovereign military capability is at risk, along with some 200,000 high-technology jobs that are at risk in an industry which currently enjoys a €45 billion turnover. “We must address these issues at the highest levels–the defense ministers,” said Arnould.
EDA ADDRESSES AIR-TO-AIR REFUELING, UAVS AND TRAINING
Air-To-Air Refueling (AAR)
There is an obvious shortfall in the AAR capacity of European air forces. The European Defence Agency (EDA) has worked on four collective solutions:
1. Provision of extra short-term commercial capacity. Practically speaking, this means the use of Boeing KC-707s and a KDC-10 provided by the Irish company Omega Air, which already flies for the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.
2. The second would make better use of existing assets–notably, Italy’s fleet of four Boeing KC-767s. A flight trial to validate a collective AAR clearance for these aircraft is scheduled for September.
3. Provision of AAR refueling kits for the A400M airlifters that will be introduced by seven European air forces.
4. Pooling of national requirements to provide a strategic MRTT capability from 2020. Ten countries have signed a letter of intent. France has said that it will order 12 to 14 A330MRTTs with this in mind–but has not actually done so yet.
UAVs In Civil Airspace
Together with the European Space Agency (ESA), the EDA is funding the DeSIRE project (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe). An industrial consortium led by Indra of Spain has undertaken a series of test flights. Most recently, on April 24, an IAI Heron UAV flew from Murcia into Class-C airspace to test communications links and procedures. During the six-hour flight, a manned aircraft approached the UAV, simulating frontal and 90-degree collision trajectories. The pilots of the two aircraft followed separation instructions issued by air traffic controllers.
The EDA is also managing the MId-air Collision Avoidance System (MIDCAS) project and doing a study called Air4All.
Helicopter Training Program (HTP)
Since 2009, the EDA has conducted five flying exercises and two symposia to train European military aircrews to fly in more demanding environments, such as “hot and high.” Tactics, techniques and procedures have been shared, and logistics support problems explored.
The EDA has also studied the harmonization of basic helicopter flying training, and even the creation of a Multi-national Helicopter Wing (MHW).
Air Transport Training (ATT)
For the second year running, the EDA is bringing airlifters and their crews together to exchange best practice and harmonize training. Eight air forces, 12 aircraft and 350 aircrew are currently deployed to Zaragoza airbase in Spain.