Defense contractors and government agencies should work together
to help bridge the military interoperability gap between the United
States and Europe, experts said.
“One thing we discovered is that interoperability is not
really a priority. There’s nobody who is really in charge
at the highest level,” said Jacqueline Grapin, the author
of a recent report on the subject of U.S.-European interoperability.
The study, titled “Transatlantic Interoperability in Defense
Industries: How the U.S. and Europe Could Better Cooperate in Coalition
Military Operations,” was sponsored by the European Institute,
a Washington D.C.-based association.
European countries have been sharply criticized in recent years
by U.S. government officials and analysts for making inadequate
investments in defense technology.
Critics of Europe’s defense investments claim that the United
States and European forces will not be able to fight effectively
in coalition operations, because they will not have comparable technology.
Additionally, Europeans see that the United States is “willing
and able” to act alone in military operations, so they feel
pressured to bolster their defense technology in an effort to retain
relevance in the NATO alliance, experts said.
During the 1990s, Europe’s military budgets dropped below
2 percent of gross domestic product, while the U.S. defense budget
stayed relatively constant, at about 3 percent.
Recognizing Europe’s inability to send troops alone even
to its own backyard to contain conflicts such as the ones in Bosnia
and Herzegovina, both American and European officials have started
encouraging defense investments that would ensure interoperability
with the United States.
Robert Kagan’s 2002 article in Policy Review famously invigorated
the debate, recommending that Europe build up its military capabilities,
“even if only marginally,” while at the same time saying,
“there is not much ground for hope that this will happen.”
Kagan’s only reason for optimism was that “maybe concern
about America’s overwhelming power really will create some
energy in Europe,” he wrote.
Unlike other reports and debates on the subject, the European Institute
report was not intended to be controversial, said Grapin. “We
wanted something that would really address the practical issues
of interoperability,” she said. This is the only report of
its kind that focuses on the problems of defense cooperation from
an industrial perspective, she added.
The group formulated its report by putting 75 questions together
that were sent to hundreds of people within the defense community.
Based on their answers, “we started a series of meetings,”
Grapin said, and four working groups were created. “One worked
on governmental issues between Europe and the U.S.; one worked on
financial and industrial issues; the third was norms and technical
questions, mainly composed of people from the electronic industry,
and the fourth was focused on C4 (command control communications
and computers),” said Grapin.
The report makes several distinct recommendations, including encouraging
the adoption of common transatlantic standards that promote allied
interoperability. It also provides an appendix with a diverse set
of both U.S. and European government and industry officials’
The study concluded that international coalition operations have
been significantly hampered in recent years by a perceived and real
lack of compatibility between the military capabilities of the United
States and those of Europe. Grapin mentioned that one of the recommendations
was that government, together with industry, should initiate a review
of common allied needs.
Jeffrey Bialos, former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial
policy, indicated that concrete actions, and not reviews, are needed
to fill the interoperability, or capabilities gap.
Without new investment by Europe, Bialos told National Defense,
“over a period of years, the capabilities gap is likely to
continue to exist and be exacerbated as the U.S. moves forward with
“Rather than exhort Europe to spend more and acquire more
capabilities, maybe we ought to take a different direction,”
he said. “It’s a freebie for the U.S. to say to Europe,
go spend more and buy more capabilities—it doesn’t require
us to do anything. That approach is essentially what we did with
the Defense Capabilities Initiative, and it hasn’t yielded
significant fruit. It’s been useful in getting Europe focused
on capabilities, but they haven’t ‘bit the bullet’
and committed to certain platforms for the future,” Bialos
Bialos stressed that the process requires gradual steps. “We
should pick a cluster of platform-based areas,” like command,
control and communications, and “spend a relatively small
amount” in specific areas.
An obvious first step is communications, Bialos said. “Our
allies simply can’t talk to one another.” U.S. investments
in interoperable communications systems should come from an increase
in U.S. funding for coalition warfare. “A few hundred million
a year could go a long way,” he said.
Tactical communication upgrades also top the European Institute’s
list of needed improvements. “Take Kosovo, when the planes
couldn’t speak to each other. They had to use non-protected
systems in order to communicate,” said Grapin. “It’s
really critical for international military operations to have interoperable
technology,” she added.
Other interoperability priorities that should be initiated immediately,
Bialos said, include projects to decrease friendly-fire accidents
and to obtain secure radios that work together.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Defense Capabilities
Initiative is considered by many to be a failure. Established at
the Washington Summit in 1997, NATO member countries, which include
much of Europe and the United States, committed to improving their
basic military capabilities, but the results have not been impressive.
“There has been no meaningful progress in Europe in actually
acquiring new military capabilities, and the gaps look likely to
widen measurably in the years ahead,” said Bialos.
“Europe is somewhat of a free rider on our defense spending,”
said Bialos. At the same time, “they don’t like the
U.S. to be a go-it-alone cowboy,” he said.
But a “wake-up call” for change was presented to Europeans
shortly after September 11, when the United States bypassed the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s offer to invoke Article
5 of the Washington Treaty, to lead operations in the war on terrorism.
