Ukraine drives SOF procurement in Europe
GSOF Symposium Europe: Events in Ukraine drive SOF procurement in Europe
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has concentrated the minds of governments across Europe, where there are increasing efforts to upgrade and replace military capabilities. Across Europe defence budgets are expected to rise over the coming years, with spending on major platform procurement across the continent expected to exceed $50 billion annually by 2025.
The case for ring-fencing some of this forecasted spending for Special Operations Forces (SOF)-specific budgets will be a central topic of discussion next month, when the SOF community convenes in Budapest, Hungary for the annual GSOF Symposium Europe.
“If European nations want a viable SOF capability they will need their own budget - a SOF-specific budget that allows SOF to procure SOF unique items quickly for use during crisis or wartime,” said Admiral William H. McRaven, former Commander of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). “The reason the US Congress authorised SOF to have its own budget via the Nunn Cohen Amendment is because the services generally underfunded the force.
“European SOF should work through their civilian or military bosses to make the case for a SOF-specific budget and make sure that it is clear the budget is for SOF-unique items. So, the services still provide the big items – helicopters, boats and weapons – but the SOF budget modifies them accordingly, and also funds readiness: SOF-unique exercises, training and ammunition.”
During the symposium’s government-only day (Tuesday 4th October), attendees will hear from Mr. Jim Smith, Acquisition Executive at Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics - USSOCOM, who will drill further down into the key processes and lessons learned by the Acquisition arm of USSOCOM, Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (SOF AT&L) on SOF-specific funding in the US.
Insight into how the host nation, Hungary, is approaching the same funding and acquisition process for the Hungarian SOF (HUNSOF), will also be shared during the symposium by Dr. Gáspár Maróth, Government Commissioner of Hungary. How the HUNSOF plans to spend this funding is outlined in the 2022 HUNSOF Capabilities Catalogue.
Top of the list are manned and unmanned aircraft, along with the ‘SOF-specific’ ancillary equipment that tailors the equipment to meet SOF operational requirements, such as night navigation enabling avionics, and advanced special operations aviation training.
This trend is being reflected across Europe, where governments are “seeking platforms featuring enhanced protection, survivability and mobility, in addition to cutting-edge sensors, systems and technologies to face current and future threats”, Matthew Smith, Director of Analysis at Shephard’s Defence Insight, said. “Investment in UAS, in particular, is expected to see rapid growth - albeit from a small base.”
Shephard Defence Insight shows that European spending on military-specific UAS will double from around $1 billion annually to over $2.2 billion in 2026.
Various UAS programmes are underway in Europe, including France’s Parrot Anafi micro-drone acquisition. This system will equip all branches of the French Armed Forces, including SOF, providing ISR for troops engaged in operations, warships deployed at sea and fixed military installations.
Italy is procuring the Black Hornet 3 and Wasp AE micro-UAS to be operated by the Special Forces; and the UK’s Project Tiquila, aims to deliver mini-uncrewed air system capability to provide ISTAR roles in man-packable and man-portable loads in support of field operations.
On the manned aircraft front, rotary wing programmes continue as a priority in Europe. Programmes underway and planned include Czech Republic pursuing its UH-1Y Venom multi-role helicopter programme, France the H225 transport and NH90 Special Forces acquisitions, and Hungary the H225M. The UK is also set to field the H-47ER Chinook Heavy Transport and long-awaited New Medium Helicopter by the end of the decade.
In other areas, Defence Insight data suggests that wider SOF-focused spending will remain committed to SoF-specific armoured vehicles.
“The next few years will see a significant number of SOF vehicle deliveries begin across Europe, including Belgium’s Light Troop Transport Vehicle, Germany’s Mammoth, Romania and Slovenia’s JLTV programmes, and Bulgaria’s SAMARM programmes, all either having already begun or shortly to begin receiving first vehicles,” Smith said. “Before the end of the decade they will be followed by vehicles for Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.”
How best to draw together these different threads of where European SOF efforts are currently focused, and how to drive them forward is one of the key goals of GSOF Symposium Europe.
“SOF Funding and SOF equipment are two sides of the same coin, and in the current context there is growing urgency across the continent to close the gap between where we are and where we need to be,” Stu Bradin, President & CEO, Global SOF Foundation, said. “Delivering the big picture – effective SOF capability in Europe – means breaking it down into smaller pieces: what is a SOF-specific budget, how best to establish one, and then looking at how to deliver best effect through careful SOF-specific equipment acquisition.
“All European nations are at a different stage of this process, which is why GSOF Symposium Europe is so valuable as it allows us to get together, draw on lessons learned, and move toward that end goal.”
Preparing for GSOF Symposium Europe 2023
After a successful event in Budapest, Hungary this October, the organizing team and the Global SOF Foundation look forward to hosting the upcoming edition of the event in Brno, Czech Republic from 24-26 October 2023. To join the SOF community next year, register your interest by visiting the event website today: https://www.gsofeurope.org/register-interest-2023