A Sight on European Defence

After a first post describing what EATC would look like at the end of its development, I would like to analyse with some more accuracy the consequences and meaning of this new Headquarters.

Firstly the EATC does not mean that European air forces have merged in one single force. Every participating country remains the owner of its aircraft and they will be committed only if the country supposed to lend them approves the mission. Apparently, it will work on the basis of an exchange of flight hours, as already done in a NATO framework.

At a first glance, EATC could appear as a minor event, which simply reinforces the current pooling of assets already largely practiced in the NATO community. The already existing structures are:

– The Movement Coordination Centre, based as well at Eindhoven Air Base. It is aimed at coordinating strategic lift and air-to-air refuelling capabilities among NATO countries (although not being itself stricto sensu a NATO agency), plus third party countries, like Finland, Sweden and Austria. In 2009, it reached almost 3,400 equivalent of flight hours in an exchange process between the partners. As well it operates at the margin on road transportation and some more on sealift.

-Completing the national assets that the MCCE can require, it can have recourse to the Strategic Airlift Capacity, involving 10 NATO countries, plus two third party countries (Finland and Sweden). SAC relies on three C-17 aircraft bought by the participating nations (by the way, one would have been offered by the USA). Depending on their financial commitment in the program, they get access to flight hours of those C-17s, which are based in Hungary.

-Last tool at disposal of the MCCE is the SALIS agreement, by which 16 NATO countries (plus the usual Finland and Sweden), charter AN-124 aircraft to Russian and Ukrainian companies.

Then, what is the added value of EATC, as all the tools are already available at MCCE, co-located at Eindhoven Air Base?

I will not elaborate on the German involvement, which will be dealt with in a further post, dedicated to the Bundeswehr reform.

I would say that the main difference lies in the level of ambition. In 2009 the MCCE, with 23 contributors, totalized 3,400 equivalent flight hours, whereas the objective of EATC is to reach at full power the level of 60,000 flight hours, as this is the complete (with some exceptions) tactical and strategic transport fleet which are made available.

Then a second added value will come along with the A-400M. Originally the French and German Transall versions were very close with each other. One upgrade and retrofit after the other, their commonality decreased at such a level that nobody can now imagine a team of French mechanics work on the German aircraft, even beyond the regulations, which, of course, demand nationally qualified people to operate on the aircraft. In its structures, from the very beginning, EATC would include the necessary manpower to work on maintaining the commonality of the different fleets of A-400M.

Last added value is the interest shown by Luxembourg and Spain. Luxembourg has planned to purchase one A-400M, to be mutualised with the Belgian ones to master the operating costs. Spain seems to show interest on the issue. Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany, all traditionally known as promoters of European Defence, even if their respective understanding differ, would then have locked into a EU-oriented structure the Netherlands, as well traditionally, very close to NATO.

The EATC, put along with the Dutch withdrawal of Afghanistan, could therefore convey the idea that the Netherlands are moving the centre of gravity of their defence policy towards European Union, possibly more promising than a NATO structure, which meets huge difficulties to exist as such and not only as the reserved domain of the USA and their Anglo-Saxons partners, which intends keep a firm hand on the steering wheel. This could explain why the Dutch withdrawal of Afghanistan came so quickly and smoothly, as if the Dutch opinion were no more supportive of its security assumed exclusively by the USA and its relay on the continent, the NATO.

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