Thoughts on future ground and air forces in the EU

Differences in language, doctrine, equipment, organization, training levels and culture cause friction in a multinational force. Differences nationality and culture cause cohesion issues. Deterrence, budgets and warfare are much too serious to accept such detrimental factors, so I strongly favour national army corps for mobilized army strength (and wartime). Bi- or trinational army corps make sense as a peacetime training OOB only.

Few nations are capable of having at least one army corps as mobilized strength of their army, though; in Europe that would be
(1) Germany
(2) France
(3) UK
(4) Spain
(5) Italy
(6) Poland
(7) Romania
(8) Netherlands

The 9th largest EU country is Belgium, which has language and culture issues built-in. Greece, Portugal, Czech Republic and Sweden are close to 10 million inhabitants, but Sweden emphasises its navy and especially air force, while Greece and Portugal are fiscally challenged. The Czech Republic may be able to field a (small) corps, but it would be hard-pressed to do so given its current peacetime strength of about 21,000 military personnel.

I suppose the EU's defence could thus (after a couple weeks of mobilization) rest on each two German, French and UK army corps* and five further uni-national army corps*. Germany could pull more weight than two corps, but the French and British overemphasize military affairs because their political classes and press have a particular taste for great power games. So them pulling more weight by relation is their bad, not Germany's.
Ten to eleven corps is plenty, and peacetime strengths could still be half as much (ideally, every unit has a shadow unit).

This leaves 20 EU member states out, which begs the question how they could contribute to collective defence. Some of them have no port, thus no navy. Much naval strength makes sense mostly for Denmark, which traditionally guards the only exit of the Baltic Sea since doing so serves its own defence. Portugal used to be a very maritime country for centuries, but now its only militarily important overseas possession are the Azores, which have little more strategic value than as a base for maritime patrol.
Most of the 20 non-corps EU members are too small to field an efficient air force. A squadron Gripen NG would be the most punch one could expect from them in this regard. Some (Luxembourg, Malta) are even so small you cannot expect much more than a guard battalion from them.

The temptation to maintain a balanced miniature army is strong, no doubt - and for nowadays nationalistic countries such as Hungary it's irresistible. It would probably make more sense to focus.
The Baltic countries could focus on delaying actions against an invasion, Finland and Norway on defence based on battalion battlegroups specialized on their particular terrain. Portugal could limit itself to a militia and Greece could focus on military power (air power, anti-invasion defences) on Crete, Cyprus on self-defence aided by the UK. The Swedes could focus on self-defence and maybe an air-deployable brigade meant to assist Finland (with pre-positioned vehicles and supplies).
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and Austria could be expected to reach divisional equivalents as their mobilized strength, and a most fitting employment of this would minimize the friction and cohesion challenges with allied forces.
A ground warfare doctrine niche that might fit this description is the employment in 'slow' operations:  Defence of an urban area, combat in largely pathless terrain such as large forests or swamp areas, securing river lines or securing logistical hubs. This means a relatively low cost 'motorized rifle division' approach might fit them well (assuming they can keep the vehicle count low enough to keep the dismounted strength high). This would still resemble a mechanized force well-enough to satisfy 'balanced mini army' desires, including prestigious tanks and artillery. They could top this with a squadron of F-16, Gripen or Gripen NG as their air force, with training, transport aviation and the like pooled in multinational, NATO- or EU-level organisations.
The ground forces should as a rule of thumb be able to double their peacetime and mobilized strengths in a hurried two-year expansion. This concerns senior personnel training mostly.

The military spending levels (relative to GDP) could be in four groups:
* countries with a stupid hunger for great power games (UK, France)
* frontier countries (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania)
* normal member countries (Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy)
* member countries with severe fiscal troubles / too small for critical mass (Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Ireland / Malta, Luxembourg, Slovenia)

The aggregate military spending doesn't need to be very high, certainly not higher than today. Personnel-wise, a million (wo)men under arms in peacetime in the EU ought to be enough if both personnel and capital are being allocated wisely.

The Russians can still not muster very much military strength no matter how many Westerners have been mislead recently, and the Arabs are no threat of note whatsoever, being separated by the Mediterranean. The Turks are a NATO ally and no threat even to Greece.

So force designers of eight EU members could create a mobile warfare corps doctrine, OOB and training plan and several other members would have good use for a motorized rifle division doctrine, OOB and training plan. The large European air forces could develop or maintain the elaborate U.S.-style strike package capability, whereas the squadron- or wing-sized smaller air forces could focus their doctrine, ammunition stocks and training on air combat and some of the less elaborate ground (and ship) attack mission profiles. Multilaterally organised exercises could drive the ground forces into adapting for operations next to dissimilar allied forces and the air forces could insist on datalink and voice radio compatibility as well as a continued standardization of certain procedures.

I suppose similar ideas have been in NATO staffs for a long time (and mine isn't original by a long stretch), but force design is still a national, in the collective defence context bottom-up, activity.
Many EU member countries have inflated nominal strengths (example Greece) of questionable capability, are close or below minimum training expectations (=165 annual flying hours for combat pilots, for example), maintain the façade of strength with active forces at the expense of supply stocks, readiness, modernity and mobilized strengths.
Quantity is a quality in its own right, but only so if the forces aren't 'soft' or 'brittle'. The Italians showcased this in 1940, the Soviets did so in the summer and autumn of 1941, the Romanians in late 1942, The Egyptians in 1967 and the Iraqis whenever they were at war.

Fantasies about a unified EU military are nonsense in my opinion, but a more purposeful and coordinated allocation of resources and a greater orientation towards collective security through deterrence by readiness is a fantasy worth dreaming about.


*: Strengths may vary from four to eight brigades per corps.


  1. It is fundamentally wrong to compare the Bundeswehr with the armies of some other European nations like the UK, France or even Finland.
    The Bundeswehr is not meant to fight in a real war. It was not during the Cold war, when it was just a large-scale trigger; and it has been even less so since German reunification.
    When participating in joint international operations, be it under UN, EU or NATO and especially NATO/ISAF, the German military have struck their partners by the low preparedness, insufficient levels of proficiency and training, incredibly low teeth-to-tail ratios, stringent and inflexible regulations, numerous caveats that cast into iron a clear aversion for risk and losses, and, frankly, modest courage and commitment. Planning joint deployment with soldiers who are obsessed by avoiding fighting and staying on a large airport from where they may leave on a whim is quite frustrating.
    What the Bundeswehr is meant for is staying in their barracks, purchasing equipment from the German (or American) defence industry, storing it and maintaining it for years, scraping it and starting the process all over again.
    Having in mind the past of German armed forces as a political force, including their putsch attempts during the Weimar republic and active and large-scale participation in IIIrd Reich crimes, giving them this deliberately limited assignment was quite appropriate on the part of post-war democratic Western Germany. But the consequence has been a toothless and ineffective army. Which of those two evils is more acceptable in the current era is open to debate. Taking into consideration how much nearly each and every European nation has suffered from German militarism in the past, the answer is not nearly as much in favour of a stronger German army as one might expect.

    1. There were no Reichswehr coup d'état attempts during the Weimar Republic.
      The later critique was all about its selective availability; the Reichswehr was available to fight leftist uprisings, and unavailable to fight right wing uprisings.

      The Bundeswehr has been meant to be a serious force from the start, albeit it was clearly created as the price to pay for Western integration.
      The seriousness only slipped away in the early 90's, for want of threats.