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Europeans scramble on air defense after decades of complacency

Representative image. PA

The severity of Ukraine’s drone-missile conflict has revealed flaws in Europe’s air defenses that experts say would be difficult, time-consuming and costly to fix.

According to Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, anti-aircraft systems will play a prominent role at the Paris Air Show, which begins on Monday.

“You’re going to see a lot of talk about missile production capability. The missile market is by far the fastest growing segment of the industry and yet manufacturers simply cannot keep up,” Aboulafia told AFP.

Since the end of the Cold War, Western nations have had complete control of the skies and have largely abandoned the formidable defenses that were once built to defend NATO forces against Soviet aircraft.

According to a recent report, France has disbanded eight of its nine anti-aircraft artillery units.

However, as more countries acquire cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and drones, NATO countries have returned to air defense, according to retired US Marine Colonel Mark Cancian. and Senior Advisor at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. (CSIS).

“They started, but basically they didn’t go too far,” Cancian told AFP.

“In five years, I think there will be a lot more, but that doesn’t help Ukraine at the moment,” he added.

Without anti-aircraft systems and the missiles they fire, the West is struggling to meet Ukraine’s demands for supplies, whether for short- or long-range defenses.

Berlin plans to spend five billion euros on anti-aircraft warfare out of a 100 billion euro ($110 billion) fund to rebuild its armed forces in the coming years, with the same amount budgeted in Paris for the period up to 2030.

On the industry side, the European missile manufacturer MBDA has signed two billion euro contracts with France and Italy in recent months for the supply of 700 Aster missiles, used in particular in the SAMP/T system.

And Poland will spend 2.2 billion euros for 44 launchers and hundreds of CAMM missiles.

‘Euro Sky Shield’

Led by Germany, 17 European nations banded together for air defense with the ‘Euro Sky Shield’ project last year – although France, Italy and Poland all stayed away.

The program would involve joint purchases of short-, medium-, and long-range systems, including the German-made Iris-T, American Patriot, and US-Israeli Arrow-3.

“It makes tremendous sense” to harmonize between allied countries, Aboulafia said.

Nevertheless, “whenever NATO tries to standardize, obviously big decisions have to be made in terms of who takes over production and design,” he added.

“We’ve seen this movie before and the big problem is still France,” which is reluctant to cede industrial leadership, Aboulafia said.

“Germany’s proposal does not sufficiently take into account European security interests, has not convinced partners and leaves many strategic, military, industrial and economic questions unanswered,” the group wrote. Berliner SWP reflection in a recent report.

By choosing American and Israeli technology over European technology, the German-led plan is also “at odds with the goal of strengthening Europe’s industrial and technological defense base”, SWP added.

The recent report by French MPs directly criticized the Sky Shield, deploring “the total absence of European solutions… versus promotion of American and Israeli products”.

Another Israeli offer, a new hypersonic missile interceptor from Rafael Defense Systems, could tempt European governments when it is presented in Paris next week, after Russia fired on Ukraine with its much-publicized nuclear-capable weapons. Kinzhal.

Alongside the Paris Air Show, the French government invited ministers to an air defense conference to try to iron out differences.

“The Germans have proposed an industrial agreement, we are proposing a strategic initiative: to have a sovereign European air defense capability, with European equipment,” said a French diplomatic source.

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