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While the U.S. cannot find alternatives to the Ground Combat Vehicle program and Canadians do not move past the abandonment of the Close Combat Vehicle program, Europeans seem to experience more successes with their weapons programs. Although described as too small or unable to resist American competition, the European land defense industry has some successes to its credit. A lesson for countries about to make some choices within the field.
One European country has recently made a surprising choice by choosing the Piranha V armored vehicle to replace its worn out M113. The Piranha V isn’t a combat-proven vehicle and many questions remain regarding its manufacturing and maintenance costs. The choice made by Denmark was probably not based on the vehicle’s proven efficiency, but rather on political and economic interests. The British armed forces may well learn some lessons after selecting somewhat hastily the same American product in the FRES-UV program. The cancellation of this selection was a reminder to those who doubt that European programs and materials may finally be among the best in the market. Other countries are particularly concerned by this issue.
Eastern countries have now a legacy of the Warsaw Pact on their hands to renew and modernize. Americans, Indians, Turkish, Chinese and Europeans compete in markets that are dealing with Euros in the billions. But the overall opportunity is given by the European offerings in the field, the solutions and the many experiences of countries that have conducted real war operations with the materials in question.
Europe is disorganized but united by the technical choice
It is not one discovery, contrary to U.S. offerings, the European offering is dispersed between several major players in land defense – KMW and RheinMetall in Germany, BAE Systems in Britain, Patria Hägglunds in the Scandinavian countries, Nexter Systems in France, and many vehicles that are constructed on narrow ranges often with weak markets, especially in European armies. The offering is very significant by demand, especially as the Europeans have agreed on at least one issue – they mainly offer wheeled vehicles rather than caterpillars. Lighter, stronger, less expensive to buy and maintain, wheeled vehicles also have the advantage of being more politically acceptable in the number of operations that lead European countries. There are some exceptions, such as Germany and its Puma, and the Austro-Spanish Ascod, both not deployed in operations. So far, Europe has overwhelmingly chosen wheeled vehicles, without regretting it.
Europe at war
In general, the inability for Europe to resolve some of the conflicts at its borders should not mask the great disparities in terms of military involvement among European countries. If the conflicts in former Yugoslavia required U.S. military intervention, the military operations in Libya have resulted from U.S. tutelage, as well as operations in the Sahel where France successfully deployed its VBCI. It was also not the first trip for the Nexter Systems vehicle, also having been sent to Afghanistan, as well as the German Artec Boxer and AMV Patria, the latter being used by the Polish under the name Rosomak. Given the European hesitation over Iraq, Afghanistan has indeed become the first symbol of transatlantic solidarity and has seen many deployments from European countries. Far from the reputation of military auxiliaries, France, Britain, Germany, Poland, as well as Denmark, Norway, Italy and Portugal have conducted many operations that have severely tested the equipment. Although the Polish armed forces have lost several Rosomak, French and Germans welcomed the technical choices made for the VBCI and the Boxer. And there were no losses reported for both VBCI and Boxer.
These deployments in Afghanistan, as well as in Lebanon and Mali in France’s case, have been opportunities to validate the selected concepts and improve what was the original outcome. If France and Poland chose to include add-on armor kits, given very dangerous local situations, Germany, deployed in a calmer area, refrained from going with its Boxer. The reason being financial and not wishing to pay for a vehicle known to be expensive – the modularity of the Boxer system (the "mission" compartments are interchangeable between vehicles), the innovation that is the concept is unlikely to be replicated on other vehicles, all being seen as too complex for a limited operational value.
Regardless, whether it’s the Boxer, the VBCI or AMV-Rosomak, European countries have demonstrated the feasibility of effective and consistent armament programs with timely deadlines and leading high quality products. Confirmed by the verdict of fights on demanding battlefields, no one questions the industrial know-how and European military.