Monday, 29 September 2014

EU’s military shipbuilding capacities

The European Union (EU) consists of 28 member states, all of them deciding on their own what military hardware their armed forces require. The direct result of this is that the EU has a large number of defense companies that can deliver a wide arrange of different military hardware. This diversity can clearly be seen in all the branches of armed forces (army, air force and navy). When it comes down to navies, this diversity in military hardware can be both an enrichment and a limitation.

All EU member states that have a navy are forced to equip it as they themselves see fit. In the absence of one unified EU navy there are no guidelines or orders telling what navy a country should develop and contribute to the EU navy. As such the navies of the EU member states are designed to fulfill their own needs. While the United Kingdom and France are still planning to have ocean going fleets that can operate in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans other states are looking to operate closer at home. Italy and Spain have their main focus on the Mediterranean while Sweden and Poland are looking to operate in the Baltic Sea. The tiny Baltic states invest in protecting the coastal waters as well as in mine-countermeasure ships to clear the large minefields that are a left over from both the second World War and the Cold War. Likewise Belgium has a main priority to keep its waters, and in extension the North Sea clear of unexploded sea mines and bombs from the second World War. The Netherlands on the other side are giving priority to their expeditionary capabilities, being their marines and amphibious assault ships,as well as maintaining a complete amphibious task force to escort and protect their marines in their zone of operations.
All these different tasks and missions result in the need for ships that are best suited for these tasks. Ships built for service in the Baltic Sea are not ideally equipped for operating in the hot Mediterranean environment and vice versa. Mine hunters and minesweepers are too small to operate on or transit the oceans and prefer to stay near the coast. European shipyards therefore are specialized in building ships that suit the specific needs of a nation. Even more than this, the direct competition between these shipyards allow the EU member states to select or request the most optimal ships thy need.
All these different ship models, each with their own specifications and limitations, are interfering with the creation of an EU navy. Taking a logistics point of view, any EU navy is in need of standardizing its ships not only for providing repair facilities and delivery of spare parts in any EU naval base, but for planning reasons as well. Operating with identical ships or ships with the same specifications simplifies planning compared to taking in account a lot of different specifications like range, endurance, weaponry, electronic capabilities, etc.
FREMM frigate: Both the French and Italian navy use the same basic design.
Specific requirements defined by each nation makes that these ships are not completly identical
Hence the EU’s greatest strength, being able to develop and build a wide array of ships tailor made to specific needs, will in the end become its greatest limitation in creating one uniform EU navy. The EU is in need of standardizing its equipment in order to allow the navies of the different member states to integrate more directly and being able to form ad hoc task forces that can be managed easily. Already some member states are cooperating in attempts to create uniform navies. The FREMM project is a type of frigate that is in joint use by the French and Italian navies, allowing them to work more closely. Likewise, Belgium and the Netherlands each operate two M-type frigates to enhance their cooperation.

These projects are already a step in the right direction but what any future EU navy would need is an end to this wild diversity in ships and start streamlining its shipbuilding capabilities in only a handful of different types of ships to increase cooperation, logistics and simplifying planning of naval operations throughout the EU and the waters it has taken an interest in.


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