Forces: September 1, 2005

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The European Union is composed of 25 countries that have separate militaries. How would the military of these 25 countries combined stack up when compared to the United States, Russia, and China?

The EUs carrier force would consist of the Charles de Gaulle and up to a half-dozen V/STOL carriers from the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. The United Kingdom is working on a class of two new carriers in the 50,000-ton range, the Queen Elizabeth class, and France may buy one as well (due to major problems keeping the de Gaulle operational). The EU navy would also have two cruisers, 38 destroyers, 126 frigates, eight nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, 18 nuclear-powered attack submarines, and 24 ocean-going diesel-electric submarines (plus 22 coastal diesel-electric submarines).

The EU air force would feature a large number of advanced aircraft. This would include the 620 Eurofighters, 294 Rafales, and 526 Tornado GR.4/IDS aircraft. These would be supplemented by Greek F-4s, F-16s from Greece, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands, Mirage 2000s from France and Greece, and Harriers from the UK, Spain, and Italy. A combined EU air force would have quality and quantity.

The EU army would bring a mix of forces. The British have six brigades, the French have nine and a half, and the Germans have five regular divisions (with ten and a half brigades). Among other major countries in the EU, Spain has eight brigades, Belgium has 2 brigades, the Italians have another eight brigades, the Netherlands has four brigades, and Greece has 15 brigades. The total force is close to a million men, and features a number of advanced tanks, primarily the British Challenger 2, the French LeClerc, and the German Leopard 2 as well as infantry vehicles like the Warrior, AMX-10, and Marder. Older systems like the AMX-30, M60, Leopard 1, and M113 are also in the mix.

The mixture of quantity and quality of this EU military could easily best Russia, which has a large air force, but its best planes still fall short when compared to the Eurofighter and Rafale. The EUs combined naval force also clearly outnumbers Russias Northern, Baltic, and Black Sea fleets. While the Russians have a few surface vessels that are capable of fighting it out with EU units (like the Kirov-class battlecruisers and the Slava-class cruisers), there are very few of these ships (the Northern, Black Sea, and Baltic fleet have a total of two Kirovs and two Slavas). Chinas military is much more outclassed. While China is able to beat the EU in quantity, most of its aircraft are older, and even some of the older EU aircraft (like the Mirage 2000 and F-16) are almost on par with some of Chinas best planes (like the Su-27) in the right circumstances.

Against the United States, though, the EU will come up short in some areas. One of these would be beyond the range of land-based air cover. The Atlantic fleet alone has six carriers, each carrying four squadrons of fighters (F/A-18C Hornets and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, with the F-35 to enter service soon). Beyond the range of land-based air cover, the EUs navy will be outnumbered in terms of aircraft, and will face more powerful ships and submarines (like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Los Angeles-class submarines, and Virginia-class submarines). The air force will meet its match in terms of quantity (the United States Air Force has 924 F-16Cs, 252 F-15C/D, and 132 F-15E in its primary mission aircraft inventory). The American inventory is even larger and the F-22 is entering service, which is miles ahead of other fighters. 

The U.S. Army, while outnumbered, has a much simpler logistics train, due to the fact it only has to support the M1A2 Abrams tank and the M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicles as contrasted to the EUs hodgepodge of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (at least a half-dozen types of tanks, and a similar number of IFVs and APCs). The EU faces an incredible logistics challenge as a result of this mix.

Between the qualitative gap with the United States, the much more complicated logistical needs due to the heterogeneous number of weapon systems, and the quantitative gap in such areas as carriers, carrier-based aircraft, and nuclear attack submarines, the EU would come off second-best in a fight with the United States. That said, its second-place finish in a fight would be a very close second. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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