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Will Germany’s €4 Billion Sky Shield Save Europe?

By Belal Awad · July 13, 2023

 Map of Sky Shield Initiative European member states. Germany's plan for joint purchase of air defense systems to counter potential threats has sparked controversy among European nations due to its cost, compatibility with NATO's existing network, and France's push for a homegrown solution.  Derkoenig, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As threats of air attacks loom over Europe, Germany has proposed a solution: The European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI). The plan, aimed at jointly purchasing air defense systems to reduce costs, has sparked controversy within Europe.

The ESSI was proposed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as a means of bundling the continent’s efforts to defend against possible aircraft or missile attacks. The initiative was born from growing concerns over Europe’s limited capability to defend against threats such as the Russian 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile systems deployed in Kaliningrad.

“Currently, the situation with regard to European air defense is really not very good. Over the past years, this has not been a priority,” Lydia Wachs from the International Politics and Security Institute told France 24. Recent devastation waged by Russia and its missile assault on Ukrainian cities has forced European states to rethink their strategy.

The ESSI proposes a multi-layered defense system, including six iris-t surface to aerial rocket systems for short-range missiles, a dozen patriot systems for medium-range missiles, and the Arrow Three system for attacks from outside the Earth’s atmosphere. In a conversation with France24, Timur Kadyshev, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies said the Arrow Three system “has a footprint of a couple thousand kilometers, so it can defend a pretty large area. Over all Europe…3 or 4 of them will cover everything.”

The €4 billion shield has roiled diplomatic waters. It’s unclear whether the system can dovetail with NATO’s existing air defense network. “It seems to be rather divided opinions in Berlin and Brussels on whether Arrow could be integrated into NATO’s architecture,” Wachs added.

France, Germany’s closest ally, is pushing its own initiative. French President Emmanuel Macron advocates for a more strategic approach, urging Europeans to build their own systems. “Why do we still have to buy American so often? Because the Americans are much more standardized than we are, and they massively subsidize their manufacturers,” Macron argued.
The European Sky Shield Initiative represents a significant step towards bolstering Europe’s air defense capabilities. However, the controversy surrounding the initiative underscores the need for a unified, strategic approach for Europe’s defense. Even so, more than 12 European countries have agreed to participate in the pricey initiative.

Light Wave commentary

Germany’s European Sky Shield Initiative presents a potential solution to Europe’s air defense challenges. While legitimate concerns exist regarding the integration of the system with NATO’s defense network, the initiative represents a step towards strengthening Europe’s defense capabilities against air attacks. The controversy surrounding the ESSI highlights the need for a unified and strategic approach to defense in Europe. Despite the diplomatic waters being roiled — with France’s Macron pressing for an alternative less reliant on US technology — the fact that more than 12 European countries have agreed to participate demonstrates a shared recognition of the importance of enhancing air defense capabilities.