Procurement: February 17, 2004

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: Several European allies continue to demonstrate that with the requirement for funding an ongoing war on terrorism competing with an ever growing spending on government social and other transfer payment programs, military programs are generally the loser. European maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and their ASW/ASuW capabilities are being given a decreasing priority. 

Holland announced in December its intention to sell its 13 P-3C aircraft, probably in 2005. Eight would go to Germany and five to Portugal. This announcement followed several months of confusion that had suggested that the aircraft would be sold in early 2004. The Dutch military had clearly been involved in an unacknowledged behind-the-scenes battle with the parliament, with parliament wanting to keep the Orions and the navy wanting to sell them and close the naval air base at Valkenburg. Holland had just spent $ 103 million to upgrade seven of its P-3C Upgrade-III aircraft to the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP) level, and three others were upgraded to a lesser standard. The CUP program includes installation of satellite communication systems, secure communication systems, missile warning receivers, countermeasures dispensing systems, cockpit enhancements and replacement of the acoustic receiver and processor system and the data management system. 

German defense officials proposed the 8/5 split in September, but its prospects appeared to be low until the idea was resuscitated by German defense minister Peter Struck, Minister Henk van Hoof of the Netherlands, and Minister Paulo Portas of Portugal in December. The seven CUP aircraft would be sold for $40 million each; the three others upgraded for $36 million each; and the three others for $14.5 million each. Portugal will buy two of the lesser upgraded aircraft and all three of the unmodified Orions. Germany has announced it plans to keep four aircraft available for deployments, such as patrolling the Horn of Africa. A German Defense Ministry official said three aircraft could deploy for up to six months. However, with eight P-3s replacing ten Atlantique aircraft, Germany will no longer be able to deploy two groups of five aircraft. Final details among the three countries are still being worked out.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, London announced significant military cuts. A confidential Ministry of Defense (MOD) White Paper announced substantial cuts in British ships, armored vehicles, and aircraft. The British MOD said the changes were being made to better prepare Britain for combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. While supporters are reported to say these changes will permit the use of a more swiftly deployable force to fight on a number of fronts at the same time while enjoying the latest technology, opponents countered that the move is budget crisis-driven "a smokescreen" to hide quite risky cuts in the military.

Two major defense programs -- the Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft and the Ground-based Air Defence radar system -- are being cut immediately. The Nimrod upgrade program alone has already cost $764 million toward the $5 billion program. Canceling the MRA4 now is expected to save $892 million this year and $3.57 billion overall, leaving England with neither a modern Royal Navy maritime patrol aircraft nor a strategic bomber. 

The white paper also lists other savings: buying just 55 of the 143 Eurofighters with which it will replace its F3 Tornado, Harrier, and Jaguar ground attack aircraft; scrapping England's 60 Challenger 2 tanks, plus unnamed older tank models; and decommissioning older Royal Navy ships, not yet named. At a time of greatly increased danger from terrorism and third world armed forces, how Europe's sudden multi-billion dollar cuts in defense may be judged by history remains to be seen. -- K.B. Sherman

 


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