Procurement: Europe Forced to Rearm

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May 29,2008: Although European nations cut their defense spending drastically after the Cold War ended in 1991, they still have minimal requirements for major types of military equipment (armored vehicles, aircraft and warships). In the last few years, European politicians have been shocked by the news (delivered by their military commanders), that lots of Cold War era gear was approaching the end of their useful lives (30-40 years in most cases). Thus in the next decade, these nations will have to buy hundreds of billions worth of new stuff, or allow themselves to be disarmed. The latter prospect has appeal for some voters, but the majority still remember what a dangerous place Europe has been for thousands of years.

The current period of peace (since the end of World War II), is the longest Europe has gone without a major war in all its recorded history. The current generation of tax payers are not willing to bet on it continuing. So the politicians find themselves given the green light to spend huge sums on a new 30-40 year supply of weapons. Complete disarmament is not an option.

Europe already has a large warship building industry, and the replacement ships are already showing up. European fleets were already getting a little old when the Cold War ended. Britain is building two large aircraft carriers, and many nations are keen to get at least a few of the new AIP subs (which can stay under for weeks without nuclear power). The AIP boats cost less than half what nuclear subs go for, and are quieter. They are very popular.

For new aircraft, a lot of the business is going to the United States. The F-35 is replacing a lot of F-16s, and some older warplanes as well. Europe builds the Eurofighter, Gripen and Rafale, but none are as stealthy as the F-35, and stealth is the next big thing. But the three European fighters are getting sales from the budget minded. Europeans also build helicopters and transports, and are keeping most of those replacement sales at home as well. AirBus even snagged the big contract for the new U.S. aerial tanker.

The one big sale that is still up in the air is for a new tank. The Challengers, Leopards and LeClercs are approaching the end of their service lives, and no replacement is available for sale. All eyes are on the United States, where the U.S. Army is putting together the first truly 21st century tank design. Lighter than the current generation of tanks, the FCS tank will use high-tech armor and lots of electronics. Europeans want to see this one before they decide to build their own, or, especially for many of the smaller nations, buy American.

 


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