Set up to promote research, collaboration, and the European defence industrial base, the EDA recently celebrated its first decade. Walter F. Ullrich writes.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) celebrated its 10th anniversary at its premises in Brussels, Belgium on 17 December 2014. During a joint academic session with the European Security and Defence College (ESDC), more than 150 participants, including some distinguished founding members, debated the role of EDA and the future development of European defence capabilities. “Celebrating anniversaries is a great opportunity to look back, but we also need to think about the way ahead,” Hans-Bernhard Weisserth, Head of the ESDC, said at the event.

The European Council, the highest political body of the European Union, founded EDA in July 2004 to support the Member States and the Council in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities. EDA was neither the first nor is it the only organisation to promote the development of a more unified European armaments market. In fact, EDA continued the work of the Western European Armaments Organisation (WEAO) and the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG). Even today, the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) is still managing collaborative European armament ventures concurrently to EDA.

The Head of EDA is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Since November 2014 the post has been held by Federica Mogherini, the former Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. EDA is controlled by the defence ministers of its 27 Member States (the EU Member States minus Denmark) and one member of the European Commission. The national armaments directors and other top national authorities provide detailed control and guidance. The Agency’s budget is fairly moderate: less than $35 million in 2014 of which 80% is for personnel and general running costs and 20% for feasibility and other studies. That compares, for example, to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose FY 2015 budget is $2.92 billion, of which $71 million is attributed to management and support.

Strategic Framework

Only a year after it was founded, the new Agency set up a strategic framework for defence. It was built on three main pillars: the Research & Technology Strategy; the Armaments Cooperation Strategy; and the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base Strategy. In October 2006, the defence ministers endorsed the Long-Term Vision (LTV) that defined capability and capacity needs for the period 2020 to 2030. Another milestone was set in 2007, when the EU Member States inaugurated a European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) Strategy. The EDTIB was intended to gradually make Europe independent in terms of both technology and providers, not on a national but on a European level. The Capability Development Plan (CDP), published in July 2008, was a joint effort of European civil and military bodies that depicted future capability needs and took into account the impact of upcoming security challenges, technological development and other trends.

The creation of the Pooling & Sharing concept in 2010 was of far-reaching importance. Pooling of capabilities occurs when several Member States decide to use (nationally owned or multi-nationally procured) capabilities on a collective basis. Sharing, or more precisely, role sharing, is when some Member States relinquish some capabilities with the assumption or the guarantee that other countries will make them available when necessary. The concept was developed further in 2012, when the defence ministers endorsed a Code of Conduct for Pooling & Sharing. This ensured that a cooperative approach for the entire life cycle of the product will be considered whenever a Member State is thinking of developing a new capability. Although the Pooling & Sharing initiative was primarily a consequence of dwindling resources, it may prove to be an effective concept in better times as well.

Ideas Into Action

Regardless of its rather meagre budget, EDA went rapidly forward. In parallel with statements of intent and programmatic and organisational measures, the Agency began very early on to turn various ambitious ideas into concrete programmes.

As a practical first step, in November 2006 a more than €13 million Joint R&T Investment Programme was approved. It was dedicated to developing new technologies to provide better protection to European armed forces. In December 2007, EDA awarded the first R&T contract to a consortium led by the Finnish company Patria for a study on remotely piloted air systems (RPAS). In May 2008, the defence ministers launched the Agency’s second Joint Investment Programme on emerging technologies that may negatively impact the battlefield (Disruptive Defence Technologies). An important decision was taken in November 2008, when 12 countries signed a declaration of intent to establish a European Air Transport Fleet (EATF), with the objective of reducing European air transport shortfalls by all means available.

EDA has also been active outside the safe harbour. In 2010, it launched its Theatre Exploitation Laboratory project that reached initial operating capability on the theatre of war in Afghanistan in 2011. This successful venture aimed to develop and build a forensic laboratory to analyse improvised explosive devices (IEDs) recovered during incidents.

EDA’s first dual-use TURTLE project shows that the Agency is in line with the objectives of the European Union, namely promoting the involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in its activities. Developed by a consortium of Portuguese SMEs, research institutes and universities, TURTLE aims to develop key technologies for a sustainable and long-term presence in the deep ocean. Leveraging EU structural funds to reap the benefits of dual use (i.e. military/civilian) research and technologies, while attractive does carry some risk – such as differing strategic goals for product design and profit

One of the most recent projects was launched in April 2015, when EDA and the European Space Agency (ESA) kicked-off the DeSIRE II demonstration project. DeSIRE II (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) will demonstrate the safe insertion of RPAS into non-segregated airspace using satellites for commercial and governmental applications.

Simulation and Training in the EDA Portfolio

EDA’s Capability Development Plan has looked at future security scenarios since it was elaborated in 2008. It makes recommendations about the capabilities European militaries will need to react to a variety of potential developments. EDA considers modelling and simulation (M&S) to be a main enabler of tomorrow’s equipment, covering cloud functionalities, e-training and distributed training, intelligent decision-making tools and environment databases. What makes M&S especially interesting to EDA is its proven cost-saving effect and that it is best suited for pooling and sharing.

