R&D must be spared the inevitable financial amputations that Europe's defense budgets are going to suffer, warned Europe's industry leaders yesterday. They gathered in Brittany on the second and last day of the Summer Defense University hosted by the French DGA procurement agency, which is celebrating its half-centenary this year.
DGA Director Laurent Collet-Billon told this prestigious group of top military and defense deciders that he was “convinced the U.S. defense budget will diminish but the R&T budget will remain intact.”
Louis Gallois, CEO of EADS, agreed that “there is going to be a massive and durable budgetary constraint among all the NATO member states,” but he thought this included the U.S. On the other hand, such constraints “will not affect developing nations such as China, India, Vietnam [and] Brazil” and that these therefore remained as potential clients for European industry.
But he warned that “a research department which is closed [for lack of funds] does not re-open.”
He also said that there was an “excessive” number of industrial players in Europe and that “we must move resolutely toward European programs,” particularly where UAVs are concerned.
Both Gallois and Collet-Billon stressed that the Franco-British Defense Treaty (signed last November) was not “exclusive.”
“We can't just stop at two,” Gallois said, “because then the others will become our opponents. It is inevitable that the five countries—France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.—which have the biggest defense budgets end up working together.”
Collet-Billon said that in the framework of the treaty, a joint Franco-British mine-warfare team has set up shop at the DGA's temporary headquarters in Bagneux (in the southern suburbs of Paris while awaiting completion of the “French Pentagon” in 2014/15). “We're starting cooperation on the smaller things first and looking at whether we can make submarine acoustic systems together, for example,” he said. “But this undertaking is not exclusive of other European countries. We also see Germany and Spain joining in.”
Bernard Grey, the U.K.'s chief of defense materiel, said the two nations were trying “to identify common objectives and move things forward in a practical way,” starting with small things and then moving onto larger ideas once both sides had “greater confidence.”
Avoiding duplication was key, Grey said, adding that it was “depressing how much duplication goes on in R&D. We can't afford to be doing the same thing in five different places.” But, he quipped, in reference to the budget cuts, there is “nothing quite like a burning platform for encouraging people to move.”