Are European defense programs in the right technological tempo?

While the 3 major world military powers, the United States, China and Russia, seem to have entered a new technological arms race, European industries remain engaged in programs whose timetable seems out of step with the technological tempo given by these superpowers. However, while counter-programming can be an effective market conquest tool, it can also have very damaging consequences in certain circumstances, for the very survival of the European defense industry. So how can we analyze the European strategy, its origins and its foreseeable effects in the medium and long term?

European programs against the times

Since the mid-2010s, it appears that the 3 great American, Chinese and Russian military powers have relaunched a race in defense technology. It is characterized by the proliferation of contracts to modernize the equipment of the forces with more modern equipment and often a doctrinal break with those in service, as well as by significant breakthroughs in entirely new technological fields, likely to fundamentally change military action. At the same time, the Europeans, although they have shown renewed initiative in recent years, remain for the most part attached to more conventional programs, and only envisage a technological breakthrough in a much more distant timeframe than the nations. reference.

In 2030, the Russian air force will line up more than a hundred Su-57s and as many Okhotnik combat drones, none of which has an equivalent in European industry.

It was China, and especially Russia, that started the current technology race. On the Russian side, it is characterized by programs like Su-57 Felon, the T-14 Armata battle tank, or the S-500 anti-aircraft system. On the other hand, the country has developed a series of breakthrough technologies giving it a remarkable advantage over NATO, particularly in the field of hypersonic weapons, with the Kinzhal airborne ballistic missile, the 3M22 Tzirkon anti-ship missile, and again the Avangard atmospheric glider. Added to this are modernization programs for equipment currently in service, such as the T-72B3M or T-90M tanks, the Su-34 and Su-35 planes, the Anteï and Improved Kilo submarines. The objective of all these programs is to give Russia, by 2030, an undeniable technological and numerical military advantage over the European component of NATO forces.

The United States has taken the measure of the upheavals underway, and has launched, since 2015, a series of programs aimed at neutralizing as quickly as possible this technological breakthrough for the benefit of its potential adversaries. The US Army thus launched the great BIG-6 program, aiming to reproduce the successes of the BIG-5 program of the 70s which saw the appearance of the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter or the Patriot missile, and which gave it the technological ascendancy on the battlefield for more than 30 years. The US Air Force is engaged in a profound evolution of its fleet, with the F35A program for its fighter fleet, the KC-46 for its tanker fleet, and the B-21 for its fleet of strategic bombers. As for the US Army, the objective is to reach an operational level by 2030, so as to be able to meet the challenge posed by Russia and especially China. Handicapped by the consequences of several poorly designed and credit-intensive programs, such as the Zumwalt destroyers or the LCS corvettes, the US Navy appears to be in retreat today, especially since it is unable to square the circle that represents its planning. But it has made significant progress in terms of autonomous ships, whether surface or submarine, to the point of now representing for many a preferred solution to respond to the strengthening of the Chinese navy and its naval technological capabilities. .

In 2030, the US Army will have new generation helicopters from the FLRAA and FARA programs, such as the Sikorsky Raider-X, finalist of the FARA competition.

Europe, on the other hand, simply has no technological breakthrough program in progress with an operational deadline prior to 2035, or even 2040. The program ofnew generation SCAF fighter Franco-German will not enter service before 2040, and MGCS Next Generation Tank Program is aiming for 2035 as the date of entry into service. Regarding the helicopter programs, they all remain disconcertingly classic in the face of to FARA programs or US FLRAA. There is currently no advanced program relating to hypersonic weapons, or systems capable of countering these weapons. In fact, until 2035, in the best of cases, European armies and industries will field combat planes of the Rafale or Typhoon generation, combat tanks of the Leopard 2 or Leclerc generation, helicopters of the Tiger or NH90 generation. It will probably not have any equipment such as railguns or hypersonic missiles, nor any other technology identified as having the potential to disrupt the battlefields of 2030...

The reasons for this European stall

Of course, this temporal and technological stall is not the consequence of a single factor. It is in fact the result of several decisions and assessments of situations over the past 30 years. In the first place, it is the doctrine of the “Benefits of Peace” which is to be called into question. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, European leaders undertook a rapid reduction in the military means at their disposal, due to the disappearance of the adversary who had justified defense spending for more than 50 years. The objective was obviously to reduce the budgets of the armies, or at least not to increase them any more, which was perfectly applied by the European chancelleries for more than 25 years. The limited means then available to the armies did not allow them to renew equipment in time, nor to correct their obsolescence. In fact, since 2015 and the end of this somewhat idealized doctrine, European armies have been concentrating their means not to prepare for 2030, but to catch up with 2010.

The Leopard 2 will remain the only European heavy tank in production until 2035, the chains of the French Leclercs and the British Challenger II having been dismantled more than 20 years ago.

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