BRUSSELS - European defence ministers endorsed plans on Thursday (22 March) to develop air-to-air refuelling capabilities and field hospitals in a bid to reduce military costs.
"Pooling demand, as lessons learned from former joint off-the-shelf procurements, indicates savings ranging as from 20 percent," said French official Claude-France Arnould, the head of the European Defence Agency (EDA), the research wing of the EU diplomatic service.
Collectively, the EU spends some €200 billion on defence annually. But austerity measures are forcing ministers to rethink how to best use assets and upgrade capability. The past decade has seen at least a 15 percent drop in EU defence budgets.
"Austerity is a challenge we cannot duck, we must confront and overcome. The only way is through co-operation," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at an EDA conference in January.
The EU-led Nato operation in Libya last year also exposed hardware and technology deficiencies in the EU military. Nato commander Marcel Druart told the European Parliament earlier in the week that the success of the Libya operation depended largely on US military input.
EU countries in Nato relied heavily on US technology to co-ordinate the offensive. The Americans monitored airspace and ground movement, making it possible for EU jet fighters to strike pre-designated targets.
Gaps in the EU military were already identified in Afghanistan. The former US defence minister Robert Gates last year said Europe's lack of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets rendered even Europe's most advanced jet fighters useless.
In Libya, the US was also instrumental in air-to-air refuelling. The EU now wants the same or similar capability. The EU defence ministers said developing air-to-air refuelling has become "a matter of priority."
The pressure for Europe to enhance its own military is also coming from Washington. President Barack Obama last year announced a new military strategy that shifts focus away from Europe and onto China, North Korea, and Iran - the so-called "Pacific Century."
Previous calls by the US for Europe to become more independent militarily have not always been heeded, according to the EDA.
"We have to take [the new US strategy] seriously. The US has strategic interests elsewhere that are compelling, and we need to show that we can do things like Libya by ourselves," stated Arnould back in January.
Aside from pooling and sharing assets, the EU ministers on Thursday also outlined a new pilot project to improve energy efficiency and increase the development of renewable energy.
Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Luxemburg plan on placing solar panels on military property, including rooftops, airbases and free land.
The EU armed forces' infrastructure has a total surface of around 200 million square metres, or the equivalent of more than four times the surface operated by any of Europe's largest retailers, says the EDA.