Instead, the United States gathered its own “coalition of
the willing,” solidifying the view that America might not
even need Europe in order to complete successful military operations,
“There are some people who would like to take the view that
the United States, because of its military dominance, can go it
alone with the world, and not engage in coalition warfare,”
“We have to decide: Do you want coalition warfare capability,
and if so, why?” he asked. “It is folly to believe that,
in the long-term, countries cannot achieve consensus without having
the ability to fight wars together.”
Lord George Robertson, secretary-general of NATO, discussed interoperability
issues during a recent speech in Washington. “You cannot deliver
security in isolation,” he said. “Effective cooperation
and security in defense must be the sum of political will plus the
right capabilities.” Arguing that Europe simply must invest
more, he said, “is a question of [choosing between] modernization
Robertson has been hawkish on the issue of military capabilities.
At the Prague Summit in late November, he renamed the Defense Capabilities
Initiative the Prague Capabilities Commitment. Through this new
measure, “the NATO nations will commit themselves to acquiring
a spectrum of those capabilities which make a genuine difference
in today’s operations,” he said.
Current NATO priorities for capababilities, he said, include “heavy
lift, air tankers, precision-guided weapons, chemical and biological
defenses and ground-surveillance radars.”
The European Institute report also mentioned that military coalitions
“are valuable for more than symbolic reasons. Interoperability
saves lives. … In coalition operations, fully interoperable
C4 is an imperative to force protection, as well as mission success.”
There is a growing chorus of experts who suggest that the United
States change its procurement policy to facilitate technology transfer
to European allies.
Changes in the State Department’s export control policy and
Federal Acquisition Regulations were discussed in the European Institute
“When we started this work, this was before 9/11,”
said Grapin. “We had a traditional approach to procurement.
As we have continued our work, we’ve evolved, because there
are really two factors that are changing the landscape here. One
is net-centric warfare, and the needs, which will be completely
different, and counter-terrorism. To implement operations in counter-terrorism,
you need to have the military cooperate with the civilian side,
and that’s very new for them.”
This led to the European Institute’s recommendation that
countries invest in commercial off-the-shelf technologies “that
can be then adapted for military activities,” she said.
Defense Department officials expressed optimism that current procurement
reforms will help defense cooperation. “I think there is a
fair amount of hope for achieving interoperability,” said
Suzanne Patrick, deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial
policy. Patrick wrote a chapter to the European Institute report,
entitled, “The Challenge of Interoperability.”
The 1990s provided “a program as international as the Joint
Strike Fighter,” which “points to a completely new and
novel concept of true industrial interoperability,” she said.
“If we are able to craft network-centric and the architectures
that go with it in ways that are truly compatible and interoperable,
we will assure interoperability without having to make some of the
more difficult decisions, such as whether we must all fly the same
airplanes, have the same ships, etc.,” she said.
However, she warned, “this opportunity is a train that is
about to leave the station. The longer we are focused on platform
issues, the more likely the train will depart and take with it…the
opportunity of interoperability,” Patrick said.
The European Institute report also recommended that the “international
defense community” modernize its procurement processes by
maximizing the use of experiments and advanced concept technology
for common purposes, and advocating specialization among industries.
Europe, meanwhile, is committed to chan-ging its own procurement
policies, said industry officials. The establishment of the Organisation
Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d’Armement
(OCCAR) indicates “a trend toward a unique future European
armament procurement agency,” said Francois Gayet, a senior
vice president for Paris-based Thales International.
Gayet, as part of his comments in the European Institute report,
mentioned joint ventures between the continents as a way to further
transatlantic cooperation. “There is an aircraft program in
the U.K., where Thales is cooperating with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
This program, which involves cooperation between industries, has
no government requirements.” The goal is to create a complete
set of products, such as low-frequency sonar and UHF radios, which
meet with NATO standards.
Gayet mentioned several other projects where he believes international
cooperation could be of value. But on the whole, he said, Europeans
simply need to invest more in defense. “Europeans are grossly
under-invested to have a broadly capable force for the modern world.
If they maintain current levels of investment they will have to
become a niche defensive player,” he said. “How much
more widening of the capabilities gaps can we stand before interoperability
is no longer even possible?” he asked.
The disparity between U.S. and European spending on research and
development also affects chances for interoperability, Gayet said.
“Europeans often avoid spending on research and development
just by observing what technology the U.S. will pick.”
The report indicated that the European defense industry has undergone
considerable consolidation over the past decade, which has left
the industry dominated by a small number of gigantic conglomerates.
Drastic consolidation also took place in the United States during
the 1990s, but so far, transatlantic relationships have been formed
only through ad-hoc partnerships, and have been measurably successful
only in commercial aerospace projects.
The European Institute predicts that partnerships will be expanded
outside the aerospace sector, perhaps for shipbuilding or other
large weapons system projects.
“Additional consolidation in Europe possibly could lead to
increased transatlantic industrial cooperation, either through joint
ventures or even mergers, as European firms reach the point where
they can negotiate on equal footing with their American counterparts,”
the report said.