A collection of small to medium nations forever cutting back on defense budgets and simply unable rather than unwilling to take part in major operations, due to a lack of kit and major munitions shortages. That’s how U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described NATO this week in a major valedictory speech.
Gates bemoaned the fact that America’s major NATO allies are simply not equipped for scenarios beyond a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany or submarine-hunting in the North Sea off of Norway.
Take the ongoing NATO operation over Libya. Both Britain and France have dedicated substantial resources in the form of Super Etendard, Rafale, Tornado and Typhoon fighters, as well as destroyers and carriers. Not only are the two countries’ refueling capacity limited — in the case of the RAF, it is very much bordering on the farcical — but their intelligence-gathering and electronic-warfare capabilities are non-existent. In NATO, only America possesses the capability to jam radar transmissions in the air.
When the NATO effort finally got underway — after heavy American support — it was hampered by munitions shortages, as many NATO nations have not budgeted for prolonged air campaigns. This necessitated further American assistance.
Finally, NATO’s operations center in southern Italy, which coordinates the campaign, has been “struggling to launch about 150” sorties per day, due to a lack of qualified staff.
Not only is Europe’s troubled military heavylifter on course for an early 2013 roll-out, but it could have excellent export prospects, reckons Antonio Rodriguez Barbera of Airbus Military. To be fair, the possibility does count on Lockheed Martin closing its C-130 Hercules line down and not bothering to design a replacement. All the same, Airbus is much more confident about selling the A400M than it was a year ago.
Barberan has identified markets in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, where ageing American and Russian transport fleets are almost ready for replacement.
Writing another chapter in Polish-American military co-operation, USAF personnel will be stationed on Polish soil for training and co-operative purposes. The agreement is a crucial symbolic victory for Poland, which is traditionally Atlanticist in its foreign policy. The deal could be also very productive for the Americans, both in terms of helping NATO become a more effective force — and Poland, a willing customer for American kit.
The agreement will include U.S. training deployments in Poland for the F-16 fighter and C-130 transporter up to four times a year. It will also cement a small American garrison in Poland, geared towards training — and also preparing Poland to house SM-3 interceptors as part of America and NATO’s missile-defense shield beginning in 2018.
Poland has been lobbying America for deeper defense ties mainly to act as a bulwark against potential Russian aggression.