Modelling, simulation and experimentation is one of EDA’s so-called capability technologies. These “CapTechs” are networking fora for experts from government, industry, SMEs and academia; they are moderated by EDA. Here experts work on the R&T priorities set by EDA with the aim of having technologies readily in place when required under the Agency’s Capability Development Plan or by the military side. The following two examples show the bandwidth of EDA’s CapTechs networks.

  • EU Distributed Experimentation Laboratory (EUDEL). EDA is developing innovative approaches for the experimentation, testing and validation of operational capabilities. These efforts seek to highlight the benefits of collaboration and prove the technical maturity of a distributed EUDEL capability. A demonstration of a Blue Force Tracking (BFT) capability is currently ongoing. It shows how new technical solutions, standards and associated doctrines can be quickly evaluated and developed.
  • Multimodal Transport Hubs simulation tool. This instrument simulates scenarios for a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation deployment in order to optimise the costs and operational effectiveness of overseas deployments.

Training was recognised very early on as an excellent Pooling & Sharing opportunity. Joint training not only substantially reduces costs, it also improves cooperation interoperability between Member States: Personnel who have trained together are better prepared to operate together on the battlefield. Over the years, the exercises that EDA has coordinated in close collaboration with a number of key partners and host nations have become go-to events in a number of fields, including helicopter training, military air transport and, most recently, air-to-air refuelling. The creation of a dedicated Education, Training & Exercise Unit within EDA’s new Cooperation, Planning & Support Directorate underlines the importance of these initiatives.

  • Helicopter Training Programme (HTP). EDA hosted the first Helicopter Exercise in the French Alps in March 2009. By the end of 2014, seven EDA-supported exercises had been organised that provided tactical training to more than a thousand crews from across Europe. These exercises are a main pillar of the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) arrangement of November 2012, whereby the 13 participating Member States agreed to work for the next 10 years on improving deployable helicopter capabilities for overseas operations.
  • European Air Transport Training (EATT). Europe’s obvious shortcomings in airlift capabilities led to EDA’s European Air Transport Fleet (EATF) initiative being launched in 2011. In 2012, a programme similar to the HTP was then created for air transport training. Three exercises have been carried out since then. The latest edition of EATT, held in June 2014, brought together more than 460 participants, 19 crews and 10 transport aircraft from 10 different countries. Since 2014, dedicated courses and training events have taken place, providing an advanced training capability to the European air transport community. Three courses and a training event are scheduled for 2015, allowing more than 40 crews from 15 countries to train together, sharing common procedures and qualifications.
  • European Air Refuelling Training (EART). In 2013, the European Council decided to make air-to-air refuelling one of the four top capability development priorities for EDA. A year later, the Agency launched European Air Refuelling Training 2014, or EART14. One goal was to improve participants’ proficiency in air-to-air refuelling using their own assets, another was to improve tanker planning, tasking and operation among European Member States. Eventually, the exercise was to demonstrate that air-to-air refuelling was another area where Member States could benefit from multinational training. The 2015 edition of EART, held in April, gathered together air-to-air refuelling aircraft from France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Receiver aircraft included F-16s, F/A-18s, F-15Cs and Eurofighters.

What Next?

When EDA was founded a decade ago, Europe seemed to be continents away from crisis areas and total defence spending of EDA Member States was declining. Since 2006 spending has declined around 15% to €186 billion in 2013. Against all expectations, there has been no shift to more collaborative spending. Quite the contrary, between 2012 and 2013, collaborative equipment procurement expenditure decreased by 20.7% to €4.75 billion. More than 84% of total defence equipment procurement was spent nationally, but collaborative expenditure accounted for only 16%.

Over the past few years, Europe’s situation has massively changed. The escalation of hostilities in the Middle East, the precarious situation in the Mediterranean and, most importantly of all, Russia’s annexation of Crimea have put Europe in the tensest situation in its neighbourhood since the end of the Cold War. Soon after the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine the former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Head of the European Defence Agency, Baroness Catherine Ashton, said there was a need to reflect on “how we need to organise and equip ourselves in a rapidly changing strategic and geopolitical environment”. Her answer was clear: “It’s time to do more with more”. If European Member States wanted to act as a security provider and play a role on the world stage, she said, they either had to invest in those capabilities or lose them entirely. “There is no middle ground here,” Baroness Ashton postulated. For Claude-France Arnould, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency until December 2014, EDA is exactly the instrument required for coping with the situation: an intergovernmental agency, subject to the authority of the Council of Ministers that reflects Member States’ responsibilities for defence. And for Nick Witney, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations, and former EDA Chief Executive, EDA is also a fine instrument with the capacity to make some splendid music, “but it is nothing without hands willing to pick it up and play it”.

This article is based on facts and figures provided by the European Defence Agency ( and the European Union (