NATO looks to pool resources amid budget pressures

22nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

NATO countries are taking tentative steps to pool military resources in the face of shrinking defense budgets and to fill gaps exposed by the recent Libya campaign, a French general said Tuesday.

The alliance hopes to unveil a number of cooperative projects in time for a NATO summit in Chicago in May that may include joint training for pilots of allied aircraft and shared maintenance for NATO vehicles, said General Stephane Abrial, supreme allied commander for transformation.

"Budgets are decreasing everywhere. We cannot expect any possibility to spend more," Abrial told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

"We need to spend better and the best way to spend better is to do more things together," he said.

The NATO-led air war exposed shortcomings among US allies and underscored the need for sharing costly military resources, said Abrial, who is overseeing what the alliance calls the "Smart Defense Initiative."

NATO officials say the air campaign revealed how European states lacked munitions for fighter jets, unmanned drone aircraft, refueling tankers, targeting specialists and planes equipped for electronic jamming.

Under the initiative begun in February, the alliance has drawn up a long list of about 160 projects for pooled funding and expects a number of concrete programs to be announced when NATO meets in Chicago next year, he said.

"I'm very encouraged by the initial contacts I've had," said Abrial, who has visited about half of the alliance's 28 member states to discuss the initiative.

He said projects are "slowly moving from intentions to decisions" and that he is "very confident we'll be able to bring something to the table."

Two projects that will likely be ready to launch include plans for coordinated training of pilots for both helicopters and warplanes and arranging shared maintenance for an array of allied vehicles, planes and vessels -- instead of each country having to fund separate training and maintenance efforts, according to Abrial.

The alliance was also looking at pooling funds to buy more unmanned aircraft for intelligence and surveillance and to organize a joint supply of expensive precision-guided munitions, he said.

During the six-month Libya air war, European governments ran low on munitions and had to turn to the United States to buy precision-guided bombs.

"Is there a way to procure, maintain and store (munitions) together in groupings of nations? We're looking at these aspects," he said.

Abrial acknowledged some challenges in trying to persuade alliance countries to share military hardware and expertise, as governments had concerns about jeopardizing local defense industries as well as sacrificing a degree of sovereign control.

Countries had to strike "a balance between sovereignty and solidarity," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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