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ASD Calls for Upgrade of Europe's Strategic Air Transport Capabilities

Speech by Allan Cook,
President of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD),
CEO of Cobham

Distinguished Members of the European Security and Defence Assembly, I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to speak at this hearing of the Assembly, focusing on ‘Challenges and opportunities in the European strategic air transport industry’. I will be speaking this morning in my dual capacity as President of the AeroSpace & Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), and as Chief Executive Officer of Cobham.

I would like to start by quoting the words of Nick Witney, former Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency. In a policy paper he drafted for the European Council on Foreign Relations last year, Nick Witney wrote:

“Security for Europeans today lies not in manning the ramparts or in preparing to resist invasion, but in tackling crises abroad before they become breeding-grounds for terrorism, international trafficking and unmanageable immigration flows.”

Yet the European Union’s ability to tackle such crises, and to make a significant contribution to maintaining global peace, is severely undermined by the fact that 70% of Europe’s land forces are simply unable to operate outside their national territory. Capabilities to project these forces abroad, and to provide them with the air support they need – I am talking here about air lifters and air tankers, of course – remain in chronically short supply and in most cases they are ill maintained and very old.

Things have started to move in the right direction, albeit slowly. There is a growing realisation that what we need in Europe is more coherent efforts, more cooperation and less duplication. This will allow us to make more efficient use of taxpayer’s money and to increase the effectiveness of our spending on defence. In the area of military air transport, this rising awareness of the need to do things together materialised in the conclusion, last December, of an agreement by twelve European countries to launch a so-called ‘European Air Transport Fleet’.

An initiative of this kind is truly encouraging. By accepting to bring together some of their stretched resources, the Member States involved have paved the way for a thorough rationalisation of Europe’s capabilities. The road, however, is still long. It is now necessary to move up a gear in order to properly address the challenges facing both our governments and the European strategic air transport industry.

Reflect on the need to adapt to the nature of modern warfare Nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War, most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad, or supporting security and development in Afghanistan. They are also badly prepared to face threats coming from both state and non state players who use all forms of warfare and tactics, acting with alarming speed and agility. Existing risks are not being retired fast enough and new threats are constantly emerging with disproportionately disruptive effects. The newly re-appointed US Secretary of State of Defence – Bob Gates - in his January 2009 speech said that:

“The Pentagon has to do more than just modernise its conventional forces, it must also focus on today’s – and tomorrow’s – unconventional conflicts”.

It is a common challenge. The reality is that we can probably only afford one force to fight and respond to this hybrid war. Hybrid armies will, however, need specialist capabilities: the most important of which are speed and force projection. In that context, strategic air transport capabilities are vital.

The bleak reality, however, is that such a crucial area also represents one of Europe’s key capability gaps, alongside communications, operational intelligence and more accurate weapons. Air lifters and air tankers can deliver three top priorities: of course, better transport to the theatres of operations; better support for the troops on the ground (air tankers allow for smoother transfer of jet fighters and bombers, while strategic air lifters can bring helicopters to remote combat zones); and, last but not least, better logistics. The fact that these two types of aircraft are so scarce, or unfit for purpose, across a majority of European countries, severely hampers the EU’s ability to tackle the real threats to its citizens’ security, and to play its full role in today’s increasingly unstable global environment.

Two programmes are bound to herald a new era for the European strategic air transport sector: the A400M air lifter and the A330 air tanker. My role, as ASD president, is not to make specific comments on programmes involving a particular firm. I will do so when answering your questions - I will then be speaking to you as CEO of my company, Cobham. However I can, at this stage, make two general remarks:

• European countries need an air lifter that can bring their forces straight from their home bases to the theatres of operations, and which therefore has the ability to land on rudimentary airfields – think of humanitarian and peace building operations in Africa, for instance. The US, which unlike European countries has a whole network of permanent bases abroad with well maintained airfields, requires a different kind of aircraft. This is why a European solution to Europe’s air transport capability problems needed to be developed, and why we can only hope that such a solution will be made available to Europe’s armed forces.

On the air tanker issue, we know that the European industry has developed, in cooperation with US partners, a world-class product that can meet the requirements of military forces across the Atlantic. The fact that such an aircraft exists today is a powerful symbol of what can be achieved on the basis of a strong EU-US partnership. We can hope that the process leading to the establishment of a level playing field across the Atlantic will continue to gather momentum. The transatlantic relationship is mutually-beneficial for the US and European aerospace industries. Each partner has everything to gain from easier access to its counterpart’s market, in order to foster competitiveness and innovation on both sides of the Atlantic. This is particularly true in the context of the current economic crisis, as we will only find answers to the challenges it raises by learning to work even closer as a global industry.

These are the thoughts I wanted to convey to you as President of ASD, the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe.

Thank you for your attention, and I would now be delighted to answer any question you may have.


European Security and Defence Assembly: Hearing on "Challenges and Opportunities in the European Strategic Air Transport Industry"