“The United States is ready to confront China should it continue its overreaching maritime claims in the South China Sea, the head of the U.S. Pacific fleet said on Wednesday, comments that threaten to escalate tensions between the two global rivals. China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. The United States has called on China to respect the findings of the arbitration court in The Hague earlier this year which invalidated its vast territorial claims in the strategic waterway. But Beijing continues to act in an “aggressive” manner, to which the United States stands ready to respond, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a speech in Sydney”.
The piece goes on to point out “Ever since the United Kingdom, a longtime opponent of further EU military cooperation, voted this summer to leave the club, Brussels has revived its discussions about an EU army and a shared defense budget (or, at the very least, closer defense integration). Last month, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament that an EU military headquarters would be a first step toward building a joint military. But most experts believe a massive undertaking like a “European Army” is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon. And the fact that EU countries still haven’t mastered the far simpler act of joint procurement is typically cited as a case in point. On paper, teaming up with an ally for joint military procurement seems like an easy choice. It’s not just that by ordering in larger quantities, countries can get discounts. By jointly ordering the development of new military equipment, friendly nations can also share the development costs. Successful joint procurements could, in theory, free up resources that could then be spent on other equipment. The buyers also get interoperable equipment — that is, weapons systems that can easily communicate with each other. That’s a huge plus for European countries, including NATO members and non-NATO members like Sweden and Finland, whose armed forces regularly exercise and conduct operations together”.
He notes that “such procurement efforts are still rare in Europe — largely because their history is full of disappointments. Take the A400M military transport plane. During the 1980s, eight European countries jointly commissioned the aircraft, which was being developed by companies from several of the countries. The partner countries were told to expect delivery of their planes by 2009. Though the Cold War ended in the interim, European armed forces still desperately needed such an aircraft to transport troops and equipment, especially during their joint operations in Afghanistan. Having the same transport aircraft fleet would have been akin to having identical bus fleets, even allowing countries to borrow from one another if necessary. But delays intervened — and then intervened again. The first planes were delivered just three years ago. By that time, several buyers had already given up and bought other planes, partly because design requests made by one of the countries had added significant weight to the plane, reducing its lifting capacity”.
Not supurisngly he notes that “Even among the closest of allies, joint procurements tend to go sour. The Swedish Armed Forces are about to end up with 48 cannons (officially known as artillery pieces) instead of the 24 they were originally looking for because procurement partner Norway decided the planned artillery didn’t fit its requirements. A recent attempt by the closely allied Nordic countries to jointly procure helicopters also failed, as did a planned submarine procurement by Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the end, only Sweden was interested in buying the submarines made by the Swedish firm Kockums. “We’ve not even been able to do anything with Finland so far, though of course I hope that will change,” said Sven-Christer Nilsson, the former chairman of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration. According to Dick Zandee, a senior fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and former head of the EDA’s planning and policy unit, joint procurements tend to go wrong for two reasons: diverging military requirements and conflicting industrial interests”.
He writes that for the EU defence remains exempt from standardisation, “European governments and defense contractors realize the current situation is untenable, particularly given that Russia is in the middle of a defense spending program aimed at increasing its share of modern weaponry from 10 percent of its arsenal to 70 percent. The EDA is gaining a bit more credibility in setting joint EU standards. NATO’s Standardization Office, which has been grappling with the same issues since the founding of the military alliance, is also running more acquisition programs than in the past. And on the contractor side, some companies including France’s Nexter Systems and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are successfully building a new generation of tanks and armored vehicles that will fit the requirements of both the French army and the Bundeswehr”.
He adds “There is some precedent for success: The Netherlands and Belgium’s naval cooperation program, Benesam, for the past two decades has featured not just joint training but operations as well, and the two navies share ownership and maintenance of a shared fleet. Benesam’s success is due in part to the fact that the two countries don’t have competing naval shipbuilders — and that their governments are willing to give up some military independence in return for pooled resources. Latvia and Lithuania, the two Baltic states about to embark on a large-scale partnership, are also lucky in that they, too, don’t have large domestic defense sectors to consider. Their plans also don’t require any attempt at joint development; they’ll only be buying off-the-shelf products built in other countries (and in many cases already used by other countries’ armed forces). Urbelis even says, optimistically, that Lithuania may team up with Latvia, Estonia, or Poland for further procurements. But the days of a true common market for defense, let alone an EU army, remain a distant dream — possibly one that will never come to pass. “Armed forces are the most powerful symbols of national sovereignty,” Linnenkamp said. “Countries want to have the ability to produce military equipment at home.” The irony, he added, is that although the steel, mortars, and tanks may still be produced at home, the computer chips that direct the equipment’s actions now mostly come from countries like Thailand”.