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28th Jan 2023

NATO and EU to pool helicopters and air carriers

Both the EU and NATO seek to pool their defence capabilities drawn from the same European countries, after having experienced similar shortfalls in helicopters and air carriers in their missions in Chad and Afghanistan.

The idea has been championed by the French EU presidency, which hopes to see several concrete initiatives adopted in November by EU defence ministers.

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At an informal EU defence minister meeting in Deauville on Wednesday (1 October), France obtained the backing of several member states for initiatives such as setting up a trust fund to upgrade Europe's helicopter fleet to make up for shortfalls in helicopters and transport aircraft needed for quick and effective EU deployments abroad.

The final decision will be taken at a formal defence ministers' summit in Brussels on 10 November.

The shortfall in helicopters was already highlighted on Monday, when General Patrick Nash, the operational commander of the EU mission in Chad told a press conference in Brussels that four helicopters might be soon borrowed from Russia, with talks being at "a very advanced stage."

Yet the problem is not unique to the EU mission, as NATO and the United Nations experience similar challenges.

General James Mattis, in charge of NATO's capability development and transformation, recently met his EU counterpart, the chief executive of the European Defence Agency, Alexander Weis, in order to find "areas of common interest", such as helicopter and airlift capabilities.

"In regards to airlift, helicopters, medical transports – whether it is an EU mission to Darfur or a NATO mission somewhere else, we just need those capabilities," General Mattis told journalists at a briefing on Wednesday during NATO Industry Day, which took place in Brussels.

He also stressed that when the EU and NATO draw on troops, they do it "from the same population of forces", which means that the two entities need to look for solutions that "resonate with each other, not contradict each other."

"We're not a the point right now where the EU and NATO are working that closely, although they're starting," General Mattis said.

The French connection

Yet France might play a pivotal role in this regard, with President Nicolas Sarkozy setting the improvement of EU defence capabilities as a precondition for his country to rejoin NATO's military structure, which is expected to take place at NATO's 60th anniversary summit in April next year.

French defence minister Herve Morin proved his commitment to pool EU military capabilities even when asked if the current global financial crisis will have an impact on the member states in terms of defence spending.

"There are two ways you can face an economic crisis, when you have reduction in state revenue," Mr Morin said on Wednesday after the ministers meeting in Deauville.

"One is to say, let's forget everything and say there is nothing we can do in the future. The other reaction is to say, we may have less available, so let's pool our resources. That's a more intelligent response, surely. Let's share we've got, if we are going to have less," he urged.

Boeing for NATO, Airbus for EU

While the French defence minister was unveiling in Dauville a plan to lend Airbus A400M transport planes between EU countries or to create a multinational fleet at their disposal, in Brussels 10 NATO countries plus Sweden and Finland signed a deal to jointly buy and operate three Boeing C-17 carriers.

This NATO initiative, called Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) "will support operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as other national missions, including EU and UN missions", Peter Flory, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment said in a press release.

The 10 NATO members involved in SAC are Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States, while the planes are to be placed at the Hungarian air base Papa early next year.

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