“Europe Skyshield”: Why Germany is launching Europe’s anti-missile shield without France

The 14 NATO countries associated with Finland have announced their intention to have a common air and missile defense system.. This German-initiated project will be implemented without France and intends to source supplies from non-European producers. Ernst Stetter, special adviser to the president of the Jean-Jaures Foundation for Europe, analyzes the reasons for these choices.

Fourteen NATO allies and the defense ministers of Finland met in Brussels on October 13, 2022 and signed a letter of intent to develop the “European Sky Protection Initiative”. Germany is at the beginning of this project, which aims to create a European air and anti-missile defense system through the joint purchase of equipment and missiles by various European countries.

In his speech in Prague on August 20, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz indeed insisted on the importance of taking significant steps in terms of air defense in Europe. In his opinion, this should be done through a common European system and not simply by adapting the various existing systems.

Faced with a high risk of Russian aggression against Europe, Germany was able to federate NATO members such as Finland in a relatively short period of time to start acquiring common technologies. According to the chancellor, if everyone in Europe decided to build their own air defense system, such a device would be both cheaper and more effective.

However, two large European countries – France and Poland – did not join the initiative. Poland prefers to build its own air defense system. France, for its part, relies on the deterrent effect of its own system and nuclear arsenal rather than preferring foreign systems.

A choice of “European Skyshield” and American systems

After the signing of the letter of intent, German Minister Christine Lambrecht emphasized to the press that she prefers systems that already exist and have proven their effectiveness. According to him, one of the criteria for choosing the future system should be its interaction with NATO and American army systems.

According to current plans, “European Skyshield” should combine three defense systems against short-, medium- and long-range air attacks. The first of these will be the German short-range air defense system IRIS-T (Infrared Imaging System Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled). Since 1996, this air-to-air guided missile with an infrared homing warhead for short and very short distances, developed by the German company Diehl BGT Defense, has proven itself during the war in Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has praised its effectiveness several times.

Later, the American PATRIOT (Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept Of Target) medium and long-range system and the US Arrow-3 ballistic missile defense system, a hypersonic and exoatmospheric anti-ballistic missile, will be funded, developed and developed. Co-produced by Israel and the United States.

However, the list of systems can still grow. For example, the US and Israel have not yet agreed on the supply of Israel’s Arrow-3. Similarly, since Norway is also a member of the initiative, its new NASAMS 3 (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System 3) system could replace the German IRIS-T, which has been in operation since 1996.

Creation of a European anti-missile arsenal

For most of the signatories, the European Skyshield is primarily aimed at improving their defense capabilities within their military needs and financial means. Faced with an emergency, European Skyshield therefore prefers to buy its equipment “off the shelf”, mostly in the US, rather than launch risky new European applications.

Therefore, the European defense industry should not be involved in the initiative. Unfortunately, this project adds a new element of tension between France and Germany, with the Élysée lamenting the sidelining of French weapons systems.

Nevertheless, one has to wonder why the signatories did not want to turn to the European Union, which is currently developing the EDIRPA instrument (Strengthening the European Defense Industry through the Common Procurement Act). EDIPRA, funded to the tune of 500 million euros and running until 2023, aims to promote the joint procurement of equipment produced by the European defense industry. Europe’s Skyshield initiative’s member countries’ preference for American armaments is certainly unrelated to the already long list of Franco-German defense industry cooperation projects currently struggling: France’s Dassault Aviation faces the greatest difficulty moving forward. Munich-based Airbus Defense and Space (ADS) on the future FCAS (Future Air Combat System) fighter jet. The same applies to the cooperation between Nexter SA and Rheinmetall AG on the MGCS (Main Ground Combat System) tank. Germany also withdrew from the MAWS (Maritime Airborne Warfare System) patrol aircraft program and eventually opted for the American P-8A (Poseidon) equipment. Finally, the Tiger MK3 combat helicopter will be produced currently with France and Spain, but without Germany.

The French-German couple tested their defensive work

While Paris and Berlin seem closer than ever, the German initiative symbolizes the growing chasm that separates the two banks of the Rhine. Perhaps we should believe that the differences in the analysis are also a reflection of the beginning of the difficult cooperation between Emmanuel Macron, who already has experience in the international arena, and Olaf Scholz, who started these issues.

In Germany, it is believed that France’s displeasure may reflect a fundamental change in Paris’s foreign and European policy. From Berlin, we observe that the French president has been stripped of his majority under the pressure of the dual nationalist opposition of Marine Le Pen and the left-sovereignist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is only willing to support arms programs led by France. In the Assembly, he now finds himself primarily obliged to defend the interests of France.

Another element is added. Experience shows that well-intentioned and necessary European armament projects can quickly lead to serious political disagreements. We can take the example of the A400M transport aircraft: its development was massively delayed and cost much more than expected, mainly because France and Germany wanted to cooperate, but both stuck to their ideas – even though their technical requirements were almost identical. was not suitable. It was the same with the NH90 transport helicopter sought by NATO. States, including France and Germany, overloaded its development with many different wishes. In the end, the device had many variants with nothing in common except the name.

Added to this is an element that suddenly came to light with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Germany feels more threatened than ever on its eastern border. The years of the pro-Soviet dictatorship in East Germany cannot be forgotten: the fear of the Russians is anchored in the collective memory of Germans. As a result, the German government sees itself as obliged to ensure its security as soon as possible. Faced with such a threat, and seeing that the German military is now dangerously underequipped, Berlin has an obligation to resort to the fastest solutions.

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