14 Jun The war in Ukraine ought to serve to bolster Europe’s air power desires
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a stark reminder that Europe’s NATO members have to spend more wisely – rather than simply spend more money – in bolstering their collective defense against unwarranted aggression. Kyiv’s success so far in blunting Moscow’s armed forces offers a pointer as to where at least some of the extra investment and focus should go, not least of all in air and countertop-air systems as well as what are sometimes termed fight enablers.
The needs are both near- and medium-to-long term. Within the near-term, ongoing to improve air and missile defense would bolster the conventional deterrence of NATO European members, supplying the capacity to better address the threat of short-range ballistic and longer-range cruise missiles.
Both kinds of systems have already been widely used by Russian forces in attacks on Ukraine, if often with patchy success. Nevertheless, the existing threat and Russia’s military doctrine are clear. And so better defense towards ballistic and cruise missiles would advantage NATO operationally and further strengthen the trustworthiness of its traditional deterrence. Critical national facilities, otherwise, could become a essential vulnerability.
The importance of being able to degrade an opponent’s ground-based atmosphere defense is also underscored by the war in Ukraine. European attempts to unpick Ukraine’s surface-to-atmosphere missile techniques and radar net show up piecemeal, creating Russian air operations riskier and restricting its freedom of action.
The suppression or destruction of foe air safeguarding is now a growing priority for NATO atmosphere forces in any consideration of a confrontation with a peer competitor, rather than using, for the most part, atmosphere power to assistance ground causes, as seen in recent counterinsurgency operations.
Within the longer term, the significance of command and control continues to be reinforced by Russia’s battle, alongside access to accurate and timely data sourced from air and space assets. If Finland and Sweden become NATO members, the alliance will probably experience an improvement in the amount and quality of data in regard to Russian dispositions and military exercise. But ongoing investment is going to be needed from European states to meet ability requirements, particularly given the U.S. also has its eye on possible Pacific-based contingencies.
Europe remains dependent on the U.S. to a large degree for this sort of details gathering and coordination. As well as the same could be said for enablers like air flexibility and atmosphere tanking assets.
Moreover, the continent will have to recapitalize its fleets of combat airplane. These future capabilities would likely stay in the local stock for most of this century.
Europe has already embarked on the creation of a next generation of multirole combat aircraft, and contains managed to avoid a replicate of the 1980s, which noticed the emergence of 3 competing projects: the French Rafale; the (Western) German, Italian, Spanish and British European Fighter Aircraft (now the Eurofighter Typhoon); and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen.
There is no European unanimity however, with France, Germany and Spain pursuing the Future Fight Air System, or FCAS, while the You.K., France and Sweden are involved in what exactly is dubbed Tempest.
France is definitely the lead on FCAS, with the U.K. taking a comparable, if arguably more helpful position on Tempest. London has also looked beyond its traditional European partner base, with China increasingly associated with elements of the Tempest task.
While two rival jobs – rather than a single pan-European combat aircraft – could be argued as inefficient, at least they are underway. There remains a possibility the two could somehow merge, jet fighter rides although the industrial divide between the groups remains wide. There is also a question of how Franco-German politico-industrial relationships play out.
Regarding FCAS, it is not without tension. Germany’s selection of the Lockheed Martin-created F-35 to change the Tornado in its commitment to the NATO nuclear part is unlikely to have been popular in Paris, even though the acquisition is not a genuine threat to German participation in the FCAS program.