Daily Management Review

France and England still at the core of European defence


Europe is getting back into shape, after a century of turmoil and strategic upheavals. It went from the world’s power-house to post-war rebuilding under the shadow of the United States, a nation which barely had an army a century before. Today, national armies are re-built and powerful, but the question remains as to who will lead the consolidation effort.

England: a powerful player with an uncertain future
Throughout the 20th century, England has remained one of Europe’s steadiest and most powerful military players, if not the lead one. As one of the victors of World War 2, it consolidated its position throughout the latter half of the century, with sustained military spending in active participation in numerous military operations. While often overlooked, the British intervention in the Falklands, in 1982, was a sizable reminder that London had a military force to be reckoned with. The Argentinian army was no laughing matter, and projecting military power across the globe would simply be unfeasible for most countries in the world, let alone a successful outcome. Reporting on a recent strategic report, defence blog Forces writes that the “... audit finds the UK retains a military might greater than that of China and technological prowess 'far in advance' of Russia. However, it attributes much of the UK’s comparative power to its diplomatic, financial and cultural capabilities and links around the globe. However, Chief Analyst James Rogers, says the UK's position is under threat from countries like Russia and China. "We should put our own military into perspective in relation to other countries' militaries because most of them are also facing same sorts of problems that our country has (budget black hole and recruitment issues)," he explained. "If you look at the overall tonnage in the British (Royal Navy) fleet and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you'll actually see there is more than the German Navy, French Navy and the Italian Navy put together.” But the turn of the century saw British voters placing increased pressure on military spending, and London’s military potential waned accordingly, cutting deep into defence budgets and greatly harming the national defence industry. Today, the Royal Army is a major contributor to multilateral operations (such as recent inter-ally deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan), despite its reduced funding. How the British economy will turn out post-Brexit is anyone’s guess and adds further uncertainty in London’s capacity to invert the trend and resume its initial standing.
France: ahead in the industrial and strategic game
France is the only country in Europe which combines the two crucial ingredients of sustained military activity and a industrial capacity as an integrator. While many countries take part in industrial armament programs, they are only able to do so for small segments of the overall design, and they cannot oversee the program as a whole. Italy, for instance, has many firms which are active in military fields, but stopped producing as an integrator, a long time ago. As for military activity, it is the only way to ensure that military designs are relevant, no matter how advanced the engineering and the calculations are. France is an active military player, be it in stand-alone missions or as a member of coalitions. With the exception of Iraq (and even there, small contingents were sent), France has been part of all major international deployments, oftentimes alongside the UK, and has therefore kept its thumb on the pulse of modern-day warfare. As such, its soldiers can communicate key battlefield data to military engineers. As a result, the latest French truck-based howitzers were able to tackle ultra-mobile elements in the Sahel desert, and its VBCI Infantry Fighting Vehicle achieved excellent results in IED-infested Afghanistan. Defense News writes : “CAESAR can fire 6 shots in less than 1min 40 seconds, according to Nexter, and the system’s 8x8 version can carry 30 rounds. It’s 6x6 variant can carry 18. The gun has an adapted automatic loading system..”
Germany’s industry attempts to re-enter the game
Germany has an odd position in the military world. Its military industry is powerful, and no one disputes the quality of German engineering. Every year, Berlin oversees the sale of nearly 7 billion euros worth of German armament, while remaining its own industry’s largest client. But Germany’s military colossus has clay feet. Because the biggest customer of Germany’s military industrial firms, the Bundeswehr, is never deployed, due to deeply rooted anti-military feelings in the population, firms have no feedback on which to perfect its products. In the world of military hardware, no matter how nifty and gadget-rich the engineering may be, nothing beats the hard test of reality - something the French, English and American industry all rely upon heavily to improve their products.
In order to circumvent this massive shortcoming, RheinMetall acquired British defence firm BAE Land Systems, in the hopes to get some actual real-world feedback and avoid future situations in which it builds beautifully engineered duds. As reported by Defense News Sebastian Sprenger, acquired BAE Land Systems announced that “... joining forces with Rheinmetall in the U.K. provides renewed purpose for our vehicles business and allows us to deliver products, services and technology that help land forces excel in their vital roles,” said Jennifer Osbaldestin, managing director of BAE Systems Land UK. “We look forward to working together to ensure the joint venture is a trusted supplier to the British Army and our international customers.” German howitzers, for instance, while so advanced (and so costly) that virtually no one could copy them, are impossible to deploy and useless facing modern threats encountered on current fields of operations. German Boxer RCH 155 would have been impossible to deploy in a landlocked country like Afghanistan, not to speak about PzH 2000 . Berlin now hopes that London will share operational secrets, in the future, and that the UK’s defence budget will not continue to shrink.
American firms are keeping a close eye on their European competitors, and fearing that Europe will form its own strategy, which would be detrimental to their commercial interests. They could be fooled into thinking that Germany’s prestigious industry translates into actual military potential, and thus misdirect their efforts. The point of defence strategies is not to build military vehicles, it is to safeguards the security and interests of a territory. In this regard, only France and England represent a future for Europe’s capacity to defend itself in the world, from A to Z. France and England may both be NATO members, but that is rendered quite useless if identical or interoperable equipment is not deployed. Germany’s equipment interoperability is irrelevant, as it never deploys.