Airbus : A European Strategy at the Heart of France's Defence Ambitions

One year after the publication of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy presented in June 2016, France and the EU are still facing significant challenges in the field of defence. Increasing instability in its neighbourhood, the resurgence of state strategies of power and deep technological changes are issues at stake for Europe, which no single Member State can address by itself. However, the European project is strained with a Union torn between the risk of dislocation, the status quo to date not sustainable and a more federal evolution that refuses a part of its Member States.
The period opening up is characterized by a relaunch of reflections and projects on European defence and Franco-German military cooperation, fostered by a renewed strong political impulse. These issues are familiar to Airbus; all the more so as they were core elements in the creation of our company which intends to be a major actor of the challenges that open before us.
But if the challenge is political, it is also industrial. In order to face up to threats, Europe needs to strengthen its strategic autonomy. To this end, it is essential to develop key technologies and strategic capabilities in order to guarantee European independence only made possible with a real control over the equipment of the armed forces.
More than ever, defence remains at the heart of Airbus' strategy to remain the leading company contributing to defence and security in Europe. With EUR 11.1 billion in turnover in this sector in 2016, it ranks first in the European Union. In France, Airbus is the first supplier of the DGA, with 2.3 billion payments in 2016, to which must be added more than 700 million for maintenance activities and 100 million for R&T financed by the Ministry of Defence.
This reality binds Airbus, as an essential partner of the armed forces for their major strategic functions. The company provides high-tech solutions that meet customers' expectations in defence and security and anticipate these expectations (A400M, Tigre, NH90, and soon MRTT, CSO, HIL, mission aircrafts, VHR700, Syracuse IV, MALE RPAS and FCAS/NGWS). Airbus is also a major historical contributor to deterrence capabilities, through the oceanic and airborne components, as well as intelligence capabilities.
In order to ensure the best possible availability and the lowest operational cost for the equipment delivered, cost-efficient maintainability from the design and the conduct of new military programs is also a priority.
Networking between and within defence systems also becomes an asset of capability development. It makes it possible to increase the effectiveness of the forces and their agility, while opening the way to optimization of use of means. In return, it creates new vulnerabilities that are now clearly identified. This major evolution in the building of military capabilities is at the heart of the solutions of the future to meet operational needs. Our air platforms (helicopters, drones, mission aircraft, etc.) are now considered as elements of integrated systems of systems. This continuum between platforms, communication systems and information systems opens the field of possibilities and prompts Airbus to become an industrial player in satellite communications, with COMCEPT today and SYRACUSE IV tomorrow.
Digitization opens up new avenues for performance improvement, through a significant contribution to the design, production and support of future military systems and equipment: interconnected platforms, pseudo-satellites, UAVs, robotisation, cyber defence, big data and artificial intelligence, etc.
It will greatly increase operational performance by reducing program development periods, accelerating the maturity of new equipment and implementing new concepts to support the lifecycle of equipment.
Digitization finally leads to an increase in industrial performance, through the concept of a factory of the future, already widely implemented within Airbus. It also enables the development of service activities contributing to the security objectives of public entities, using data provided by the platforms.
In order to cope with technological breakthroughs and developments, some of which could fuel the instability of the geostrategic environment, and to ensure that Europe guarantees its own defence and security, a revitalization of defence cooperation is necessary. Airbus, a European company, intends to be the spearhead of a defence industrial base that is globally competitive. The major programs we are carrying out are, for the most part, already being carried out in cooperation and producing remarkable shared operational capabilities.
But this is still insufficient in a field characterised by national preferences, while the efficiency of public spending could be increased and the capacity for innovation strengthened through economies of scale. Cooperation between France and Germany can be a driving force for future programs to overcome these difficulties and, with renewed governance rules, to be politically and technologically efficient.