Robert Harneis – TDO –France is to sign agreements with Germany and the Netherlands to pool military transport and tanker refueling planes, according to Reuters press agency, citing defense ministry sources.
France and Germany are to move forward this week with plans to set up a joint fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J transport planes. A joint tanker refueling scheme with the Netherlands is also envisaged involving a fleet of eight Airbus A330 tanker planes.
The move follows the joint declaration last October by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen, that the two countries were setting up a joint military transport base in France by 2021, probably in Orleans.
Whilst it is claimed that the moves are motivated by the need for cooperation in the face of the much talked of but not very obvious Russian threat, in reality European armies have been incapable of mounting independent military operations for many years for want of these two type of support aircraft.
This was most dramatically the case in the NATO attack on Libya which was ostensibly lead by France but in reality totally dependent on US support in the background. It has also been important for France in the intervention in Mali. The arrival in the White House of a President who has called for NATO nations to pay their fair share of costs is a much more likely stimulant. Last week German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen admitted President Trump's demands for greater burden sharing were 'fair'.
The new US defense secretary, Jim Mattis, will meet his NATO counterparts for the first time in Brussels this week. No doubt these announcements will go some way to satisfy him that his NATO colleagues are taking US financial demands seriously. Equally if the Western European nations, notably France and Germany, do fully implement plans to provide themselves with adequate refueling and transport aircraft, it will give them the power to act independently of the United States that they have not had in recent years.